If you are a new momma and are breastfeeding your little one, you have probably realized what a joy and unique experience it is to be able to nurse your baby. Along with that joy, you have probably also experienced what I like to call “nursing neck”. By this, I am referring to the tightness and soreness in the shoulders, neck, and upper back due to the positions you can find yourself in when nursing many hours a day. I would like to share with you some helpful stretches than can be a relief for you during this special time and hopefully make the experience a little less physically trying.
The stretches are presented in two different groups: Easy and Intermediate. I recommend all stretches for moms who are healing well from labor, with no major physical difficulties. The Easy group is good for moms who have had C-sections, complicated deliveries, or are just needing a little extra time and recovery during the postpartum period.
- Doorjam Stretch: This pose is designed to stretch shortened chest muscles from incorrect posture that can be emphasized during nursing.
How to do it: Stand on the threshold of the doorway with your forearms on the inside door jams of either side of the door, at about shoulder height. In a lunge action, with one foot forward step in through the doorway and gently stretch with your arms back with your forearms in place. Your shoulder blades will squeeze together as your chest opens up. You will feel this in your chest muscles and maybe back muscles as well. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat 2-3 times.
- Forward Bend with Interlaced Fingers: This stretch is great for opening up your chest and rotating your shoulders back.
How to do it: Start by standing tall with your abs engaged and spine in neutral position. Roll your shoulders back and interlace your fingers behind your back. Stretch your arms down, squeeze your shoulder blades together, and puff your chest out. Slowly and carefully, raise your arms behind you and bend forward over your legs. Stretch as far as comfortable. You will feel this in your upper back and shoulder muscles. Hold for 5-10 seconds.
- 90-90 Neutral: This is a relaxing pose that can help ease tense back muscles and unload overworked parts of your body (especially low back/hips).
How to do it: Lay flat on your back near a couch or chair. Let your shoulder blades “sink” into the floor, engage your abs and bring your belly button into the floor. With your knees bent lift your legs into a 90 degree angle and rest your calves on the chair. Hold this position for 15-30 seconds, focusing on deep breaths, and sinking your upper body and tummy into the floor.
- Child’s Pose: This pose does wonders for low back tightness, hip achiness, and upper back pain.
How to do it: Start by kneeling on the ground. Sit back on your heels and lower your upper body to the ground. With your forehead resting on the ground stretch your arms out in front of you. Breathe deeply as you stretch your arms out and “sink” into the floor. Hold for 15-30 seconds.
- Updog Pose: This pose is great for also stretching your shortened/tight chest muscles, as well as elongating your spine and giving your neck a nice stretch.
How to do it: Lie face down on the floor with your arms down at your sides and your toes pointed. Carefully bring your hands under your shoulders and engage your ab muscles. Press your palms into the floor, rotate your shoulders back and down, and look forward. Push your upper body off of the floor and straighten your arms as much as you can comfortably. Keep your abs engaged and off the floor and try to lift your thighs off as well. Look up toward the ceiling. Hold for 8-10 seconds breathing deeply. Feel your lower back stretch out, keep those toes pointed!
- Sitting Spinal Twist: Enjoy the nice stretch in your neck and back that you will feel during this stretch.
How to do it: Sit with the left leg straight out in front of you and the right leg bent. Bring your right foot over your left thigh. Slowly rotate your torso toward the bent knee. Place your left arm on the outside of your right knee, keeping your arm straight. Look over your right shoulder and behind you. Focus on breathing, keeping a long/straight neck, and a tall/straight back. Hold for 10 seconds and repeat on other side.
- Cat/Cow Poses: These are two poses that you slowly rotate between to feel the full benefits of the stretch. They are great for sore necks and backs. However, they may not be a good option for people with a C-section stitch that isn’t completely healed or extreme Diastasis Recti.
How to Do It: Start on the ground on all fours (on your hands and knees). Make sure your hands are directly below your shoulders and your knees are directly below your hips. For the Cow Pose, slowly drop your belly towards the ground and lift your chin and chest toward the ceiling, looking up and breathing as you do this. Hold for a couple seconds and then transition to Cat Pose. Draw your belly into your spine and round your back up. You will feel like a cat that is stretching its back. Let your head be pointed to the floor but don’t force your chin onto your chest. Hold this position for a couple seconds and breathe deep as you rotate between the two poses.
- Downward Facing Dog: This yoga pose is great for opening up your back and chest muscles, as well as stretching your hamstrings and legs.
How to Do It: Start by standing tall and straight with your feet hip distance apart. Keep your back straight and bend forward from your hips, planting your palms on the ground and keeping your knees bent. Come into a plank position with your hands directly below your shoulders and you belly drawn in to protect your spine. Carefully press your chest toward your knees, looking at your toes (you are on the balls of your feet). Keep your knees bent if you need to. Your shoulders should be back and your shoulder blades pressing back into your spine. Feel your back and chest open up as you breathe deeply and try to straighten your legs a little by moving your heels into the ground. Hold for 5-10 seconds. To come out of this pose carefully lift your body back into a plank pose and lower yourself to the ground.
Other tips to prevent soreness from nursing:
- Use a supportive chair: Make sure your back (low back especially) have good support in the chair you use most often to nurse in. You may need a foot stool to help raise the baby to your chest, instead of bending over the baby.
- Sit with good posture: Sit tall with your back straight and shoulders back as you nurse. Bring your baby to your breast. Look at your baby as you need to but try not to hold positions where you are cranking your neck to one side for too long.
- Use a pillow or Boppy: Use a pillow or Boppy to help raise and hold your baby to your breast so you don’t end up hunching over your baby.
- Use a small pillow or rolled up towel to support your low back: If you find your low back getting tight from sitting, it could be due to your lack of core muscles. To help support your back in the sitting position, place a small pillow or rolled up towel at the arch of your low back.
I hope these stretches and tips are helpful for all you nursing moms out there! Breastfeeding is such a wonderful thing to do for and with your baby. I hope that by easing the physical toll it can place on your body you are able to enjoy it even more!