The Ergonomics of Breastfeeding


Some people may wonder how carrying a tiny baby around can put so much strain on a woman’s body. But if you’ve been there, you know.

Breastfeeding requires moms to log lots of hours in one position, and many moms may be predisposed to developing pain in their neck, shoulders, forearms, wrist and low back. Pregnancy and the postpartum period place unique strains on a woman’s body. Some of these stressors are related to changes in our body resulting from childbirth and others are related to demands of childcare. 

After giving birth our abdominal and pelvic floor muscles get overstretched and weak, affecting our overall posture. A poor posture can lead to neck, shoulder and low back pain. Add caring for a new baby, sleep deprivation and any pre-existing medical conditions, and you can see why a new mom, especially one who is breastfeeding, is so susceptible to constant aches and pains.

Here are some ergonomic principles nursing moms should follow in order to help relieve any pain:

Nurse in good posture

When breastfeeding, ALWAYS bring the baby to you (instead of leaning into the baby). The baby needs to be brought up to nipple level, so that you can ensure your spine is in a neutral position. This will exert the least amount of strain on your body. Most breastfeeding pillows do not do a good job of bringing the baby up to your breast—you might have to use several pillows or invest in a KoalaKin.

Protect your joints

Avoid bending or using your wrist in awkward positions (especially when carrying a baby for an extended period of time); protect your low back by avoiding bending at the waist with straight legs. If you carry your baby wherever you go, keep him/her close to your body and keep your forearms/wrist straight. Carriers and slings are great for this.

Change positions

Holding and nursing your baby in different positions will avoid and alleviate strain on your body.

Try to relax

Relaxing your body can be a very powerful tool for avoiding and relieving pain. In order for you to do that, your body needs to be supported in the ways described above. However, you can take it further by also relaxing the mind. Studies have shown that when moms stress, their breast milk supply usually decreases dramatically. On the other hand, research has shown that a mother’s state of mind can have an influence upon lactation, especially the let-down reflex.

If you can nurse hands free, there are actually a few things you can do to help you relax while breastfeeding, such as reading, listening to music, having a snack, watching TV or surfing the web.

Pregnancy, childbirth and nursing alter the structure of your body on many levels, leaving you in a weakened state that is vulnerable to pain and injury. By utilizing good postural habits while caring for your newborn, you can avoid and/or solve many common postpartum physical complaints.