Three Ways Physical Therapy can Help with Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding Months Tips

In honor of Breastfeeding Month, the pelvic health team at Apex wanted to share what physical therapy has to offer our breastfeeding population! You may have never considered the role a physical therapist could play during this period of your life, but with FIVE board-certified pelvic health specialists at our clinic, we are VERY passionate about ALL things pre and postpartum!

A few things that your physical therapist could help you with include but aren’t limited to: postural strain, avoidance and treatment of clogged ducts and mastitis, and management of joint pain secondary to continued joint laxity!

Posture

It can be hard to think about your posture when you and your infant are trying to figure out the dance of breastfeeding.  It’s easy to just find what works for baby and go with it! However, it is important to keep in mind the stress that you are placing on your body during breastfeeding, especially since for those first few months, it can seem like your entire existence is being a milk machine for your little one! I’ve been there!! We spend a lot of time feeding our little one(s) so it is important to be kind to ourselves and try to listen to our bodies as well.  Are you feeling a strain or pulling in your upper back from leaning forward? Are you getting neck pain from constantly gazing down at that sweet baby’s face?

Casey Andrews provided a few tips in a previous Facebook post to keep in mind when it comes to breastfeeding. Check out her tips and pics below! Even if you are primarily pumping or supplementing with formula to feed your little, these tips are still important to keep in mind!

  • Have plenty of pillows handy! Make sure that you have one behind your back to prevent you from slouching and at least one under your arms that keeps baby at breast height without having to hold him or her up. A boppy pillow works great for this also.
  • Bring baby to you by using your pillows.
  • Find a chair in your house that is the most comfortable for you and keep any breastfeeding necessities next to that chair including pillows, burp rags, bottles of water, blankets, etc so that you have anything you need within arm’s reach.
  • Avoid leaning over or slouching forward. Remember you want to bring baby to you and not the other way around.

Boppy pillows are a great tool to have when nursing. They are easy to throw in the car when you are going somewhere in case you need to feed your baby while out and about.

Clogged Ducts

Did you know that physical therapists can help with clogged ducts?  PT’s use a modality called therapeutic ultrasound to provide deep heat and massage to the breast tissue, focusing on the region between the blocked duct and the nipple.  This helps to warm and unclog the path from the milk duct to the nipple and allows the duct to drain. This can also help in the prevention of mastitis! I have come into work early a day or two in the past to perform this treatment on myself!

Clogged ducts are more common during the initiation of breastfeeding when your milk is coming in and your body is still trying to figure out how much milk baby needs. Sometimes the milk isn’t fully drained from the duct by baby and this backload can cause a clog.  Another common time is during the weaning period when mom is trying to slowly wean baby off of breastfeeding. Again, the clog tends to occur when residual milk is left in the breast for too long.

Refer to the video below for more information on mastitis/plugged ducts! Warning:  I am VERY pregnant in this video, so excuse the apparent breathing difficulties! Haha! Kasen, my oldest, was born about two weeks after this video!!

https://www.facebook.com/166487323370427/videos/287816358807180

Hormonal changes

Hormonal changes in estrogen, relaxin, and progesterone during pregnancy contribute to increased laxity in our ligaments and connective tissues. These increased hormonal levels remain elevated for 6 months postpartum or longer if the woman is breastfeeding (1).  In women that are breastfeeding for 12-24 months postpartum, these hormonal effects are likely prolonged and can be seen to contribute to flaring of the rib cage, increased lumbar lordosis, increased thoracic kyphosis, anterior pelvic rotation, widening of the pelvis, and flattening of feet! If not addressed, these stresses could lead to injuries later on such as SI joint dysfunction, hip and lower back pain, and leg, foot, and ankle injuries!

Hopefully the information and tips provided will help all those working through the struggles of breastfeeding…and the 4th trimester as a whole! As always, PLEASE reach out if you feel like our therapists could help YOU! We have so much to offer and this article is in no way a conclusive list!

Strength and Conditioning Journal: February 2020 – Volume 42 – Issue 1 – p 45-52 doi: 10.1519/SSC.000000000000045

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