Ouch! How to Deal with New-Mom Back, Shoulder, and Neck Pain

Ouch! How to Deal with New-Mom Back, Shoulder, and Neck Pain

Repetitive motions can lead to aches and injuries—here’s how to feel better.

By Liz Krieger

While you may be healed from any physical labor injuries, there may also be some significant after-pains that crop up during the next few months. Just think about the repetitive motions you do umpteen times a day—lifting the baby; leaning over a crib, changing table, or bassinet; cradling the baby; grappling with the heavy car seat and stroller. Even breastfeeding can lead to aches and injuries. Especially if you’re hyper-focused on getting your baby to latch correctly, you may end up hunched over, straining your neck and upper back muscles as you look down.

Plus, research shows that most mammal moms have a left-handed cradling bias, meaning that instead of switching off which side we use for baby care, we’re prone to keep babies on our left (the theory is this more easily helps us track how the baby is doing in the right hemisphere of our’ brains, where our emotions are processed). Are you holding the baby on your left side while you grab a fresh diaper with your right hand? Is your baby’s head on the left side of the changing table, not the right? Then you’re doing it, and likely causing repetitive-motion imbalances in your body that can lead to soreness and pain.

During pregnancy, your expanding uterus stretched and weakened your abdominal muscles and altered your posture and center of gravity, putting strain on your back. Extra weight from pregnancy not only means more work for your muscles, but also increased stress on your joints. Also, while giving birth, you may have used muscles you don't normally use (some moms even experience a sore jaw from clenching during delivery!), so you could feel those effects for some time, especially if you had a long or difficult labor.

Here are some ways to heal your back, shoulder, or neck pain and start feeling better. 

  • Massage! If you can’t see a pro, ask a willing partner or friend to help soothe your pulled muscles, tense shoulders, and lower back pain with some deep pressure relief. Pro tip: Start with the feet! You can DIY and your feet contain thousands of pressure points that can help relieve tight muscles throughout the body when activated.  
  • Stretch. When your back hurts, moving around may be the last thing you feel like doing, but it could be just what your body needs. If you’re cleared by your doctor, try lying down on the floor (a yoga mat helps!) and hugging one knee at a time to your chest. Take child’s pose: get on all fours, then push back so your forehead is on the floor, your arms are outstretched, your butt presses toward your heels and your belly presses into the tops of your legs. Reach your arms and fingers as far forward as you can to provide a deep stretch in the lower back region. Use the stretching straps in your kit to support your body, such as wrapping the strap around the back of your leg to pull it toward you in a hamstring stretch.
  • Pay attention to your body position when feeding your baby, whether you’re nursing or using a bottle. Choose a comfortable chair with armrests and use lots of pillows to give extra support to your back and arms. We know they’re cute, but try not to look down at the baby the whole time while feeding them–that posture can strain your neck.
  • If you're breastfeeding, relax your shoulders. Women often shrug to bring the baby to them, but a breastfeeding pillow (even with other pillows wedged under it) can help bring the baby to you instead. Also try using a footstool to keep your feet slightly raised off the floor. 
  • Always bend from your knees and pick up objects (and the baby) from a crouching position to minimize the stress on your back.
  • Place a pillow between your knees and ankles while you sleep to help align your spine and support weakened core muscles. 
  • Take a hot bath with epsom salt to relieve sore and tired muscles. Hot water helps widen blood vessels and increase blood flow which transfers lactic acid away from tired muscles. Heat helps soften muscles making them more pliable.  

Being conscious of how you move, changing some of those repetitive motions, and taking some simple steps to care for your body will have your back, shoulders, and neck feeling better soon.