Breastfeeding seems to have a surprise around every corner. One morning, you could wake up in a puddle of pink milk and freak out terribly, calling your OB-GYN in a panic to realize it's just from cracked nipples. (It looked terrifying, trust me. I love millennial pink as much as the next gal, but it's not the ideal milk color.) The next day you might notice your let-down is like a fire hose. Stuff happens. You'd think weaning would solve this, but no. Suddenly, your back is super achey. It turns out that back pain while weaning can happen, and here's why.
Your body goes through an incredible upheaval during pregnancy, childbirth, and nursing, and that all has a cumulative effect on your body. As seems to be the case with everything, it's your hormones that are causing your problems. Specifically, prostaglandins. As per Science Direct, these hormones are responsible for a ton of actions in your body, and one of them works in causing specific muscle contractions, like in the case of labor, when it contracts your uterus. Prostaglandins are released during the course of breastfeeding, and when you wean, the levels of these hormones in your body will shift. Any shift in this hormone can lead to acute or even chronic back pain, according to the journal, Spine.
Eastern medicine, such as traditional Chinese medicine, has another theory as to why this happens. I spoke with Klara Brown L.Ac, MS, Dipl. OMAcupuncture and Herbal Medicine specialist in New York City, and she tells Romper, "I look for signs of depletion in the postpartum phase, which can have varying presentations and duration, depending on the woman. Not only is pregnancy and childbirth a time of great change and energy expenditure, but the time after of breastfeeding and caring for an infant continues to tax the body’s energy reserves." According to PainScience, back pain and stress and fatigue work in a vicious cycle that feed one another. It makes sense that the stress of weaning might deplete your resources and exacerbate any niggling pain that might already be present but largely unnoticed.
"During the time of weaning, the body has already worked very hard for months or longer to ensure milk production for the baby, and the mom may start to run low on her own energy reserves," Brown says. Which is putting it mildly. I was a zombie for those first long nights of comforting my son without the aid of nursing, which was nighttime magic for him. "Aches in the knees and low back are common," she says "because these are the areas associated with the kidneys, which in Chinese Medicine are the source of all our Qi energy and vitality, and play a huge role in the creation and nourishment of new life."
Back pain from weaning can also be related to estrogen. During breastfeeding, your body produces less estrogen than during pregnancy or the normal course of your cycle, according to The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality. That means that as you wean, the levels of estrogen in your body rise. Neel Anand M.D., a spinal surgeon in Los Angeles, wrote in EmpowHer, "The sea of hormones in the human body requires a delicate balance to operate at optimal therapeutic levels. In looking at estrogen, we can conclude that a surplus can put women at risk for developing spine pain."
Brown agrees that hormones play a key factor and also notes the power of another hormone produced by pregnancy and breastfeeding. She says, "In more western terms, the relaxin hormone (which relaxes all the ligaments in the body) has flooded a woman’s body during pregnancy and stays around during breastfeeding." It's also the hormone known to cause hip and joint laxity during pregnancy, according to The Scandinavian Journal of Medical Science and Sports. Brown continues, "As breastfeeding lessens during the weaning phase, the amount of relaxin declines and now the aches and pains that weren’t noticed before become much more pronounced."
There's a lot going on, and thankfully, now that you've weaned your baby, you can totally enjoy a guilt-free glass of pinot when you're feeling particularly stressed. You can also get a massage or acupuncture without spraying the table. But if the back pain is really getting to you, call your provider and see what can be done to help.