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Physical Therapy for the New Parent

Pregnancy and birth is very hard on a person's body. During pregnancy, the pelvis widens and ligaments are stretched. Joints through the entire body loosen, extremities swell, and the lumbar spinal curvature actually changes to accommodate the growing human inside. After pregnancy, people suffer from weak and often separated abdominal muscles (diastasis recti), urinary incontinence, hip and back pain, flatter feet leading to plantar fasciitis, and vaginal pain - just to name a few.

But it is all worth it to bring a human life into this world! You knew your body would change, you expected it.... but you probably didn't think about how caring for a baby would affect your body after the birth.

Whether you are breastfeeding or bottle feeding, many new parents find that they have neck and back pain. This is very common as the feeding positions often put strain on the neck and back, especially as you stare down at your little wonder.

Black father gazing down at his bottle-feeding baby with neck strained and shoulder hiked

Ergonomics and postural changes are the best way to combat this pain. Dr. Jill Olsen, pelvic floor Doctor of Physical Therapy at FlexPlus Physical Therapy in Natick, MA, says that "the condition called 'Nursing Mother's Neck' isn't something that tends to be in the news or on health blogs, but it's very common and very treatable." (Don't be fooled by the name, though: the condition can affect parents who are bottle feeding and/or pumping, too.)

Treatment is usually very simple and generally consists of teaching the new parents healthier ergonomic ways to hold the baby during feedings, working on general good posture, and stretching and strengthening the neck, shoulder, and back to restore muscle balance and reduce pain. While all physical therapists can help with these issues, a pelvic floor/women's health physical therapist is uniquely qualified to work with new parents on these and the other musculoskeletal issues that new parents face.

One stretch to combat neck pain:

  1. Sit up straight in a chair with your feet on the floor, looking straight ahead.

  2. Raise your right shoulder to your right ear, tilting your head to meet your shoulder.

  3. Drop your shoulder back to normal position.

You should feel this stretch on the left side of your neck. If it is too intense, tilt your head slightly back to neutral position. Hold for 30 seconds, then repeat on the other side, until you have held this stretch three times on each side.

A young brown woman tilting her head to the side with eyes closed

In addition to the aches and pains many new parents face while feeding little ones, people often report lower back, shoulder, and neck pain as a result of carrying not only a growing baby, but a diaper bag, car seat, and other baby paraphernalia, and lifting a baby in and out of the crib, the car seat, the floor, the playpen, etc.

Treatment for these issues look similar in format to that for Nursing Mother's Neck: learning good lifting techniques so as not to aggravate the body, stretching and strengthening effected muscles, pain management techniques, and utilizing other options to reduce the strain.

If you or a loved one are suffering, we'd love to help. Call us at FlexPlus Physical Therapy in Natick at 508-650-0060 to set up an evaluation! Not sure physical therapy is right for you? Ask us for a FREE consultation! At FlexPlus, we're with you every step of the way.

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