After you give birth, your body has been through a lot.  When you feed your baby, whether by breast or by bottle, you may be adding more stress to your body by the way you position yourself.

After my first daughter was born, I felt like I’d been hit by a truck. Obviously, I hurt “down there,” but in addition, my legs were sore, and my arms were sore! And I had a sore back and shoulders too.

As an aside, I very specifically remember wondering, “Why the heck do my arms hurt?” I mean, I knew why everything else was sore, but I didn’t think my arms were part of that equation!

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Turns out, I wasn’t used to carrying nearly eight pounds around all the time. As I got stronger, that soreness went away (bonus: a baby is like a little weight that gets a bit heavier every day, so you can keep buffing up!)

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But the back and shoulder problems weren’t *just* from postpartum recovery. They also came from leaning over all the time to feed my daughter.

mother nursing her newborn in laid-back position

And if you’re not careful, you can hurt your neck, shoulders, and back when you feed your baby even beyond that initial postpartum recovery. Let’s learn how you can cause damage while feeding your baby, and how proper positioning can prevent back and neck pain.

How poor positioning during breastfeeding or bottle feeding can cause neck and back strain

Think about how you hold your body while feeding your baby. If you have your baby in your lap, you’re likely to lean over him to feed him, hunching your shoulders, your neck, and your back. This leads to major problems for your body.

You could give yourself a headache from holding your neck in an uncomfortable position for a long time. In addition, your core, which has been through major reorganization throughout pregnancy and postpartum, can be further damaged by sitting in a poor position. If you have diastasis recti, in which your abdominal muscles become separated, poor posture can make the condition worse (or at least not allow it to heal).

RELATED: Living with diastasis recti (aka Nope, I’m not pregnant)

These problems can crop up whether you’re bottle feeding or breastfeeding, it’s just more likely with breastfeeding because, you know, you’re physically attached to your breast.

How to feed your baby comfortably

But if you position yourself correctly, you can easily feed your baby without hurting yourself! Want to avoid neck or back strain during feeding time? Check out this interview I had with Dr. Holly Strobel, a doctor of physical therapy who specializes in women’s health!

Sitting while breastfeeding

If you do choose to breastfeed while sitting upright, a nursing pillow makes a huge difference in helping you “bring baby to breast,” instead of leaning over to bring breast to baby. This will greatly improve your comfort and keep you from straining your back and shoulders.

JUST FOR EBM READERS: Do you have a nursing pillow yet? If not, you can get one for FREE (just pay shipping!) with my exclusive code EBMFREENURSINGPILLOW. Just follow the link and use this code at check-out.

Paced bottle-feeding

If you are bottle-feeding (whether formula or expressed milk), it will be better for both you and your baby if you used what is called “paced bottle feeding.” The traditional picture you see of bottle fed babies is of them laying down with their bottle. This position comes with several problems though.

First of all, if your baby is lying in your lap you are more likely to stoop over her, causing pain to your neck and shoulders. On top of that, this position is more likely to allow milk up into the tubes of your baby’s ears, causing ear infections.

Plus, you want to start your baby (yes, even as an infant!) with the idea that she has the option of when to be done eating. If your baby is lying down while feeding from a bottle, she pretty much has to swallow or drown (milk comes out of a breast differently, so this is not the same for nursing). But if she’s sitting up and the bottle is barely tipped over a right angle, it’s easy for her to turn her head away and signal that she’s done eating.

And, if your baby is sitting nearly upright, it will be easier for you to give a bottle without leaning over. You will prevent neck and back problems for yourself!

Whether you breast or bottle feed, a nursing pillow is still a useful investment for bringing your baby closer to you! Don’t forget you can grab a FREE nursing pillow (plus shipping) using my exclusive code EBMFREENURSINGPILLOW.

Breastfeeding while lying down – the “cuddle curl” position

The side-lying and laid-back positions we discuss are some of the easiest ways to breastfeed.  It’s really nice to be with your baby in this cuddle-curl position, wrapping your body around the baby while keeping her at breast height.

side lying breastfeeding position

Remember, if you choose lying down positions to feed your baby, keep your baby safe by feeding on a firm mattress!  It’s fine to fall asleep if you’re not on a couch or recliner (assuming you’re meeting a few specific conditions listed in the related link below). But falling asleep with your baby on either a couch or recliner, where your baby could get caught between cushions, is exceptionally dangerous and could lead to suffocation.

RELATED: Bed sharing with baby: How to do so safely

If you feel more comfortable with it, a bedside co sleeper is a great option! I love the Baby Delight Beside me Dreamer Bassinet. This bassinet can be placed right beside your own bed with the side wall let down. That way, you can lean over and nurse your baby on her own sleep surface. Afterwards, she’ll fall back asleep in her little crib, without you ever having to try to put her back down after getting up!

NOTE: Want more information on good breastfeeding positions, as well as keeping up your milk supply, managing pumping when you go back to work, and more? Check out my review of Milkology’s The Ultimate Breastfeeding Class, the best online breastfeeding course I’ve seen!

Exercises to relieve back and neck pain

Even if you follow all these baby feeding tips, you can still end up with a sore back or neck. Fortunately, there are simple exercises you can do to alleviate these problems!

Check out Atlas Therapy’s website for some gentle exercises that can help with neck, shoulder, and back pain associated with looking down too much while feeding your baby. And if you live in the Altoona or State College, PA, area, you can go see Atlas yourself for personalized help!

Conclusions on proper baby feeding positioning

I know this information on how to breastfeed without hurting your back can be a huge help! I’m so grateful to Dr. Strobel for taking the time to talk with me.

One of the biggest concerns among new breastfeeding mothers is a fear that their baby isn’t getting enough milk. If this is a worry of yours, check out this post for all the details that will help assure you that your breastfeeding supply is fine. We also have information both on how to take care of yourself and how to take care of your baby during the postpartum period.

RELATED: How to know if my breastfed baby is eating enough

How to take care of yourself postpartum – 6 tips

What to expect with a new baby – 8 tips

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