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Nurser’s Neck (or reason 101 why breastfeeding can suck)

I’m from a long line of dairy queens — my grandmother breastfed all ten of her children. My mother nursed me and my three siblings for the first year of each of our lives. Through my mom and grandmother, I inherited a romanticized view of breastfeeding — that it’s good for my baby, that it’s a beautiful bonding experience.

Others in my lactivist world had more extreme input — one pediatrician told me that when mothers don’t breastfeed their babies for at least a year, it’s “a mild form of child abuse.” Another mother told me that baby boys who aren’t breastfed have trouble relating to women later on in their lives.

All this meant that when I became a mother nine years ago the pressure was on big time not only to breastfeed but to LOVE breastfeeding.

I’m all for breastfeeding if one can do it — it can be a sweet bonding time; I’m all about antibodies; and dang, formula is expensive. Still sometimes I hate breastfeeding. It can suck. I’ve weathered plugged ducts, mastitis, bleeding nipples, and something my lactation nurse called, “compression wounds.” Yes, you heard that correctly.

On this third round of breastfeeding, the bane of my existence is Nurser’s Neck. For me, Nurser’s Neck involves shooting pain through my upper shoulders and neck both when I nurse my baby and sometimes throughout the day. At its most severe, the pain blooms up from my neck into a headache. I’ve spend more than a few evenings moaning with a big heating pad on the back of my neck watching The X-Files. (90’s David Duchovny takes away all of my woes.)   

Although it still flares up, I’m finally getting a handle on Nurser’s Neck. Here are 5 things that helped ease the pain.

5 ways to manage nurser's neck

1. Nursing Posture

I try not to hunch over my baby boy. This is hard sometimes at four o’clock in the morning when I’m struggling to stay awake by watching Buzzfeed memes on my iPhone. But as much as possible, I pull him towards my breast, rather than hunching over him.

2. Yoga, Yoga, YOGA!

I’ve benefited GREATLY from yoga. Although I’ve been a pretty regular yogi for the past year, now it’s become physical therapy for me. Every week, I religiously attend my City Yoga class and request neck and shoulder opening positions — think lots of Cobras, Camels, and Downward Dogs. Even if I don’t have time for a full DVD yoga session, I take five minutes to flow through these positions before bedtime.

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 3. Stress Management

For me, even when I’m not nursing, stress accumulates in my neck and shoulders. I spend most of my work time grading or writing on my laptop, and as my young adult heroine saves the world, good posture is the last thing on my mind. Breaks help: getting a cup of hot tea, a short walk, deep breaths, even holding a yoga position for five seconds helps break up the tension.

4. Running

Hitting the pavement is a great stress reliever. Tension works out of my whole body with some intense cardio. After a long day of work, I’m much less likely to snap at my kids if I’ve had a good three mile jog outside. (So long as it’s not cold or rainy!)

5. Wine

Red wine specifically. Sometimes there’s nothing more therapeutic than that glass of malbec. And yes, I do drink red wine in moderation when I’m breastfeeding. Yes, I did stress about this, but I talked to my lactation nurse and she advised me just to have my glass after a feeding so that it can metabolize before the next one.

So yes, I breastfeed, and I support breastfeeding, but I’m not a lactivist; and things like Nurser’s Neck sucks.

Have you dealt with Nurser’s Neck? What helped you?

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4 Responses to Nurser’s Neck (or reason 101 why breastfeeding can suck)

  1. Janie April 1, 2015 at 5:31 pm #

    I can SO totally relate! As a mom who had been in two different car accidents with severe whiplash, Nursing Neck was the WORST! And while you certainly know what to expect the second and subsequent times around, it certainly doesn’t get easier. I had clogged ducts worse with each child! I’m all for nursing being best, but it is HARD!

  2. Kristie April 16, 2015 at 6:35 am #

    First time nurser…4mo in. I’m just now discovering the term nursers neck. Hurts so bad. Haven’t found relief but I will try your suggestions. Does this heal and go away?

  3. Amy Carol Reeves
    Amy Carol Reeves April 16, 2015 at 10:27 am #

    Absolutely, Kristie! I’m five months now into breastfeeding my son, and except for occasional flare ups from stress or when I’m not keeping up with my exercises, it doesn’t bother me. Yoga is AMAZING. Let me know how it goes!

  4. Amy Carol Reeves
    Amy Carol Reeves April 16, 2015 at 10:29 am #

    Janie, thanks for sharing. So sorry about the whiplash, I’m sure that can only make nursing even more painful! Have you tried yoga?

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