Here at Pinnacle, we see MANY new moms and we LOVE caring for them! One of the MOST common issues we see our newer mamas have, is a postpartum onset of neck and upper back pain as well as sometimes a continuation of the low back pain they had during pregnancy. And though we sure talk a lot about core and pelvic health over here, we treat ALL THE THINGS from head to toe. Because well, we care for our patients as whole people (not just their core and pelvic floors) and everything influences the core and pelvic floor and vice versa.
So I would LOVE to give you some tips for yourself or to share with a dear friend or loved one to start getting rid of those postpartum neck and back pains.
But FIRST, let’s talk a bit about WHY these pains are so common. DURING our pregnancies, our low back gets understandably grippy from helping to support the growing belly weight. AFTER delivery, we transition to carrying and nursing our baby almost 24 hours a day. And this baby holding posture is none too nice to our neck and upper back even though rounding forward around that precious little baby is just plain natural. Throw in pumping, and you’ve got yourself a VERY stiff and sore neck and upper back!
1. Decompress for 5 minutes before you get to go to sleep at night and even before a nap. Do this by laying on your back flat without a pillow under your head to allow your neck and upper back a reprieve from that forward posture it is in ALL DAY. By all means, feel free to elevate your legs on a pillow or bolster.
2. Use the HEADREST in the car. We know that you probably have a few trips for baby doctor visits and a trip to the store here and there. Be sure to allow your neck and upper back muscles to get a chance to relax. For many of my patients over the years, this advice can sound impossible at first… a good clue that they need this posture adjustment even more! Give is 1-2 weeks to not feel so strange to do… it is SO WORTH IT!
3. Be sure to really set up a good nursing or bottle feeding nest for yourself complete with a great nursing pillow to get baby lifted a little higher and if you aren’t sitting in a chair with a high back, try to find a pillow you can place behind your head and neck to support your head. The amount of hours that get logged feeding baby in the beginning is A LOT!
4. If you can, nursing while laying on your side is a great break for your neck and back. Just be sure to tuck a pillow under your head and even one under your top knee.
5. Go for brief walks without baby in a carrier so that your shoulders are unrestricted and can benefit from the gentle movements of the spine and arms that naturally happen with walking. This is a great way to reduce overall tension and improve circulation to muscles throughout the body. If you are using a stroller, try pushing with only one hand at a time and alternate them so that one can swing freely.
6. Try leaning up against a wall with your feet away from the wall by about a foot or more with knees slightly bent. Try to touch your head and entire spine to the wall as well as the back of your hands. Then stay for 4 belly breaths. This is a perfect early postpartum exercise to slowly help your body find what neutral alignment is and start to use the correct muscles to hold you in that neutral position. It’s great to do 1-2 times during the day and build on it. Many women find they can fit this in at work for a brief moment just to decompress from a desk job when they return from maternity leave.
Of course seeing your pelvic physical therapist for a full head to toe assessment postpartum is ideal so that you are well looked after and supported to recover MUCH quicker than going it alone. Trust me, we often see moms STILL struggle YEARS after they had their last baby with those body imbalances and postpartum posture habits still holding on strong.
We help our clients resolve these issues with a combination of hands-on techniques, helping them to retrain their body’s alignment to prevent further pain, and help them to rebuild the core muscles that support healthy posture along with caring for any other concern they are having postpartum.
But in the meantime, try these tips with the theme of decompressing and finding those moments to give your head and neck support!