Breastfeeding Ergonomics – How To Avoid Pain While Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Can Become Painful.

If you’ve opted for ‘breast is best’ and have begun to breastfeed, you will inevitably hope that the time spent feeding your little one is intimate and special as well as a wonderful way to bond. 

Gazing down lovingly as your newborn obtains natural nourishment from you should be rewarding. So why do so many new mothers quip, after just a few weeks, that breastfeeding has become both painful and somewhat dreaded?

Breastfeeding is of course a natural process that offers numerous benefits to both mother and baby.

However, because breastfeeding is natural, we are also inclined to assume that the process will not cause any undue discomfort to a new mother. 

Yet, as osteopathic specialists, we know that any new physical undertaking carries potential to cause pain and other issues if not carried out in an ideal way.

Breastfeeding is a surprisingly demanding challenge for a mother’s body, requiring her to feeding every few hours while counteracting the growing baby’s weight each and every time.  

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While a new-born understandably becomes a new mother’s sole focus and priority, it is not uncommon for her body to struggle to adapt to all of the physical demands now suddenly asked of her as she breastfeeds.  

Albeit an unwelcome truth, a new mother’s ligaments and muscles will soon begin to grumble about repetitive bouts of bad posture and prolonged static positions just as they would’ve done before motherhood began.

As there are so many different ways to breastfeed, the discomfort that develops varies too. 

If you’ve not long begun breastfeeding and have noticed more headaches than normal as well as new aches and pains within your neck, shoulders, upper back, lower back, elbows, wrists and hands, there’s a high chance that you’re not feeding in an optimal manner and are beginning to experience the after-effects.

However, take heart in the knowledge that there are numerous osteopathic strategies that you can use to make breastfeeding comfortable and pleasant again. 

Many of these strategies make use of items that are likely already in your home or require nothing more than a slight adjustment to your positioning. Let’s take a closer look.

Incorporate Breastfeeding Ergonomics

The most effective way to avoid pain while breastfeeding is to incorporate some ergonomic strategy into your routine. 

Ergonomics might sound complicated and something that’s more geared towards ensuring office workers are positioned correctly with their computer but, overall, ergonomics are actually just some simple steps towards having good posture while you’re doing what you’re doing. 

We understand that a new mother might not be interested in the term ‘ergonomics’ when she has her little one to admire but, if small postural changes are made early on, they can make a big difference and prevent pain right from when breastfeeding commences.

There is no need to be uncomfortable while performing the admirable task of breastfeeding. This is particularly relevant in a time when lingering pain from childbirth, fatigue, overwhelm and post-natal depression can all simultaneously add to the workload of being a new mum. 

By subtly introducing some ergonomics into your feeding sessions, you’ll significantly reduce the chances of developing musculoskeletal discomfort while also feeling confident that you’re feeding correctly and giving yourself the chance to enjoy this cherished time pain-free.

Additionally, having good posture as you breastfeed also helps to ensure a healthy and steady milk flow.

Tap into Local Breastfeeding Support

Did you know that you can seek in-person advice and support from a local breastfeeding group

Meetings run by breastfeeding support groups are designed to teach what is required during breastfeeding as well as sharing what is normal and what is not.  You can tap into other people’s experiences and share thoughts generally on breastfeeding. 

Ideally, you want to get ahead and start attending a breastfeeding group before baby arrives but new mothers, partners and hungry little ones are just as welcome as they work together to get things going.

Set-up a Feeding Station and Add Physical Support

Given the numerous hours that breastfeeding entails, it’s an investment to spend a short amount of time setting up a bespoke feeding station for you and your little one. 

Aim to find a comfortable spot within the home that can accommodate a supportive chair, a small table that can sit alongside (ideally reaching up to the same height as the arms of your chair) and a foot stool. 

Combined, these will all enable you to sit comfortably and supported while breastfeeding over prolonged periods. 

Make sure to sit all the way back in your chair as this will help prevent back pain and use the foot stool to raise your feet up as and when necessary. 

When sitting without the foot stool, place both feet flat on the floor. Try to avoid raising your little one up to you by pushing up off the floor with your toes. 

Instead use a large, flat pillow or two beneath baby to fill any gap between you by positioning the pillows on your lap to bring baby up to the level of your nipple. This will help avoid bad postural hunching and strain within the leg muscles.

Meanwhile, your nearby table can be used to ensure that all you need is to hand when sitting in your chair.

What you choose to have here is entirely down to personal preference but common choices include extra pillows, cloths, a cup, drinks and snacks, a book, a TV remote control and a mobile phone.

Adopt an Array of Breastfeeding Positions

Using the same breastfeeding position time-and-time again may be a tempting lazy option but, over the long-term, this can become boring while the use of a sole position equates to excessive strain being placed on a very limited range of muscles and leads to pain.

There are a great many ways to hold baby while enjoying a comfortable angle and strong latch between you. Trial as many different positions as you can for you’ll inevitably find some positions work better at home whilst others prove more practical when out and about.

Among our favourite, ergonomic-friendly breastfeeding positions are the cross-cradle hold, the laid-back position, the football position, the side-lying position and the sweetly-named Koala hold.

The cross-cradle hold is a particularly good position for new and inexperienced mothers, allowing for good control of baby’s head. 

It is good practice to support baby from between the shoulder blades rather than pushing from behind the head for, with the latter, little one will simply push back against you. 

Cross-cradle is also helpful for premature babies or where there is a poor latch.

The laid-back position is also good in the early stages of motherhood. You’ll be surprised how good  baby is at instinctively knowing how to seek out a feed and it’s a good opportunity to let them explore using hands and smell before they latch on with you. 

The football hold is recommended where a Caesarean delivery has occurred and mum is therefore trying to avoid the Caesarean wound.  The use of pillows – behind mum’s back and under baby – helps enormously with this position.

The side-lying position is a favourite for night-time feeds and a particularly relaxing technique to try.  Side-lying is another position recommended for mums who are trying to avoid contact around their abdomen post-Caesarean. 

Not only does the koala hold make us feel nostalgic for home, this cute position can help where neck tension or spasms are proving problematic as your legs and knees support baby’s weight, giving your upper body some welcome relief.  

Learning a handful of positions not only introduces variety into your breastfeeding routine, but it will also challenge and strengthen baby’s motor skills while helping you avoid pain.  You can learn these positions at a breastfeeding support group, via online tutorials or with us here at the Focus Osteopathy clinic

Keep Moving

Whichever breastfeeding positions you choose, aim to avoid being in any given position for more than 45 minutes and switch to another when this time has passed.

This is because holding a prolonged static position causes a build-up of lactic acid within muscle tissue, causing pain.  At the same time, circulation and oxygen levels in the muscle decrease, causing us to feel stiff.   

To counteract these issues, use any winding breaks as an opportunity to move or walk around for a few minutes.

Another simple yet effective trick is to switch sides.  This encourages even milk supply from both breasts as well as giving your muscles equal opportunity to work and recover.  Setting a timer to switch sides after 15 minutes can be a helpful reminder. 

It’s also a great idea to take a few minutes after breastfeeding to do some gentle stretches as this helps relieve any tension that has developed while you’ve been with baby. 

We recommend trying rotational movements from side-to-side whilst sitting in a chair, turning your head from side-to-side and rolling your shoulders. Additionally, rolling over the back of your chair or a big supportive pillow on the floor can help open up the chest and remobilise the upper back.

Try to incorporate gentle post-feeding movement into your routine. It’ll become a welcome treat after a job well done.

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Women! Why Putting Yourself First Is So Important

Are you the no-show patient? 

Is there an empty chair at your doctor’s surgery where you should be sitting instead?

Have you found yourself inundated with letters, text messages and phone calls from your healthcare clinic, all reminding you of that overdue check-up? 

Do you feel that medical appointments now pop up with the same irritating ardour as grey hairs – with attending one appointment usually resulting in invites to half a dozen more?

And all of this occurring amongst the ever-present ‘to do’ list and fervour of day-to-day life?

We hear you and we understand. 

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Even if you aspire to having good health and you’d be horrified to think your doctor viewed you as unmotivated, it is not uncommon to unintentionally become the ‘no-show’ patient. 

Life is busy and working hours are long.

There are commitments to uphold and people we don’t wish to let down. 

Even when we know a medical appointment is important or we would genuinely find it helpful to run something by a healthcare specialist, pinning down the time to go to a medical appointment can be notably challenging.

This is especially true if appointments are only offered during conventional office hours and things need to be juggled at work in-order to make yourself available. 

Factor in the inevitable competition for parking when you arrive at a clinic, unpredictable wait times as well as not being fully sure how you’ll feel afterwards and it all adds up to make ticking a healthcare appointment off your ‘to do’ list harder still.   

As a result, it can be a surprisingly long time before we have that long-intended chat with our doctor or get the results of a pending medical test. 

For all our good intentions when it comes to health, what does it take for us to put ourselves first? And why does it matter when it comes to women’s health? 

Why Do We Delay Our Healthcare Appointments?

There are numerous reasons why we delay seeing a healthcare specialist. Which one applies to you? 

Excuses, excuses  

Let’s face it.  Sometimes, we just don’t want to go.  

Amongst all else that’s going on, attending a medical appointment isn’t exactly the most exciting nor appealing of activities. 

Being in your specialist’s waiting room usually requires notifying your employer of the pending appointment, the travel and expense of getting there, and navigating your way through a complex maze of wards and corridors.

Not to mention enduring a frustrating wait whilst seated amongst strangers, trying to explain your complicated symptoms to a doctor who is usually pushed for time, undergoing medical tests that leave you feeling exhausted and then, on the way home, wondering why the appointment didn’t perhaps go better. 

Combined with plenty else demanding our attention elsewhere, it’s both tempting and perfectly understandable for us to use our hectic schedule to avoid going in the first place. Is it a case of excuses, excuses? 

Ignorance Is Bliss

Granted, medicine is an incredibly impressive and fascinating field.  But medicine exists for a reason – it is utilised when something goes physically wrong with us, whether that be an infection, an allergy or a physiological response to injury.

Much like when our car goes in for safety checks at the garage, when medical tests are performed, we’re effectively inviting in the possibility that we’re going to be told something is wrong or that we could be doing better.  Does anyone really like to be told either? 

Sometimes, our fear of what might be wrong stops us from seeing a healthcare specialist. In other cases, an individual can become burnt out by attending relentless clinics and taking repetitive medical advice.

This is common when someone has managed a challenging medical condition long-term or they feel the medical advice they’re being given is patronizing, no longer applicable or unhelpful. Sometimes, we just don’t want to know. Is it a case of ignorance is bliss?

Up Against It?

If you’re a real go-getter or you’re always the first to help others, being prompted to attend your annual check-up can seriously throw an unwelcome spanner in the works. 

With lengthy work commitments, promises and favours to friends and family, voluntary commitments on our down-time and an endless push to do better, it’s no wonder you’re rarely seen at the healthcare clinic!   

While being ambitious and mindful of other people’s needs is entirely commendable, it is important to remember that you can only pour for others if you first stop to fill the jug. 

Just like your career objectives, family plans and commitments within the community, you too are important. Skipping healthcare appointments is, in the long-run,   doing yourself an injustice.  Is it a case of needing to cut some strings and reduce being constantly up against it? 

Lacking Awareness

Sometimes we don’t even know there is a healthcare problem that needs addressed. 

Do you know what’s normal when it comes to having a period, every weird and wonderful symptom of pregnancy, how menstrual hormones affect mood as well as countless other processes within the body, when menopause is supposed to happen or how going to the bathroom too often or too little can actually stem from an unhappy pelvis and troubled reproductive system?   

Rather than ignoring what’s going on, we’re sometimes not attuned to there being an issue present in the first place. Could it be a lack of awareness? 

Lacking Confidence/Sense Of Shame 

Even as modern-day women, who are busy gaining ever-increasing confidence in forging careers for ourselves while showing the lads how it’s done, there’s nothing quite like having to address a women’s health issue within a medical clinic to test even almighty nerves of steel.   

From having to explain unusual pain in our nether-regions to embarrassing discharges and erratic bleeding to an inability to enjoy intercourse, boy isn’t it a challenge to get the words out in person in the clinic! 

Combined with undressing from the waist down to having to embrace the stirrups and show everyone what lurks down there, getting checked out on a women’s health problem usually involves a fair amount of leaving your pride at the door.  Is it a lack of confidence or a sense of shame that’s stopping you from booking that much-needed appointment?

The Degradation Of Health - Time Waits For No Woman

Whether we like it or not, time waits for no woman. Equally, burying one’s head in the sand does not usually make a problem go away and, when it comes to our health, a medical problem will happily wreak havoc and even progress while we play the cards of ‘ignorance is bliss’ or ‘I’m too busy’.

We hate to tell you but a medical condition possesses neither feelings nor regard for your state of mind, your commitments or overflowing schedule.

Frustratingly, within our clinic at Focus Osteopathy, we see a great many women who’ve allowed their schedule to derail their desire to seek out medical advice. 

Often, by the time patients arrive for their initial consultation, what had started out as a minor niggle some time ago has become a painful, overwhelming and thoroughly unwelcome medical condition. We can’t help but think ‘if only you’d come to us sooner!’.

While we understand the many difficulties and distractions that prevent patients from seeking medical advice, we would always encourage someone to speak with their healthcare specialist as soon as possible.

This is because a small health issue – which could be remedied quickly and with minimal intervention – can quickly snowball into something much more problematic and chronic if it is ignored. 

Make Yourself A Priority – Visit Us At Focus Osteopathy

To possess and retain optimal health, it is crucial to make yourself as much of a priority as your ‘to do’ list.

This is particularly true when it comes to women’s health issues.  Thanks to the complexity of female physiology as well as the various reproductive processes that are unique to women, there is significant potential over a woman’s lifetime for niggling health issues or an unexpected injury to occur.   

Pregnancy, childbirth and menopause are all entirely natural processes but they are also sure-fire candidates for leaving you in need of either medical advice or assistance.

The pelvic floor can weaken, nerves can incur damage and surprising aches and pains may develop as new physical challenges arise and reproductive hormones fluctuate.  

In the absence of treatment, many women’s health problems will persist including pelvic floor dysfunction (PFD), endometriosis and urinary incontinence. In pregnancy, pelvic girdle pain (PGP), symphysis pubis dysfunction (SPD), round ligament pain, carpel tunnel syndrome (CTS) and rib pain will all usually get progressively worse.   

Here at Focus Osteopathy, our therapists can work on improving your muscle function and pelvic position, advise on workplace ergonomics and optimal posture, teach exercise and relaxation techniques and most importantly, work with you to maintain your health and wellbeing.

We use hands-on techniques to mobilize joints, soothe soft tissues and regain flexibility throughout the body.   

Isn’t it time to send that women’s health problem packing? If you can put yourself first and find a little time to see us, we are ready and willing to help you with a wide variety of women’s health issues here at Focus Osteopathy. 

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The Signs of Pelvic Floor Dysfunction

Experiencing urinary problems? Pelvic Floor Dysfunction may be to blame. 

When you’re experiencing urinary problems, there’s a high chance that a condition known as ‘Pelvic Floor Dysfunction‘ may be lurking behind the numerous symptoms that are frustrating, exhausting and embarrassing. 

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What is the Pelvic Floor?  

The pelvic floor consists of a group of muscles that form a bowl-shaped hammock, stretching between the pubic bone and the coccyx at the base of the spine.  It is a fundamental structure, sitting at a slight tilt and performing several roles including strengthening the abdomen and back, stabilizing the core and controlling urination and defecation.   

The pelvic floor holds many internal organs in place, among which are the lower intestine and bladder as well as the prostate in men and the ovaries and uterus in women. During childbirth, the pelvic floor must relax to allow the safe delivery of a baby. 

When considering the sheer load of what must be physically supported as well as its many differing functions, the pelvic floor possesses impressive capabilities

What is Pelvic Floor Dysfunction? 

Pelvic Floor Dysfunction (PFD) is an umbrella term that indicates something has gone wrong with the pelvic floor muscles. Many problematic symptoms – including urinary issues – arise in the presence of this condition.   

There are two forms of PFD, each dictated by the state of the pelvic floor.

The first form is referred to as hypotonicity (or low muscle tone) and results from weakness in the pelvic floor muscles. In this case, the muscles possess a poor level of contraction, often leading to pelvic organ prolapse (POP) as well as urinary and faecal incontinence and many other symptoms. 

The second form of PFD is caused by hypertonicity, where the pelvic floor muscles are tense or tight and cannot fully relax. This can lead to voiding issues with the bladder and bowel as well as pain during intercourse and within the lower back. 

PFD is a notable problem among new mothers – the condition registers as the most common complication of childbirth.  In rare cases, PFD can be triggered by a sudden injury (e.g., a fall onto the perineum). 

PFD can be surprisingly debilitating, often thanks to the interconnected nature of the fascia (connective tissues) within the pelvis. This means that an issue in one area of the pelvic floor has a good chance of impacting another. 

For the majority of those with PFD, the problem has built up slowly as a result of multiple concurrent factors, with the condition only manifesting itself symptomatically when a high level of muscle weakness or tightness has developed.   

Symptoms of PFD 

PFD delivers numerous symptoms, many of which are painful and problematic.  Symptoms of PFD develop so gradually that they’re often mistaken as part and parcel of getting older.  

As a result, the issue may not be recognized by an individual for many years. Sometimes PFD is detected unexpectedly in a check-up (e.g., ultra-scan) for an entirely different medical matter.  

PFD is most commonly associated with urinary incontinence but this is not always the case.  

Other possible symptoms include pelvic pain, faecal incontinence, lower back pain, coccyx pain, difficulty sleeping, pain during intercourse, an inability to void or defecate fully, a general feeling of pressure within the pelvis, the urge to urinate frequently, repeated urinary infections and a weak urine stream.  

PFD and Urinary Issues in Women

PFD afflicts both genders but not equally.  Lifestyle factors such as partaking in high-impact sport, obesity or extended periods of sitting can increase PFD risk in both sexes. However, women are troubled by PFD much more thanks to the various strains and changes that the pelvis undergoes during a woman’s lifetime. 

A common cause of PFD in females is childbirth. Over 30% of women experience injury to the pelvic floor during labour. Without adequate muscle training, the pelvic floor is often weak post-partum.   

In later life, menopausal hormone changes can encourage PFD to develop. Over half of women over the age of 50 experience a degree of pelvic organ prolapse (POP).  

Often, caused by weakness within the pelvic floor, POP allows an organ to shift and this causes issues by putting unexpected pressure elsewhere in the pelvis.  Undergoing a hysterectomy will increase the chances of POP and PFD occurring.

On the other hand, significant POP can also be the reason why some women have a hysterectomy.  

One of the stand-out symptoms of PFD in women is urinary difficulty.  This can take the form of urinary leaks when coughing, sneezing and moving around (urinary incontinence) or difficulty emptying the bladder (urinary retention).  

Urinary incontinence is frequently associated with decreasing oestrogen levels while urinary retention is caused by either an obstruction near the bladder or dysfunction of a bladder muscle. 

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These issues can be caused by POP, changing hormone levels, a tumour or uterine fibroids compressing the urethra or neurological damage that stems from a chronic illness such as diabetes or multiple sclerosis. Occasionally, a retroverted gravid uterus can cause urinary retention post-partum.   

The bladder itself can prolapse within the pelvis. When this occurs, it is medically referred to as a cystocele. The fallen bladder then presses against the front vaginal wall, causing a feeling of heaviness. Bladder prolapse can occur solo or in conjunction with uterine or rectal prolapse and this is usually determined by the overall condition of the pelvic floor.  

Around a quarter of women will develop PFD but sadly, due to lack of awareness on the condition and the embarrassment that accompanies tackling the problem, only a small proportion actually seek treatment. 

Treating PFD and Urinary Issues with Osteopathy  

As osteopaths, it is frustrating to know so many women unknowingly develop PFD and then go on to experience its unpleasant side-effects while avoiding assistance thanks to embarrassment.  

This is especially true when we know that the condition is easy to diagnose and responsive to the appropriate treatment. PFD cases either disappear or significantly improve with manual therapy and rehabilitation advice, including osteopathy. 

Which specific form of PFD has arisen is diagnosed via its symptoms and from which organ the issues originate from.   

If you suspect PFD, do not let embarrassment stop you from seeking help. This is important for the longer PFD is left unmanaged, the more treatment is usually needed.  

For example, urinary retention is very uncomfortable and, if not addressed, it can be dangerous too. When the bladder cannot empty sufficiently, this can cause renal damage long-term and then both issues require treatment.   

To obtain an accurate diagnosis, your osteopath will find it helpful to know your medical background as well as what symptoms you are experiencing. PFD can be caused by other issues so be sure to give as much detail as you can. 

50% of people with constipation also have PFD, caused by the constant strain during defecation.  By remedying one issue, even if it may seem unrelated, you may also address PFD. 

Upon consultation, your osteopath will want to establish what issues, if any, are present within your pelvic floor.  You may be asked to breathe, sit, stand and walk within the clinic as moving around helps pinpoint posture issues that could be negatively affecting your pelvic floor.  

Your osteopath may also seek to identify muscle trigger points and tight connective tissues that add to your discomfort. Further insight can often be revealed by an internal examination as this allows both the strength and tightness of the muscles in the pelvic floor to be fully evaluated.  

Following diagnosis of PFD, your osteopath can develop a rehabilitation plan, which is tailored specifically to remedying the exact form and severity of PFD that you have as well as any associated issues that may also be lingering.  

In many cases, simply restoring a higher level of mobility and movement proves enormously beneficial. 

This is usually gained through, breath retraining, posture re-training combined with home exercises designed to either strengthen or relax the pelvic floor muscles as required.   

In addition, your osteopath may prescribe dietary changes to reduce overall pain and enhance your rehabilitation as you work on the physical elements of your programme. 

They may also introduce manual massage or myofascial release into your plan as well as the use of a transcutaneous electrical neural stimulation (TENS) machine or the use of biofeedback sensors. 

However your osteopath guides you through rehabilitation therapy, the overall aim will be to combat PFD by restoring healthy function in your pelvic floor.  

Your osteopath will also be able to advise on lifestyle habits and either offer direct training or point you in the right direction for other helpful techniques such as meditation, yoga, acupuncture and deep breathing. 

Combined, an osteopathic rehabilitation programme can significantly enhance your overall well-being as well as empower you to not let PFD affect your life and lifestyle for good. 

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