New mothers come into my office everyday complaining of the same constellation of symptoms. Some call it “nursing back”, or say “you know, breastfeeding stuff” as they point to their neck, shoulders and upper back. Their breasts are enlarged, they spend their days holding their ever-growing babies, looking down at them as they are nursing, leaning over to change diapers, and then spend their nights sleeping in contorted positions, or not sleeping much at all. Their shoulders are internally rotated, their chest muscles tight, their upper backs are hunched forward, and they have pain that is centered between their shoulder blades, at their bra-line, the base and/or the top of their necks. They may have headaches, or jaw pain, or general, “all-over” stiffness. Often, they have arm and hand tingling, wrist pain, and low back pain as well.
Most of them never expected to feel this way after the baby was born– but is no wonder that they do. Their ligaments are still loose, their abdominal muscles are weakened and may be separated, and they are maintaining strained postures for much of the time. They are sleep deprived, and often don’t have the necessary resources or support to have any kind of bodywork or take movement classes. Most of their primary care providers don’t know how to help them. Even medical doctors have told me how surprised they were to ache so much. Many of these women think there is something really wrong with them, and mention fears that they have arthritis, or fibromyalgia. I assure them it is normal, and that they are not alone. I call it Postpartum Pain Syndrome, and it is the primary focus of my research and teaching. I know where and how to adjust their spines, which muscles need to be stretched and which need to be strengthened, and how to avoid or modify the positions and activities that aggravate their symptoms. They don’t need to live in constant pain, or rely on painkillers to feel better. There are many things we can do to help them.
I wrote an article for NW Kids that describes it briefly. I also gave a presentation on it at the ACA Pediatrics Council Symposium (that I will make available for download as soon as I can figure out how). I will continue to research, lecture, and write about it with the hope of increasing awareness of this all-too-common condition and educating both the women who experience it as well as the providers that care for them how to treat them effectively.