Written by: Meredith Taylor, PT, DPT
Whether you are breastfeeding, bottle feeding, or pumping, check your posture! Improved posture can help decrease postpartum pain or discomfort in areas such as the shoulders, neck, pelvic floor, back, or hips. Here are 5 quick areas to self assess:
- Head and Neck Position
- Shoulder Position and Arm/Baby Support
- Mid Back and Rib Cage Position
- Low Back and Pelvis Position
- Leg Position and Support
In a rush? Here are a few quick things you can do to help!
- Make sure you are not looking down all the time, but gently rotate your head left to right, side bend left ear toward left shoulder and right ear towards right shoulder, and tilt your head up and down, 3-5 times each direction.
- Double check that you are not slumping your shoulders and your upper back. Roll your shoulders back and down and use a pillow to support under your arms while holding the baby. Also using a pillow for support behind your back will help decrease your slumped posture.
- Try to switch up positions with breastfeeding, try laid-back nursing, side lying nursing, and sitting nursing.
- Lastly, if sitting and nursing, don’t let your feet hang down, get a step stool to rest your feet on.
If you want to dive into some details, see below:
1. Head and Neck Position
Ask yourself: “Am I looking down too much and flexing my neck?” Yes, you are going to look down at that sweet baby! But make sure you are not assuming and sustaining one particular neck position for too long. Take time to look forward, do some chin tucks, look side to side, side bend your neck to each side bringing your ear towards your shoulder, look down with slight rotation to each side like bringing your nose towards your armpit, and use more of an eye gaze downward to look at your sweet baby versus excessively flexing your neck downward.
2. Shoulder Position, Arm/Baby Support
Take a look at your shoulder positioning. Are they slumped forward? To improve the position, gently lengthen your clavicle/collarbone area by slowly squeezing the shoulder blades together, slide the shoulder blades down into your back pocket. After gently encouraging the shoulders into that position, relax your shoulder blades like they are floating on clouds.
Also, use a pillow or pillows underneath your arms while holding the baby. This may take strain off of your neck and shoulders, help you and baby relax, and promote better posture. There are multiple breastfeeding pillows out there. A few popular options are: The Boppy Nursing Pillow, My Brest Friend Deluxe Nursing Pillow, and Luna Lullaby Bosom Baby Nursing Pillow. You may be able to find some pillows around the house to do the job! There is no one magic pillow, you just have to reach out to friends, family, or support groups and see if one style would fit you and baby better than the other.
3. Mid Back Position
Are you slumping your mid back? Mid Back is also called your thoracic spine, the part of your spine inline with your shoulder blades. Your sternum position (your breastbone position) is a good indicator for if you are slumped or not. Imagine holding a flashlight on your sternum with the flashlight shining away from you, towards the wall. Would that flashlight be shining towards the floor, straight in front of you, or towards the ceiling. If it’s shining towards the floor, you are likely slumping (thoracic or ribcage flexion). If it’s shining towards the ceiling you may be overcorrecting your posture and sitting with excessive thoracic or ribcage cage extension. Ideally, you want your flashlight to be shining straight ahead. Your ribcage should be stacked on top of your pelvis so the diaphragm is opposing the pelvic floor.
4. Low Back Position
Is your low back slumped or too arched? Do you feel your low back is slumped into the cushion behind you or is your back arched and curved away from the cushion behind you? Placing a pillow support or folded blanket at your low back will help support your entire spine.
5. Leg Position
If you are lying down or reclined in a recliner, putting some pillows under your knees can help support your legs and take pressure off of your back. If you are sitting, placing your feet on a breastfeeding stool or something similar will support your feet, legs, and spine.
These body parts do not move in isolation, if your mid back is slumped, then your low back, shoulders and head are likely misaligned. Your body did just spend 9 months growing and carrying a baby and changing posture may not be as simple as fixing these 5 things. That is one reason why Nesin Pelvic Health exists. We have a heart to help Momma’s and give individualized treatment plans that prioritize what YOU may need to decrease your pain.
Positioning of your baby is important for proper transfer of milk from you to your baby and can improve comfort too. The lactation consultant taught me how to hold my baby correctly. This quick reference is from the La Leche League website, “Position baby close to you, with his hips flexed, so that he does not have to turn his head to reach your breast. His mouth and nose should be facing your nipple. His body should be so close that he is touching you. If possible, ask your helper to hand you the baby once you are comfortable.” Please seek out a lactation consultant for assessment and guidance if you are not sure the baby is in the right position or the baby isn’t latching well.
One thing I learned while breastfeeding is being intentional! Admittedly, I used to slump while breastfeeding, until my lactation consultant told me to “bring the baby to you.” She taught me to lean back and relax, use a nursing stool for feet support if sitting and nursing, and use pillows for arm support. She also reviewed laid-back nursing, but I couldn’t do this well. Not every suggestion for posture change or positioning change will work, but other things, like supporting your feet, may really help support your entire body. My posture wasn’t always perfect, but I was intentional about trying different things.
And one more thing…
When we are not doing well mentally, it can show up physically. Forward head, forward shoulders, and rounded spine are positions we assume when we are tired, frustrated, sad, or depressed. Improving your posture and movement can have positive mental implications, “preliminary study suggests that adopting an upright posture may increase positive affect, reduce fatigue, and decrease self-focus in people with mild-to-moderate depression.” Check in with yourself on how you are doing mentally. Ask yourself, not only if you have good posture, but if you have a good support system such as family, social, or professional mental health support.
Here are some resources below. This is not a comprehensive list or medical advice on feeding your baby, but resources you may find helpful during your breastfeeding journey.
Local breastfeeding support groups:
- Madison Hospital: https://www.madisonalhospital.org/services/breastfeeding-support-service
- Crestwood Hospital: https://www.crestwoodmedcenter.com/lactation-services
- Huntsville Hospital: https://www.hhwomenandchildren.org/services/breastfeeding-support
- CDC: https://www.cdc.gov/breastfeeding/recommendations/index.htm
- La Leche League International: https://llli.org/
- You can check facebook for breastfeeding, pumping, or mom support groups: Huntsville Mommy Milk Meet Up is a local facebook group created by A Nurturing Moment store here in South Huntsville, AL, a “Midwifery services, breastfeeding, and maternity gift shop”. https://anurturingmomentmidwife.com/
- The Womanly Art of Breastfeeding (free downloadable tool kit from the book is at https://llli.org/resources/womanly-art-breastfeeding/womanly-art-of-breastfeeding-tear-sheets-tool-kit/ and this has free information on laid-back breastfeeding positioning)
- Fed by Design written by local north AL author Glenni Lorick, IBCLC with 27 year of experience: https://www.amazon.com/Fed-Design-Glenni-Lorick-ebook/dp/B0C3ZBH8S3/ref=sr_1_1?crid=2AIS5H3G5A7IV&keywords=fed+by+design&qid=1691808973&sprefix=fed+by+design%2Caps%2C117&sr=8-1