Your body transforms remarkably during pregnancy and labor — you literally create life. But this incredible accomplishment can come with complications. Back pain is common among expecting mothers. Unfortunately, this soreness can persist after the baby has arrived and get worse when you add the challenges of breastfeeding and caring for a new baby.
The most common cause of back pain while breastfeeding is shear posture — leaning to one side with a twisted spine while sitting.
Carrying extra weight, postpartum hormone changes, and reduced core muscle strength can worsen back pain.
Treat the underlying cause of your back pain with posture and strengthening exercises.
Don’t ignore back pain during breastfeeding. You could develop long-term problems.
Why does my back hurt from breastfeeding?
When you are pregnant, every system in your body makes changes to support your baby’s growth.
Dr. Bart Grant, DC, of Grant Chiropractic and Wellness Center, explains, “Relaxin is a hormone a women’s body produces during pregnancy that causes the ligaments in her body to loosen and relax to prepare for the birth of her baby.” After your baby is born, these hormones recede, but your joints do not always tighten into the correct alignment.
According to Dr. Grant, even after birth in the first few months, a mother “may still have the hormone relaxin in her system.”
Besides this, extra pregnancy weight and decreased core strength mean that weight and pressure are pulling on your back in ways they never have before. All these factors come together when you sit down to breastfeed and hold your body in a position you are not used to. It is no wonder that back pain is so prevalent.
Causes of breastfeeding back pain
Experiencing back pain while breastfeeding is exceedingly common and if you are suffering, you are not alone. There are three main causes of breastfeeding back pain that are regularly reported by new mothers:
- Incorrect posture. This causes a shear force on the spine by leaning to one side or looking down. It's the most common cause of back pain when breastfeeding. According to Dr. Grant, “Shear force is the force on a joint that is either side to side or front to back. The spine has a design that handles compressive force quite well, but is not made to handle shear force for long periods of time.”
- Bodily changes. Core muscle weakness and postpartum changes make your back especially vulnerable to injury.
- Old injuries. Lingering pain from a back injury during pregnancy or before can worsen when breastfeeding.
Eight tips to stop back pain from breastfeeding
Back pain from breastfeeding can feel debilitating and is an added stress to recent motherhood. Fortunately, there are some tools and techniques you can try to alleviate your symptoms. The quote below from Dr. Bart highlights the importance of posture as a main causal factor in back pain from breastfeeding.
"As wonderful as a baby is to a mother [to look at], it is recommended that while nursing in a seated position, she maintain a good upright posture, in a good chair and avoid looking down at her baby for prolonged periods of time."Dr. Bart Grant, DC
Try these eight tips to help with your pain symptoms:
- Pay attention to your spine. Keep your shoulders directly over your hips. Avoid positions that make your spine twist, or make you look down.
- Use pillows. Sit supported and bend your elbows to hold your baby rather than your wrists. Tuck a nursing pillow under your baby and elbows to help maintain a good position and avoid fatigue. Think about bringing your baby up into the correct nursing position rather than leaning down to meet them.
- Physical therapy. Speak to your doctor about getting physical therapy or chiropractic care. In a study of physical therapy to relieve back pain in breastfeeding, about half of the mothers reported their pain was 80% improved within three treatments.
- Positioning. Try different positions to see what works for your body and your baby. One study found that seated breastfeeding aggravated back pain in 51% of women, while lying positions only caused pain in 2.5%. Dr. Grant says, “Nursing laying down in a good neutral position will also reduce shear force on the spine.” You can also stand up or look in a mirror when you nurse.
- Symptom relief. The best way to fix your back pain is by treating the underlying cause. If you need symptom relief, try a warm bath, a heating pad, an Epsom salt soaks, or over-the-counter pain medication like ibuprofen. Ibuprofen is safe to take when breastfeeding. Do not go over the recommended dose or take it for an extended period without consulting a medical professional.
- Back braces. Use a back brace if your back is straining despite sitting in a well-aligned position. The muscles of your core, pelvic floor, and back support each other. It takes time to rebuild this strength after having a baby.
- Stay hydrated. Hydration is vital for your body's recovery postpartum and to support your milk supply.
- Get moving. Try a diet and exercise plan your doctor approves in the postpartum period for healthy weight loss. Yoga exercises can help stretch sore back muscles and strengthen your core. According to Dr. Grant, “Stretching and mild to moderate exercise will also help to maintain good mechanical function of the spine.”
"If a mother that is nursing is experiencing neck and/or upper back pain, it is advisable to see a reputable chiropractor that can give the appropriate treatment to correct spinal misalignment due to poor nursing posture and ligament laxity. With proper treatment and information, a nursing mother should be able to nurse her baby without having to experience neck and upper back pain."Dr. Bart Grant, DC
Exercises to reduce back pain while breastfeeding
There are a few yogic exercises that are particularly useful in mitigating the pain caused by breastfeeding. You can try these at home today.
Get on the floor on your hands and knees. Place your hands as wide as your shoulders. Your knees should be directly below your hips. Breathe in, and curve your spine toward the floor, and look up while pushing your pelvis up.
Hold this position for a few moments, then breathe out and bend your spine upward while looking down and tucking your pelvis down. Repeat for 30–60 seconds. In these two poses, you will look like a cow with a swayed back and an angry cat.
Kneel and then sit your bottom back on your heels. Lift your arms over your head and lean forward, keeping your buttocks on your heels. Bring your forehead to rest on the floor. Bring your arms back beside your legs, palms facing up. Inhale and exhale slowly for eight breaths.
Downward facing dog pose
Begin on all fours. Lift your hips and squeeze your shoulder blades together to straighten your back. Look down at the floor with your neck in a straight line with your back. Your body should look like an upside-down “V”.
Standing forward bend
Stand up straight with your legs together. Breathe in and raise your arms next to your ears. Breathe out and bend over from your hips. Lead with your chest as you bend forward. Keep your arms in a straight line over your head as you reach forward to the floor. Hold the pose for a minute and come back up slowly.
If you push through severe back pain and continue breastfeeding with a misaligned spine, long-term problems can develop, including spine deformities. It is also possible that your pain could be a sign of a medical condition that needs treatment. A rare condition that affects 0.4 out of 100,000 women is pregnancy and lactation-associated osteoporosis (PLO). PLO causes severe low back pain and can lead to broken bones. Don’t wait to make changes and seek help.
- Breastfeeding Medicine. Nursing Mothers' Experiences of Musculoskeletal Pain Attributed to Poor Posture During Breastfeeding: A Mixed Methods Study.
- Breastfeeding Medicine. Musculoskeletal Impairment: Causes of Pain with Breastfeeding Insight into 11 Cases.
- Journal of Healthcare Engineering. The Effects of Yoga Exercise on Pelvic Floor Rehabilitation of Postpartum Women.
- BioMed Research International. A Rare Cause of Postpartum Low Back Pain: Pregnancy- and Lactation-Associated Osteoporosis.
- BioMed Research International. Effectiveness of Yoga on the Interrectus Distance in Early Postpartum Women: A High-Frequency Ultrasound Study.