Over the years, the Pelvic Partnership has received numerous calls to the helpline on the subject of breastfeeding and pelvic girdle pain (PGP). Women are often tearful and distressed when they contact us about this subject and it’s no wonder. They’ve often been surprised by advice to stop breastfeeding because they have PGP. A well-meaning healthcare professional, such as a GP or midwife, has told them to stop breastfeeding to overcome their symptoms of PGP faster than if they continue to give their baby breast milk. This advice is wrong and there is now a new study (see the online Wiley Library for the abstract) that suggests that breastfeeding is not detrimental to recovery from PGP, but can actually prove beneficial.
The benefits of breastfeeding
There are many health and wellbeing benefits of breastfeeding for both babies and their mothers. The World Health Organization and many other bodies promoting health and welfare (e.g. UNICEF, the NHS, NICE, and the NCT, promote the importance of breastfeeding. It provides all the necessary nutrients an infant requires to grow and thrive, it helps them to build immunity to childhood illnesses and it also protects mothers from some breast and gynaecological cancers as well as osteoporosis (which is particularly important to women who have PGP). In addition, for women with PGP, breastfeeding is one of the things a new mum can do for her baby even if her mobility is restricted. When PGP symptoms can cause difficulties with everyday childcare, breastfeeding is a way for mothers to enjoy spending time with their babies and to develop a deep relationship with them. So given all these benefits, why are some healthcare professionals advising women to drop breastfeeding to speed up their recovery from PGP?
The myth that PGP is caused by hormones
This idea of breastfeeding slowing down recovery from PGP is probably linked to the incorrect and out-dated view that PGP is caused by hormone changes in pregnancy. We now know that PGP is a biomechanical problem caused by stiff or stuck joints and usually associated with a misaligned pelvis. Hormones certainly affect PGP and can contribute to pain and sensitivity but they do not create PGP.
Many women have been urged to stop breastfeeding but have found their PGP symptoms continue. We also know from many women’s experiences that they have made a full recovery (by seeking treatment through manual therapy) while exclusively breastfeeding.
New evidence backs up our efforts to dispel this PGP myth
With nearly 12 years’ experience of providing support and information to women with pregnancy-related PGP, the Pelvic Partnership has picked up a great deal of feedback from women and professionals on the subject of PGP. We always link our information to evidence-based research as this is important for the benefit of our key audiences: women with PGP (whom we seek to help) as well as healthcare professionals who are not aware of PGP and how it can be treated at any stage during pregnancy. So it is great to report that a new study has been looking at breastfeeding and PGP and its findings support our approach.
The study was published 20 October 2014 and took place in Norway covering a period from 1999-2011. It was a follow up of 10,603 women with single babies delivered (from an existing Norwegian Mother and Child Cohort Study) who reported pelvic girdle pain (defined as combined anterior and bilateral posterior pelvic pain) 18 months after delivery.
The study found that there were 829 women (7.8%) from the original study who reported having PGP eighteen months after the birth of their baby. The patterns of breastfeeding at five months post delivery were not associated with the persistence of pelvic girdle pain. Significantly, “the proportion of women with pelvic girdle pain 18 months after delivery increased as the duration of breastfeeding decreased.”
The study suggests that far from breastfeeding prolonging a recovery from PGP, breastfeeding is actually beneficial for recovery from PGP. Looking at breastfeeding and pelvic girdle pain, the authors of the study conclude that “Among women with pelvic girdle pain, breastfeeding should be encouraged in accordance with the existing child-feeding recommendations.”
Not everyone chooses to breastfeed and we fully support your decision not to breastfeed if it’s not right for you, but the good news is if you wish to breastfeed there is no reason why you shouldn’t.
If you would like to read more about this study, it can be found via the online Wiley Library website