As an International Board-Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC), I often equate breastfeeding to an intricate dance. A dance that’s always different depending on the unique characteristics of each partner. Also, a dance that partners must learn.
Sometimes this learning curve can be steep and seeking out the help of an IBCLC can be very important. A well-trained Lactation Consultant can make all the difference in helping parents understand why they may be experiencing challenges.
As a postnatal Yoga and Pilates instructor I also know that sometimes this dance, along with a body already affected by pregnancy, can take a toll with neck, back, and wrist pain that can make breastfeeding more challenging.
If you’re experiencing tension and pain while breastfeeding an experienced Lactation Consultant can help you to learn how to breastfeed while laying back or side-lying on a bed. They can also help you to properly place breastfeeding pillows or add the right kind of support to the arms and wrists. Seeking out the care of an experienced chiropractor, osteopath or massage therapist will also be helpful. Finally, making sure to stretch and strengthen the body can be key. Finding a good Yoga, Pilates or postnatal movement class can be an important step to feeling more relaxed while breastfeeding.
Below are some stretches for the neck, back, pectoral muscles, and wrists that are easy to do at home without any exercise equipment or workout clothes required!
3 Neck Stretches for the Breastfeeding Parent
1.Neck Flexion and Extension
- Place hands gently behind the head extending the elbows out to the side. Lean back into the hands extending to get neck back and resting head into the hands. Work to try to lengthen the neck. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat as needed.
- Place hands gently behind the head extending the elbows out to the side. Bring the chin to the chest flexing the neck forward and allowing gravity to stretch the back of the neck as the hands and elbows relax down. Work to try to lengthen the neck. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat as needed.
- Place the hands gently behind the head extending the elbows out to the side. Slowly rotate, from just the bra-line up, to the right. Turn the neck and track the eyes towards the right to deepen the stretch. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat to the left side.
3. Upper Trapezius Stretch with Arm Extension
- Lift right arm and take the hand, palm faced down, over the left ear. Gently allow the arm to rest down towards the right directing the right ear towards the right shoulder. Extend the left arm pushing down and flexing the wrist. A nerve stretch may be felt. Hold for 10 seconds. Repeat on the other side.
3 Back Stretches for the Breastfeeding Parent
1. Standing Cat / Cow
- In a standing position take the knees into a deep bend. Take the hands onto the upper thighs. Push down into the thighs tilting the head down between the arms and extending the spine upwards towards the sky. Hold for 5 seconds. Reverse the movement by flexing the spine and looking up towards the ceiling. Hold for 5 seconds. Repeat 10 times.
2. Back Curl with Leg Lifts
- In a standing position take a hold of the shin of the right leg bending it up towards the chest. Curl the back bringing the forehead as close to the knee as possible. Release the right leg and repeat on the left side. Repeat 10 times. If balance is a concern do the exercise leaning slightly into a wall.
3. Side Bend
- In a standing position, with the arm beside the body, turn the palm to face outwards. Reach the right hand up and over towards the left. Hold for 10 deep breaths reaching up into the side bend. Repeat on the left side.
3 Pectoral Stretches for the Breastfeeding Parent
1.Chest to Sky / Back to Sky
- Extend the arms forward with palms together at chest height. Push arms forward, move the chin in to chest and push upper back up to the sky.From previous position, open arms to each side and continue to move them back behind you, staying chest height. Reach the chest and eyes to the sky pushing the arms back as far behind the body as possible.
2.Windmill (Adding a Pectoral Stretch)
- Extend arm up above shoulder. Keep the arm straight. Begin to windmill the arm up and backwards into a full rotation. Breathe deeply into the ribs. Repeat 5 times. Repeat on the other side.
3.Hands Behind Back Pectoral Stretch
- In a standing position, take both hands behind the back and clasp hands together. Push hands backwards and to the sky lifting the chest. If comfortable allow the head to fall back.
3 Wrist Stretches for the Breastfeeding Parent
1.Range of Motion
- Take the hands sternum height. Place the back of both hands together with the thumbs pointing down. Begin to move the finger tips down and then towards the body and continue rotating. Rotate 5 times each way.
- Stretch arm out shoulder height. Flex the wrist keeping hand and fingers engaged. Take the opposite hand to the knuckles of the extended hand and pull gently towards you. Hold for 30 seconds. Repeat on the other side
- Stretch arm out shoulder height. Extend the wrist keeping hand and fingers engaged. Take the opposite hand to the finger pads (palm side) of the extended hand and pull gently towards you. Hold for 30 seconds.
Happy Nursing and Stretching!
Taya is a International Board Certified Lactation Consultant in the Toronto area. She is passionate about prenatal breastfeeding education and sees mothers at home, the hospital and in a clinic setting postpartum to help them to reach their breastfeeding goals. She also teaches pre and postnatal pilates and really can’t get enough of babies! She has two daughters, whom she wishes were still babies! Alas, they are growing up too quickly!