So far in our online clinic for new parents, we've covered how to hold a baby, how to change a baby's nappy, how to push a stroller, and how to carry a nappy bag without hurting your neck, wrists or back (or at least making the problem worse). This week we're covering another source of postpartum pain: Breastfeeding.
Now certainly the early days of breastfeeding can be brutal: Getting the baby to latch properly sometimes takes weeks or even months of effort, and many women endure significant breast and nipple damage while they and their baby are getting the hang of it. And even once that's sorted out, mothers still endure neck and back pain that arises from nursing in hunched and awkward positions.
I spoke to Stephanie Leaf, a physical therapist specialising in postpartum issues and the director of New Leaf Physical Therapy, for her best advice on avoiding and treating the neck and back pain caused by breastfeeding a newborn.
"Sit with your back supported and upright to protect the lower back," says Leaf. "Pull your shoulder blades back to support your neck and upper back." Hold the baby with flat open hands to avoid tendonitis and wrist pain, and keep both feet supported on the floor. Bring the baby up to you, and do not slouch towards the baby.
A nursing pillow can be a lifesaver for breastfeeding comfortable (I myself used the appallingly named My Breast Friend pillow, and in the newborn days would sometimes shove an extra throw pillow under there for support.) Some women swear by a nursing stool to keep their feet and legs supported.
Leaf says, "Don't sit hunched to the side with crossed legs. Don't round your shoulders and drop your head." Right before my second kid was born, I also snagged a free glider off a parents' list, which made all the difference in avoiding the neck and upper back pain I'd had with my first son - I could lean my head back instead of hunching over the baby.
Also, if you have a newborn, know that it gets much easier once the baby grows a little and can actually reach the breast without major proppage. And if you haven't yet, try nursing lying on your side, which, if you have proper support for your head, can be much more comfortable than sitting up.
Having major musculoskeletal pain brought on by baby care? Stay tuned for our last instalment next week: How to pick up a baby.
This is the fifth instalment in the Postpartum Pain Clinic, a multi-part series on managing the aches and pains that come along with caring for newborns and infants.