Back Pain During Breastfeeding: Causes, Tips, And Exercises

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Back pain while breastfeeding is common during the initial days when the newborn requires feedings every one to three hours (1). Frequent feedings and recent delivery can be quite taxing for the new mother and often strain their back. As a result, many lactating mothers seek medical care for back pain that worsens or becomes chronic over time.

Although back pain during breastfeeding is bothersome, many corrective measures, specific breastfeeding positions, and gentle exercises help new moms soothe their backs. Practicing these measures can help prevent the pain from becoming chronic in many cases.

Read this post to learn about some tips to avoid and manage back pain while breastfeeding.

What Causes Back Pain While Breastfeeding?

It is common for a backache to occur during breastfeeding. The following reasons and factors could contribute to it.

  1. Poor breastfeeding posture: Improper posture while breastfeeding, certain breastfeeding positions, and tending to the baby is often a leading cause of back pain (2). Frequent slouching while breastfeeding or stooping down could cause painful back muscles. Lifting, carrying, and placing the baby repeatedly could also lead to backache.
  1. Postpartum muscle pain: Back pain during breastfeeding could be a remnant of pregnancy pain. Pregnancy hormones, such as relaxin, relax the muscles and loosen the ligaments and joints for childbirth. However, relaxed muscles could become easily strained and painful, especially due to the added weight of the baby (3). The pain may persist during the postpartum phase and could be compounded by the strain caused by C-section and natural delivery on the abdominal and pelvic muscles.
  1. Postpartum muscle problems: Certain muscle-related issues, such as postpartum muscle separation (diastasis recti) and pelvic floor muscle impairment, may also lead to back pain.
  1. Lack of sleep: According to research, mothers who sleep less than five hours a night, six months postpartum, are three times more likely to retain the pregnancy weight or even gain more weight (4). It could be a contributing factor for back pain while breastfeeding.

Ways To Relieve Back Pain While Breastfeeding

The following tips and practices may help relieve and prevent back pain while nursing.

  • Maintain a correct posture. A poor posture brings a lot of added stress to the lower back. Most cases of back pain will resolve once the nursing posture is improved.
  • Use supportive pillows under the lower back to get additional support. You may also use a comfortable nursing pillow to relieve your arms and back from extra weight.
  • Follow the principles of correct positioning and attachment when offering the breast. Consider a laid-back or biological nurturing breastfeeding position.
  • Try and sleep whenever the baby sleeps. Stress and fatigue are often responsible for back pain. Adequate rest can relieve backache and also help in better postpartum recovery.
  • Try slow walking after getting the doctor’s approval. Walking is a safe exercise, and you may even do it while taking the baby outdoors for a stroll. Remember to take your doctor’s permission and ask them about the safe intensity and duration of walking for you.
  • Mild exercise on the doctor’s advice can help you strengthen your muscles. Each body and pregnancy is different. Therefore, ask your healthcare provider about your recovery status and the exercise plan that could suit you the most.
  • Hot compressions alleviate muscle pain. You may use a heating pad during or after a nursing session to get relief from back pain.
  • Take the help of family members to care for your baby. Delegate certain tasks, such as changing the baby’s diapers, to your partner so that you can have less strain. In cases of severe back pain, express your breast milk and ask a family member to feed it to the baby with a bottle.

You may also consider consulting a physiotherapist or a chiropractor to relieve your back pain. However, visit your healthcare provider first to know whether your postpartum recovery is suitable for further back pain treatment.

Exercises For Lactating Mothers To Relieve Back Pain

You may consider gentle exercises after your ob/gynpermits. These exercises can strengthen your muscles, making them less prone to strain and pain (5) (6)(7).

1. Cat cow pose

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Steps:

  • Kneel on the mat with your palms flat on the mat. Maintain the knees and feet at hip-width apart.
  • Begin with the cow pose by breathing in and letting the stomach drop. Lift the chest and chin up while fixing the gaze towards the ceiling. Broaden your shoulders by pulling them slightly backward.
  • Move to the cat pose by exhaling and retracting the stomach towards the spine.
  • Round up your back and drop your head towards the floor.
  • Alternate between the two poses eight to ten times.

Benefits:

  • Reduces the tension in the spine by opening up the chest
  • Stretches the muscles of the back, shoulders, and abdomen
  • Improves blood circulation to the spine

2. Child pose

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Steps:

  • Sit on a yoga mat with your hips on the heels. Bend the torso forward and lower your forehead towards the floor.
  • Keep arms extended and stretched in the front. Extend your head forward to touch your forehead to the floor.
  • Gently press your chest against the thighs.
  • Hold for 15-20 seconds, gradually uncurl the spine and sit back on your heels.
  • Repeat the pose eight to ten times.

Benefits:

  • Relaxes the back
  • Stretches and strengthens back muscles
  • Calms down the nervous system
  • Aids in digestion by relieving constipation

3. Downward facing dog

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Steps:

  • Come to the floor on all fours.
  • Keep your hands at shoulder-width apart and feet at hip-width apart.
  • Press the hands to the ground, lift the hips, straighten your knees and elbows, and extend your tailbone and form an inverted ‘V’ shape.
  • Hold the pose for 15-20 seconds and take deep breaths.
  • Exhale, bend your knees, and come back to the neutral position.
  • Repeat the pose eight to ten times.

Benefits:

  • Lengthens the spine
  • Tones muscles of the upper body
  • Strengthens chest muscles and increases lung capacity
  • Strengthens arms, shoulders, legs, and feet

4. Standing forward bend

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Steps:

  • Stand straight with feet together and arms on the sides of the body.
  • Inhale and extend your arms above your head.
  • Exhale and bend forward towards your feet.
  • Keep your palms on the floor, besides the feet, or on the legs.
  • Hold the position for 15-20 seconds and continue breathing.
  • Keep the legs and spine erect.
  • Inhale, stretch the arms towards the front, and come back to the starting position.

Benefits:

  • Stretches all muscles at the back of the body
  • Strengthens the spine
  • Improves blood circulation

5. Shoulder stretch

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Steps:

  • Position the right arm above the shoulder and behind your back.
  • Hold the right hand’s fist with the left hand’s fist at the back.
  • Gently stretch your upper back and shoulders backward while opening the chest. Hold the position for a few seconds.
  • Gently bring the hands back to their usual position.
  • Repeat the steps again with the left arm extended behind your back.
  • Keep inhaling and exhaling throughout the exercise.

Benefits:

  • Helps reduce upper back and neck tightness
  • Strengthens neck and back muscles

6. Towel stretch

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Steps:

  • Hold a towel in your hands and extend your arms wider than the shoulder width.
  • Keep your legs at hip-width apart.
  • Inhale and raise your hands above the head. Exhale and bring them to your front.
  • Inhale and take your hands above the head again, and exhale and bring them to the front. Repeat the steps 10-15 times.

Benefits:

  • Strengthens arms, shoulders, and back muscles
  • Stretches your shoulders, back, and neck muscles

Breastfeeding Positions To Help Avoid Back Pain

A correct breastfeeding position could help the mother prevent problems, such as back pain and sore nipples. You may consider the following feeding positions for optimum comfort.

  • Cradle position
  • Cross-cradle position
  • The football hold

Back pain is a common occurrence during the lactation phase. It is good to implement a correct breastfeeding position right after birth to avoid any aches and pains. Proper nursing position, gentle exercises, and following any tips suggested by your doctor can help avoid back pain for a smooth breastfeeding journey.

References:

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Regina Kincaid

(RM, IBCLC)
Regina qualified as a midwife in 2005 in Germany and has since worked in maternity care in England and Ireland. She achieved stage 1 of the UNICEF Baby Friendly accreditation as infant feeding lead midwife at Ealing Hospital in London and worked in the lactation team of the National Maternity Hospital in Dublin, Ireland. She did her Neonatal Examination Course... more

Dr. Ritika Shah

Dr. Ritika Shah is a dental surgeon with more than seven years of clinical experience across various cities in India. During her clinical practice, pediatric dentistry was her particular area of interest, and she constantly thrived to inculcate the latest advancements in the field of dentistry into her practice. Dr. Shah's deep interest in the well-being of babies and children... more