The new mother sits in her rocking chair cradling her infant in her arms, gazing lovingly down at her sleeping babe: The picture perfect scenario of the joy of motherhood.
However, I would fathom a guess that this mother is also likely in pain.
Holding/nursing an infant for endless hours requires marathon endurance and awkward postures for your upper body. Most mothers I know have experienced symptoms such as tension headaches, fatigue and stiffness in the neck, neck and upper back pain – particularly in the weeks following birth. More commonly known as tension neck syndrome, I began referring to it as ‘baby holding neck syndrome’. The nursing posture typically involves shrugging the shoulders, bending the upper body forward, keeping the elbow at less than 90 degrees, and bending/twisting the head downward to keep an eye on things. In combination with prolonged periods of time spent in these postures, supporting the baby’s weight, and sometimes very little opportunity to recover/rest, it creates the perfect storm of risk factors for musculoskeletal injury.
To help reduce these risks, the following tips may be helpful:
• Use a pillow (or pillows) to support your arms and the baby to take some of the strain off the shoulders – bring baby up rather than you bending forward.
• Relax your shoulders (as much as possible), and think about bringing your shoulder blades down and together.
• Alternate sides when cradling the baby, and change holding positions regularly.
• Though it is tempting, try not to always be looking down at the baby.
• When not feeding, try different holding positions that don’t require keeping the shoulders shrugged, or the elbows or wrists bent. For example, place the baby on your chest and recline when the baby is sleeping. Or, if awake place baby on your lap lengthwise facing you.
• Take a break! Find some helping hands to assist with cuddling.
• To keep mobile, there are many different types of baby carriers available to keep your arms free. Find one that balances the weight evenly across the body (e.g. two shoulder straps, support strap around the hips).
• Work in some recovery exercises such as light stretching.
Happy baby holding!