- Dec 7, 2023
* By Maternity Physiotherapist Sabrina Nieland
In my physiotherapy practice for pregnant women and mothers, I often treat mothers with tension and back problems.
It's obvious: with a baby, everyday life consists of a lot of carrying the baby, holding the baby, lifting the baby out of or into bed. These and many more situations that can put a strain on the back, which is often still deconditioned from pregnancy and birth.
In addition, as a mum you don't always necessarily focus on yourself and your posture. Yet correct posture is an important factor when it comes to avoiding neck tension or back pain.
Often, the expectant mum loses the feeling for good posture already during pregnancy, which is due to the biomechanical changes caused by her growing belly. When the baby arrives, as described above, there is not enough time to devote to this topic or the feeling for good posture is simply missing.
Breastfeeding can be another tension-promoting situation in everyday life for mums. Have you ever counted how many hours you breastfeed? You will be surprised how much time you spend breastfeeding every day and every night. Therefore, I would like to dedicate this article to the topic of "back-relieving breastfeeding".
Many mums notice that they tense up when breastfeeding and assume that a less than ideal posture is the cause of their discomfort, but you can avoid such discomfort with a few tips and advice:
Try to SUPPORT but not HOLD your baby while breastfeeding - a breastfeeding session can last around 20 minutes. If you hold your baby solely with the strength of your arms the whole time, it puts strain on your neck and cervical spine and can lead to tension and/or headaches. Using a breastfeeding pillow helps. Your baby can lie safely on it while breastfeeding and it will relieve you of the work of holding it. Often a simple, thick pillow is enough.
"Your child should go to the breast, not the breast to the child" - this very practical advice means that you should not bend and contort yourself when breastfeeding in order to get to your baby. It is better to make sure that your baby is positioned in such a way that he or she can reach the breast without you straining yourself.
If you are breastfeeding sitting down, think about your support, which means finding a chair or armchair with a backrest you can lean against comfortably without your back having to hold you all the time. Here's another tip: Our backs like flexible sitting - so try to change your sitting position occasionally when breastfeeding, too, by sitting sometimes leaning, sometimes upright, or maybe even breastfeeding on a sitting ball with a wobbling effect. And then listen to your body: can you relax your shoulders and neck because your baby is well positioned, or do you still pull your shoulders towards your ears? This often happens automatically with mothers.
When sitting, try not to always look at your baby. Of course, this is the nicest and most natural thing to do, but in the long run it also leads to a rounded posture and possibly tension in the neck. Use these moments for a few releasing movement exercises and slowly turn your head upright from the left to the right side and stretch your neck by alternately gently pulling one shoulder towards the buttocks.
Have you ever changed position while breastfeeding? For example, from sitting to lying on your side on the sofa. This way you are not rigidly in one position all the time, which in turn helps to prevent tension.
When you are at home, make yourself comfortable on your side for breastfeeding, so you can rest your head and be completely relaxed. Your baby will like this too, and your breasts will be thankful, as they are emptied in a completely different way than under the force of gravity when you are sitting. A woman can breastfeed in almost any situation. Have you ever tried kneeling, supported on your forearms? Or lying on your back, with your baby lying on your tummy? There are so many possibilities. Try out what feels relaxing to you and what your baby likes.
Your baby wants to be breastfed while being carried around? This often happens and is, of course, very stressful for your arms, shoulders, neck and back, once your baby reaches a certain weight. But there is a solution for this too: breastfeeding with your baby in a sling or baby carrier. This works wonderfully, even when you are out and about. It takes the strain off your back because you don't have to hold your baby yourself. For more information on this and on carrying in a sling or carrying system in general, I highly recommend you make an appointment with a baby carrier counsellor. She will find the right model for you and show you the correct adjustments so that you can carry without tension in addition to your baby’s ideal position.
One last tip: try to use your breastfeeding time to take a general "deep breath" and relax. This includes making sure that you don't become even more tense because you're on your mobile all the time. Your autonomic nervous system reacts to stress or lack of sleep with tension, and as we all know, mums have plenty of that. You can release this inner tension wonderfully through various breathing techniques.
Here is an example:
While breastfeeding, always breathe as follows:
- Breathe in for 4 seconds, then hold your breath for 4 seconds.
- Breathe out for 4 seconds and then hold your breath for another 4 seconds.
- Try to breathe as deeply as possible in the direction of your chest and abdomen.
- Do this for about 5 minutes. This way you relax your stress nerve/sympathetic nervous system and gather new energy.
I hope my tips will help you to breastfeed in a more relaxed way.
Sabrina Nieland, Maternity Physiotherapist
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