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How to Make Breastfeeding Less of a Pain in the Neck

Breastfeeding a baby is no small physical feat. While primary nursing issues are enough to deal with (hello, sore nipples and leakage), the hunching, crouching, pulling and straining through hourly feedings can wreak serious havoc on your back, neck and shoulders. And even if you aren’t breastfeeding, lifting, carrying and holding a little one alone can do a number on a body.

The good news? You can do something about it.

I paid a visit to Elaine O’Brien, an alignment specialist and yoga therapist at BodyFix Method (247 Third Ave., Suite 503, 212-982-2639;, in New York City—an integrative program, created by exercise physiologist Bill Boland, that uses a variety of therapies and treatments to eliminate musculoskeletal pain and imbalances. O’Brien took a look at my trouble spot—a tweaky left shoulder clearly overtaxed by nursing (and hoisting…and carrying) my now 20-pound nine-month-old—and recommended two key exercises that counteract the shoulder-rounding tendencies of breastfeeding, strengthen upper back muscles and encourage a full range of motion.

Do this pair of movements daily to wake up the upper back muscles and to help open up the chest. Concentrate on good form, go slowly and you will notice a difference in the way you hold yourself and your baby during feedings and beyond.

Wall Angels (Arm Glides)

Why Do Them: To strengthen upper back muscles and to open up the chest.

How to Do Them: Stand with your back against a wall, feet pointing straight ahead and parallel to each other. Place your arms on the wall, with elbows bent at a ninety-degree angle, and raise your hands up toward the ceiling while keeping your arms, wrists, elbows and hands in contact with the wall. Return your arms to the starting position. Do your best to keep your hands moving straight up to the ceiling and not crossing above your head. Perform 1 set of 10 to 15 reps. Build up to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps, resting between each set.

Variations: Remain against the wall, but widen your stance so your feet are shoulder width apart and pointing straight ahead. Repeat the same sequence as above, with as much of your body, arms, wrists, elbows and hands on the wall as possible. For an even wider stance, position your feet so they are slightly wider than your hips and shoulders and are pointing straight ahead. Perform 1 set of 10 to 15 reps in each foot position. Build up to 3 sets of 10 to 15 reps, resting between each set.

Shoulder Blade Squeezes (Seated Scapular Contractions)

Why Do Them: To reestablish proper seated posture and shoulder blade position and to open up the chest.

How to Do Them: Sit on the edge of a hard-seated chair, feet parallel and hip width apart and hands on your thighs. Arch your back by rolling your pelvis forward. Lean your head and shoulders back to put an arch in your lower back.

Slowly and evenly squeeze the shoulder blades together, as if you were trying to hold a ruler between them, and release. Use your shoulders, not your arms or elbows, to initiate the movement. It may be difficult at first to get the shoulder blades to move together without the help of the arms and the elbows. Take it slow, focus on each contraction and the movement will get easier. Perform 3 sets of 10 reps, resting between each set.

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