Experiencing back pain while pumping your breastmilk is so annoying and adds extra stress to your already exhausted new mama’s body. Find out what actually causes back problems when you use a breast pump and how to stop it.
The blurry fresh newborn days and weeks bring about so many changes for a new parent. But these already challenging first few weeks can start to feel impossible when you’re experiencing back pain while pumping milk.
Whether you’re feeding your baby a bottle, pumping milk for that bottle, or nursing at the breast, you may experience back pain ranging from annoying discomfort to severe back pain that you’re desperate to find a way to resolve.
If you’re experiencing back, neck, or shoulder pain after having a baby, you’re not alone, and there are things you can do to find some relief.
This article is not a substitute for medical advice.
Can Pumping Breast Milk Cause Back Pain & Neck Pain?
New moms have enough to worry about when bringing home their new baby, back and neck pain while pumping shouldn’t be something you have to add to your list of stressors.
Is your breast pumping session contributing to your sore muscles? It definitely could be. Poor posture, awkward positioning, and frequent feeding sessions are a recipe for increased back pain while pumping.
Slouching while pumping to avoid spilling milk, sitting unsupported, holding up flanges throughout pumping sessions, and then doing it all over again 2-3 hours later all add stress and strain to your back.
Combined with holding a newborn 24/7 and bending into a near-constant slouch to look at their cute face, it’s no wonder so many postpartum moms are desperate to find a cure for their back pain.
Did Birth Cause My Back Pain?
Postpartum back pain is common and can be normal, but that doesn’t make it any easier to cope with. Giving birth, whether vaginal or c-section, puts your body through a lot of stress.
Pregnancy hormones such as relaxin, estrogen, and progesterone can contribute to back pain following delivery, lasting up to 6-8 weeks1.
During this healing time it is especially important to use proper posture and body mechanics while pumping milk to avoid causing further strain on your back, neck, and shoulder blades.
Why Does My Back Hurt When I’m Pumping?
Keeping your back healthy during your breastfeeding journey is crucial to both your mental and physical wellbeing.
Let’s dive into what causes back pain while pumping breastmilk.
A combination of hormonal changes as well as all the new activities and movements involved when you have a newborn can really do a number on your back muscles.
Many mothers find themselves slouching forward during a pumping session because they are worried about milk leaking from their flanges, causing lower back pain while pumping to worsen.
Newborns feed around the clock which doesn’t allow for many breaks from these uncomfortable positions.
During pregnancy you gain weight and it doesn’t disappear overnight right after the delivery. And if you gain a lot of extra weight it can also lead to back problems.
Giving birth is a huge challenge and effort for your whole body. That’s why it’s pretty common to experience various aches in many parts of your body, including back and neck, which lasts for a few days after the labor.
No Support For Your Breasts
After having a baby your breasts are enlarged and may feel quite heavy, especially if you had large bust pre-pregnancy.
Enlarged and heavier boobs can lead to changes in your upper back, shoulder blades, neck and even your breathing mechanics, as well as your pelvis.
As your boobs fill up with milk and become heavy you may notice you bend forward your chest and feel like your breathing is more restricted.
Your upper spine and neck muscles become strained and painful – which can worsen during pumping or when you’re breastfeeding.
How Do You Prevent Back Pain When Pumping Milk?
Finding the right position while using a breast pump is not something many mothers are familiar with prior to having a baby, so don’t worry if you’re just figuring things out as you go along. A few simple adjustments can help a lot to relieve back pain while pumping.
1. Pumping Posture & Re-Positioning
A good pumping position that allows for good posture can make a huge difference in the pain you experience. Sitting or standing upright with your shoulders back and open, spine straight, and feet and arms supported will put less pressure and strain on your back.
Utilize a nursing pillow, furniture, or a rolled up towel to create a supportive space for your pumping session. A few minutes spent before pumping to get your space set up so that you’re comfortable and supported can be a great way to prevent pain and to take care of yourself during this time when you’re doing so much to take care of your baby.
If you’re on the ground, try sitting cross legged and lean on something to support your upper spine, such as a wall or piece of furniture.
Changing position from one pumping session to the next can help your body and muscles get a break as well. When you stay in one position for too long your muscles can get sore and you can get into a bad habit of putting stress on the same muscles every time you pump.
You could set an alarm to remind you to change your position while pumping or carefully stand up during the session.
2. Find The Right Hands-Free Pumping Bra
A good hands-free pumping bra can make a world of difference when it comes to your comfort while pumping.
Holding your flanges during all of your milk pumping sessions can contribute to back, shoulder, and neck pain, especially if your elbows are out like chicken wings. This awkward position can be avoided by using a hands-free bra that works with your pump.
When choosing a bra you want to find one that is comfortable and easy to use with the flanges you prefer and works specifically with your pump. It should support your heavy breast, as well as fit the flanges and hold them snuggly again your boobs.
Some popular pumps, like Medela or Lansinoh fit in basically every pumping bra that have holes in the cups for flanges.
On the other hand, the best-selling Spectra (which is by the way an awesome pump, because it’s strong as a hospital pump, but much lighter, easy to adjust and WAY CHEAPER) is compatible only with a few bras, because it has bigger one-piece breast shields.
If you happen to have this pump, check out my article to find the best Spectra pumping bra that fits and holds its flanges securely.
In general, avoid underwire or tight-fitting bras that compress breast tissue as these can lead to clogged ducts.
9 Best Tips For Relieving Back Pain During Pumping
One of the simplest things you can do to relieve and prevent back pain is maintaining good posture throughout the day.
Pregnancy throws off the posture of your entire body due to the extra weight shifting your center of gravity and causing you to lean forward, and putting pressure on the muscles of your mid back in order to accommodate your growing belly.
Now that your milk production has increased, you are likely experiencing heavy breasts and other changes to your body. All of these impact your posture.
1. Fix Your Posture
The best thing you can do is stay aware of your position, keep your shoulder blades pulled back and down, your chest open, and your neck upright.
If you notice yourself leaning forward and hunching over your newborn (how can you not while staring at that cute face), try changing positions to avoid worsening pain problems.
2. Use Hands-Free Pumping Bra
Wearing a pumping bra when you use your breast pump means that you don’t have to hold the flanges and bottles (which usually leads to overstretched shoulder and neck muscles).
Make sure to choose a bra that is compatible with your pump so it fits the flanges comfortably and holds them snuggly against your chest (which can also prevent your nipples from soreness). It should be too loose, but also not too tight – the flanges and your boobs should not be squeezed.
3. Use A Footstool
Using a footstool when you pump will provide proper support for your feet and prevent you from slouching forward. You can also use a nursing pillow for upper and lower body support.
4. Reduce Stress To Reduce Sore Muscles
Tension from the stress of caring for a new baby and this huge shift in your day to day life can build up in your body.
Many mamas hold this tension in their muscles and can actually make their pain worse.
I recommend you to try relaxation technique and exercises for stress relief.
5. Exercises To Improve Flexibility & Reduce Pain While Pumping
Looking down at your baby for prolonged periods of time as frequently as they feed can cause your back and neck muscles to become tight and sore.
Adding a few stretch breaks into your day, especially before or after feeding your baby, can help relax your tight muscles and ease your pain. Lots of moms recommend a short stretch before pumping.
A few simple exercises can also make a big difference when it comes to your back.
Chin Tuck Stretch
Relaxing your head and neck muscles, look down toward your feet. Gently pull your head forward until you feel a gentle stretch. Hold this position for 30 seconds. Repeat as needed.
Start on all fours with a neutral spine. As you breathe out, relax your spine and allow your bellybutton to slowly drop toward the ground into a cow stretch. As you inhale, pull your bellybutton in toward your spine and arch your mid back toward the sky into cat pose. Repeat this sequence following your breath for about 30 seconds2.
Shoulder Shrugs & Circles
Lift your shoulders toward your ears and slowly rotate them forward and around in a circle. Continue in this direction for 30 seconds, then switch directions and repeat.
Lie on your back with feet flat on the ground and knees bent. Tilt your pelvis back toward the floor so that your low back flattens against the ground by tightening your lower abs, then slowly release. Repeat 5-10 times3.
6. Care For Yourself So You Can Care For Your Baby
Try to build some self-care into your routine. Finding the time for yourself as a new mom can feel impossible, but even small things like making sure you’re drinking enough water to stay hydrated and asking for help so you can take a bath or get a massage to reduce inflammation can make a big impact on how you feel.
If you experience neck and back pain while pumping, try to massage this parts after you finish expressing the milk to relieve the tension from your muscles. You can ask your partner or friend for help.
You may also try physical therapy and get a professional back massage from time to time.
8. Hot Compress
This is another simple trick that you can try to ease you pain. Heating pads may help if your pain is not severe.
9. Stay Hydrated
I know it seems like an obvious thing, but really drinking enough water and staying hydrated is REALLY important.
Pumping is actually a strenuous activity for your body! Besides, staying hydrated is also important for the milk production and your milk output.
When To See A Doctor?
Although experiencing pain while pumping is common and normal, there are times when the best course of action is to seek out support from a professional.
In general, pain that does not seem to get better over time with improved posture, light strengthening exercises, stretches, a hot compress, or massage should be brought up to your doctor so they can examine some potential causes.
In addition, any newly occurring numbness or weakness in the legs, or worsening pain, numbness, and/or weakness would also warrant a call to your provider4. Your doctor may want to evaluate your pain further or refer you to a specialist like a physical therapist.
While it is rare to have back pain caused by having an epidural during labor, if you have any concerns or back pain with severe headaches, it’s a good idea to let your doctor know what is going on and get their support with deciding how to treat your pain (6).
If you are breastfeeding, always talk to your doctor before taking any pain relief medications (even taking ibuprofen is best run past your provider or lactation consultant).
Is It OK To Lean Back While Pumping?
While recovering from birth it may feel difficult to sit in the recommended positions to support your spine and back.
It’s okay to recline slightly while pumping, especially to relieve pressure while healing in the first few weeks.
But be careful not to lean back too far to avoid milk flowing back out of your flanges and leaking or breaking the suction of your pump.
Why Does My Back Hurt When I Breastfeed? + How To Stop It
Breastfeeding can cause back pain for many of the same reasons that pumping does. Awkward positions, poor posture, and recovery from pregnancy and birth are all reasons your back might ache while nursing your new baby.
Use A Nursing Pillow
Using a nursing pillow can help you get into a comfortable breastfeeding position, while allowing you to relax during breastfeeding.
Maintain Ergonomic Position
Since your baby’s latch is a much better seal than what you can achieve with a breast pump, you can use a laid back position for comfort.
Get comfortable and make sure you’re supporting your back muscles with pillows or furniture, then place your newborn on top of you so you can relieve stress on your back while breastfeeding.
Changing positions frequently, staying hydrated, doing light exercise, and making sure you stretch can all help your back pain improve as well.
Article By Shelby Jawer
Shelby Jawer is a mom, postpartum doula and Certified Lactation Counselor (certified by the Academy of Lactation Policy and Practice). She also spent the past decade teaching in public schools. Her work as doula and lactation counselor has allowed her to connect with new parents and provide them evidence-based knowledge combined with the wisdom only experience can offer.
The purpose of this article is informative. It’s not a substitute for professional medical advice or medical care. Remember: safety first! Consult your doctor/pediatrician in case of any doubts. The author of this article does not accept any responsibility for any liability, loss or risk, personal or otherwise, incurred as a consequence, directly or indirectly, from any information or advice contained here.