Boobs, boobs, boobs. It's all about the boobs when it comes to breastfeeding - cracked nipples, blocked ducts, mastitis, thrush. It's boobs all the time.
When nursing hits cruise control (usually in the second month, unless you're one of the lucky ones that is on cruise from day one or two), you might start to notice some other body aches that up until now went unnoticed, hidden behind the shadows of the boobs. The mid-back is one such area that might be talking to you. It often suffers posturally from the hours and hours and hours of nursing. Unless you're sitting like you're about to meet the Queen, odds are you're hunching over - looking down to see that the latch is good, or that swallowing is happening, or you're slouching - due to exhaustion, core weakness or just because no one is around to call you out on it. Most likely you're doing the slunch - a combo of hunching and slouching.
We all do it. Until our spines start crying out louder than the baby. I like to call that achy, tight, tired, slunched-up, mid-back soreness related to crappy nursing posture Breastfeeding Back (BB). You may not find this term in any medical text books, but any mumma who has breastfed her babes knows that this exists. It's for real. The chest and neck muscles are tight. The back and core muscles are weak.
Of course, everyone is prone the the slunch mid-back ache these days. All the sitting, texting, TV watching, laptop surfing, and tablet reading slouch-hunching going on can easily give you an ache. Breastfeeding mumma or not.
Hopefully, you're not quite at the point of feeling (or looking) like the HBOND. If you are, you should probably talk to your doctor before trying any of the exercises I suggest here.
And of course, if your pain is real pain (strong, intense, sharp, stabbing, shooting, tingling, numb, burning, etc.), and not just low grade achy or stiff, go see your favourite physical therapist, osteopath or doctor before trying these exercises. Also, if you have had a C-section or a particularly difficult delivery, always talk to your doctor before getting back to any exercise.
Otherwise, give them a try. And if you aren't (yet!) having any issues, try them in the name of prevention. Like all exercises, you should not experience any pain with these. If you do, make an appointment with your physical therapist to figure out what's going on.
Oh, and of course, like any other bodily issue, addressing the reason why BB happens is the best course of action for preventing further aches and pains. So watch your posture sweet mumma.
On all fours, with your wrists directly under your shoulders and knees under your hips, exhale as you slowly arch your back, tucking your tail bone and head inwards - look towards your belly button. As you inhale, slowly and gently move your spine in the opposite direction, looking up to the ceiling and curving the lower spine (pull those shoulders away from your ears!). Repeat this pattern slowly and gently, staying within a comfortable range of motion for your spine. Repeat ten times.
Meow and moooo as you do this one, and your little one will love you forever.
There are many ways of stretching your chest muscles, but lying down is my preferred method. Any exercise that involves lying deserves a gold star in my books. I suggest you try this without a bolster at first (just flat on the floor), and progressively, over days or weeks, add in a bolster - a large bath towel rolled up is perfect as you can adjust the size. If you feel comfortable with the height of it, and if you have one, you can also use a foam roller (like I am above).
Lie on the floor (or bolster along the length of your spine) with both arms out to the sides. Palms face the ceiling. Feel a stretch anywhere from your chest to your finger tips. Play with the angle that your arms are at to find the tightest angles that need releasing. Hold until you feel those tight muscles let go. This might be anywhere from 20 seconds to 3 minutes. Breath deeply through this one to also target your lower chest wall muscles and diaphragm.
Extended Mumma (aka T-spine Extensions)
This is one of my faves. Using your trusty foam roller (if you have one - otherwise use a bolster, a small exercise ball, or a large towel or two rolled up really tight), position yourself so that your roll is at mid-back. Interlace your fingers behind your neck to support it, drawing your elbows together. Your feet should be flat on the floor, a foot or so away from your bum.
Starting from a neutral spine position (straight back - not crunched or flexed forward, please), exhale as you slowly arch over the roll, just a little. Your lower back should not be extending (arching) at all - only the mid-back area at the level of the roll. You are not going far with this one! Our Cirque du Soleil days are over.
Inhale, and return to your start position (neutral, not flexed - this isn't a crunch). Repeat five to ten times. Move the bolster an little higher on your spine and repeat the exercise at this new spinal level.
The keys to this one is keeping your movement very small, breathing and keeping your lower spine in its neutral position (keep your core muscles engaged to help with this).
This is also a goodie, but one that might take a little getting used to. It really shines light on where you are tight, weak and dysfunctional. Nice, eh? The good thing is that you will really notice improvements in your mobility pretty quickly if you do it one or twice a day.
Start by sitting (or standing), with good posture against a wall - your bum, mid-spine and the back of your head should be touching the wall. You want to hold this spinal position (think of good posture!) throughout the exercise.
Position your arms in a "W" position (remember: don't move out of that good spinal posture). It's okay if you can't get your hands to the wall, it will come over time.
As you exhale, slowly slide your arms along the wall towards an overhead position. Ideally, keeping your arms and hands touching the wall (it's okay if they don't make it though). The other challenge, is to try to do this without your shoulders hiking up towards your ears. Keep them down by using your mid-back muscles, squeezing your shoulder blades together and down.
Once you have gotten up overhead, or as far as you can without hiking the shoulders, inhale and slide your arms back to the staring "W" position.
Repeat five to ten times.
Praying Mumma (aka Child's Pose)
If you have ever done yoga, you know this one. It's usually the one you get into in class and never want to leave. An all time favourite.
I like to call this one Praying Mumma - "please, please, please, sleep through the night tonight." Hold it for as long as you want. Or until your little one starts trying to ride you like a pony.
Don't forget to breathe. Deep, deep breaths.
Hope these help!