When my daughter was born she was 22 inches long. Nearly two feet. How does that fit in there? My son wasn’t quite so long but was nine pounds and three ounces. Both long babies and heavy babies present unique challenges.
For instance, it can be difficult to find a way to support the body of a very long baby while breastfeeding. I remember seeing my daughter’s legs hanging in mid air off the end of the breastfeeding pillow and past the arm of the glider chair and thinking, “that can’t be comfortable”. I also remember feeling like lifting my son out of his crib was akin to fishing the 25 pound Thanksgiving turkey out of the bottom of the chest freezer without falling in head first. When he got bigger and we had to drop the mattress to its lowest level I thought that that wouldn’t be a problem because he could stand up to be lifted out. This of course works until you have to pick him up in the middle of the night when he is screaming and on the far side against the wall.
A Little Game of Twister Anyone?
I often see moms of young children who have pain in the upper back and shoulders. It’s little wonder given the amount of lifting, twisting, stretching, and hunching required when caring for little ones. My own cousin developed a frozen shoulder from the positions she ended up in when breastfeeding her child.
So is any of this avoidable? I believe the key to maintaining a healthy upper body during this challenging time is to take care of the lower body. The pelvis and hips form the foundation from which the upper body works. This is much like what the base of a crane is to the working arm. If the base is unstable in any way the working arm of the crane can’t do its job properly.
Pelvic Stability is Crucial
If there is any instability in the hips and pelvis then there will be excessive strain on the upper body and arms. Moms of young babies are particularly vulnerable due to the rigours of labour and delivery which leaves the lower body compromised. For more on this see this blog post. Post-partum it takes time, effort, and often hands-on treatment to restore stability through the lower body, but it is essential for the rest of the body to work properly.
When you lean over the crib railing to lift your child out, your gluteal muscles (in the buttocks) really have to activate to stabilize you in back to support the weight you are lifting in front. If they don’t kick in, then the muscles in your upper back will try to compensate. The problem is they are much smaller and can’t generate as much power as your bigger gluteal muscles. The result is stress on the upper back muscles that exceeds their tolerance. Do this enough times and you will surely have pain.
Breastfeeding – Sport of Champions
When you sit down to breastfeed, your hips and pelvis form the base from which your upper body is working. Ideally, as you squirm around for the thousandth time to get you and your baby in just the right position, it should be the muscles around the hips and pelvis that do the squirming for you. If they are not active, then you will be lifting with the upper body. This again will result in pain eventually.
Even if you find yourself constantly hunching over while breastfeeding, having a solid foundation through the lower body will minimize the stress around the upper back, shoulders, and neck. However, if you are really struggling with positioning and getting comfortable, consider a lactation consultant. To be honest, when we had our first child and the midwife mentioned a lactation consultant, my first reaction was that a consultant for breastfeeding was for people who have a 12 bedroom house, a housekeeper, and a diamond studded collar-wearing dog named Fifi. I couldn’t have been more wrong. These are extremely knowledgeable and supportive professionals who can help you with all sort sorts of issues related to breastfeeding.
Treat the Whole Body
If you are having pain in the upper body or shoulders, be sure to seek help from someone who will look at your body as a whole. Just treating the painful area will likely result in immediate pain relief but as soon as you get home and pick up your child again the pain will return unless the root cause of the problem has been addressed.
So next time you go to lift your baby out of the crib try tightening your bottom. If those muscles just won’t kick in for you, get help and save your upper back and shoulders because the kids are only going to get bigger and heavier.