New parents often find they either get new neck and shoulder pain, or their preexisting neck/should pain gets worse with the arrival of baby. In this section we look at why that happens and give you some stretches and techniques to help with that discomfort.
The Body – Common Causes of Neck and Shoulder Pain
Neck pain and shoulder pain are included as one topic because they often occur together and/or an imbalance in one exacerbates an issue in the other. Neck and shoulder pain is very often postural, and usually occurs either in the tops of the shoulders, between the shoulder blades, at the base of the neck and/or the base of the skull.
The cause, however, often starts with tension across the chest and front of the shoulders that pulls the upper body forward and out of alignment, creating strain on the neck, shoulder and upper back muscles.
The next time you’re feeding baby, have a look at how you’re holding your chest, shoulders, and head. The shoulders commonly form a rounded shape towards your baby and your upper body curves downward to get breast to mouth. Even bottle feeding, your body tends to form that shape, as a protective cocoon around your baby while he/she is eating. Once your upper body is in that position, it’s hard for the head to stay centred over the shoulders and usually ends up forward, as in this picture, placing strain on the back of the neck muscles.
We often adopt various postures when holding our baby. Our arms must be forward to hold him/her, and who can resist bending down to kiss and nuzzle their adorable little faces?
We of course wouldn’t for a second advise you to stop cuddling your baby – it’s one of the best bits! But it helps to be aware that these types of postures do create imbalances that result in some muscles working harder than they had to previously.
What Can You Do?
The first thing you can do is try to have better posture the rest of the time. Yes, you may have difficulty when feeding or holding your baby, but see how often when you’re not doing those things you can slide your shoulder blades gently down your back and towards each other. Stretches are good to open up the chest and relieve pressure on sore, achey muscles.
Chest Stretch – The Do Anywhere Version
Place one hand on a doorframe (or climbing frame, or pillar, or even wall), with your upper arm at least 90 degrees to your upper body.
Gently lean forward until you feel a gentle stretch across your chest. Make sure your shoulder stays down and your chest leans forward.
Hold for up to 20 seconds.
Variations: Move the arm higher to stretch different areas of the chest. Rotate slightly away from the raised arm if you have difficulty finding a stretch.
How to Fit It In:
This stretch is so portable you can do it almost anywhere. If you say you’ll do it, say, every time you use the toilet, or put your baby down for a nap, you’ll find yourself doing it a couple times a day.
Chest Stretch – The Before Bed Version
Longer duration stretches can be more beneficial by allowing the muscles to relax further.
Fold a pillow lengthwise and place it under your back, lengthways along your spine and supporting your head. You can bend your knees with feet flat on the floor to take pressure off your lower back.
Bring your arms together in front of you, and slowly open your arms, making sure your shoulders don’t come up to your ears.
Adjust your arms between 90 – 120 degrees in relation to your torso, wherever you feel a slight stretch.
Hold this for as long as you feel comfortable (e.g., 2-3 minutes) – you may feel the stretch sensation move from your chest, to the front of your shoulder, to your side, as various things release.
How to Fit It In:
Doing this stretch before you go to sleep should allow you the few minutes suggested for this stretch. Combine the stretch with some deep breathing to help relax you off to sleep.
Neck Stretch – The ‘Do It While Feeding’ Version
While feeding/holding baby, tilt your head to one side, lengthening between your neck and shoulder.
As you tilt your head, make sure you lengthen your neck away from your shoulders instead of allowing your neck to collapse over on itself to protect your neck.
Keep your shoulder down towards the floor, so your head and shoulder are moving away from each other.
Variation: Turn your head so you’re facing up, down and to the side to change where in your neck you feel the stretch.
How to Fit It In:
This is good to do while feeding or holding baby, on the tube, at the playground, pretty much anywhere you remember to do it.
Help Your Posture While Picking Up Baby
It’s a good idea to try to anchor your shoulders so you’re using your back and your front when picking up your baby.
Before lifting, try to bring your shoulder blades down and towards each other. This should activate your mid and lower traps. If you raise your shoulder blades up and together, or down and away from each other, you may use different muscles. It’s a gentle contraction, almost like you’re gluing your shoulder blades to your back.
Once you’ve picked up baby, try to keep your shoulders in that position, moving your arms more than moving your shoulders. You should feel comfortable, i.e. don’t feel like you can’t move your shoulder blades at all, just be mindful of your shoulder blades being anchored on your back instead of rolling around to the sides of your rib cage.
How an SRMT Session Can Help
If you come to us with tight neck and shoulders, we’ll first look at your posture to identify which muscles are tight and making it harder for you to stay in a balanced position. By releasing tight muscles that pull you out of balance it will be easier for you stay in a better posture. We will also check the areas you feel pain to help release any muscle tension built up through overuse. We’ll also go through a few simple stretches to help combat what you’re doing day to day that is causing those muscles to get tight in the first place.
New Parent Workshop
In our workshops this October and November, we will be reviewing these and other techniques/stretches you could do to help neck and shoulder pain. For more information about what’s included in the workshop, you can check our workshop page here, or call or email for more information.
Important note: As with all pain, neck and shoulder pain can be a symptom of a number of different causes, not just muscle tension. It is never a bad idea to check with your GP regarding any pains you have as they can rule out other, more serious causes. Also, we strongly recommend you not start any new exercise programme without checking with a health professional, whether that be your GP, midwife, or postnatal physiotherapist. None of the stretches or exercises we recommend should cause pain, if they are painful stop doing them immediately until you can get advice on the correct technique.