Breastfeeding Positions to Reduce Pain
Many new parents are no strangers to neck and back pain. It may begin in pregnancy and continue or worsen postpartum, thanks to stooping down to get your infant in and out of the crib or carrying a heavy car seat. Your position during breastfeeding matters too. Varying positions and sides with each feeding session can help reduce back or neck pain associated with staying in the same position for long periods of time and gazing down toward the baby. In particular, using the side lying hold or the football hold (see below), can help reduce tension in your upper back and neck.
The information below provides more detail about different breastfeeding positions and tips for minimizing musculoskeletal pain from nursing.
Switching up your position throughout the day can help prevent or reduce pain. Experiment to find which are most comfortable for you and your baby. You may find some positions work better on one side of your body than the other.
This hold involves supporting your baby with the arm that’s on the same side as your nursing breast.
Sit up straight (ideally in a chair with armrests).
Cradle your baby in an arm, with their head resting in the crook of your elbow while they face the breast on the same side as your arm holding them.
For extra support, place a pillow on your lap.
This hold is similar to the cradle hold, but you hold your baby in the arm opposite your nursing breast.
Sit up straight in a comfortable chair, ideally one with armrests.
Bring your baby across the front of your body so you’re tummy to tummy.
Hold your baby in the crook of the arm opposite the breast you're feeding from.
Support the back of your baby's head with your open hand.
With the other hand, support your breast from the underside in a U-shaped hold as you guide your baby’s mouth to your breast.
Helpful hint: Don't bend over or lean forward. Rather, cradle your baby close to your breast.
This is also called the clutch hold and might be a good position if you're recovering from a C-section or have larger breasts.
Hold your baby beside you with your elbow bent so their back rests on your forearm.
With your open hand, support your baby's head and face him or her toward your breast.
It might help to put a pillow on your lap and use a chair with broad, low arms.
Helpful hint: You can support your breast in a C-shaped hold with your other hand.
Also known as laid-back breastfeeding or biological nurturing, this position encourages mom to be comfortable and baby to instinctually find mom’s breast.
Lie back in a reclined position on your bed, couch, or a chair — whatever is comfortable. (You can use pillows to support your back, neck, and arms if you’d like.)
Place your baby on your stomach with their belly touching yours and their head level with your breasts.
Your baby should naturally find your nipple, latch, and begin to nurse. You can support their body, lead them to your breast, or simply enjoy the moment.
This can be a good position if you want to rest while nursing, as long as you’re not tempted to fall asleep.
Lie on your side with your baby beside you and face your baby toward your breast, supporting him or her with one hand.
With the other hand, grasp your breast and touch your nipple to your baby's lips.
Once your baby latches on, use one arm to support your own head and the other to support your baby.
Important: When done nursing, return your baby to their own bed to sleep.
Tips to Reduce Musculoskeletal Pain from Breastfeeding
Even with alternating positions, breastfeeding can cause back and neck pain. For exercises to reduce upper and mid-back pain related to breastfeeding, talk to your Hinge Health coach or physical therapist. You can also:
Keep trying different positions to find ones that minimize tension while breastfeeding.
Use props or external supports to reduce strain on your body while breastfeeding, such as nursing pillows, neck pillows, blankets, or support garments.
Take time to stretch your neck while nursing, turning it side to side and up and down to move it through its full range of motion and prevent stiffness and tightness
After a breastfeeding session, do some quick stretches that help open the chest and contract the muscles in your upper back to counteract being in a hunched-over position. You could try:
Shoulder rolls: With your hands resting at your side, shrug your shoulders up toward your ears and back. Repeat as many times as needed.
Shoulder squeezes: With your hands resting at your side, relax your shoulders (not pushing them up or down) and squeeze your shoulder blades together for a few seconds. Then relax and repeat as needed.
When you’re not breastfeeding, make sure to switch arms that you are holding the baby with to avoid posture imbalances and muscle fatigue.
Breastfeeding can contribute to neck and back pain. Try different positions to see what’s most comfortable for you and your baby.
You may want to try different positions from feeding to feeding. Some may work better on one side of your body than the other.
Do some stretches that open the chest to counteract being in a hunched-over position, such as shoulder rolls and shoulder squeezes.
Hohman, M. (2020, August 08). Breastfeeding positions. What to expect. https://www.whattoexpect.com/first-year/breastfeeding/positions/
Afolabi, I.(2014, August 06). Don’t let breastfeeding destroy your body. The mama’s physio. https://themamasphysio.com/dont-let-breastfeeding-destroy-your-body/