How to safely manage back pain during pregnancy
Pregnancy is filled with many surprises but most women expect a bit of discomfort to come along for the ride. Adding pounds of weight to the front of one’s body in a span of less than a year is bound to put some strain on things. Before falling pregnant, I imagined the pain would be more like the soreness felt after exercise – uncomfortable but somehow productive-feeling and most importantly, manageable. Like so many things, you can’t really describe how painful the backaches of pregnancy can become.
Naturally, one takes to Google to find out why their back is hurting so much. Pain during pregnancy – even when “normal” – can be extremely stressful. So why does your back hurt during pregnancy? The culprit: a hormone called relaxin (that leads to aches and pains that are anything but relaxing!). Relaxin is produced by the placenta and loosens ligaments in the pelvis to allow for the body to adjust to carrying additional weight and also to prepare for labour. In some ways this is brilliant but it’s also a bit problematic for pregnant people. This loosening makes pregnant bodies less stable and more prone to injury and pain – yikes!
It’s vital to address back pain during pregnancy to prevent additional issues in the postpartum period. Unfortunately, back pain likely won’t magically disappear after giving birth. Life with a new baby involves a lot of new body movements and other challenging postures: breastfeeding, carrying, baby wearing, and rocking all add strain to the back. Additionally, some of this laxity will remain as long as you’re breastfeeding. Being proactive about back pain is important!
What causes back pain in pregnancy?
The body is so interconnected that as relaxin loosens the pelvic ligaments, it can also relax the spine, and lead to less stability in the core. The other issues: tightness and weakness in the hips and upper back tightness. This constellation of changes in a pregnant person’s body is a recipe for back pain.
Naturally, posture begins to change as the body accommodates an incredibly heavy and growing bump. Pregnant people tend to stand with their legs further apart and slightly rotated outward leading to shortened hip muscles. Picture a rubber band attached to the lower back and the hip. Now imagine that the rubber band is a bit too short. Ouch! Pain with every step and movement.
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How to relieve back pain during pregnancy
Strengthen: It’s more important than ever to strengthen certain muscles during pregnancy. These include your upper back, glutes, deep abdominals, hamstrings and pelvic floor. Keep moving to retain flexibility. Swimming, yoga, and walking are all great low-impact options that will help you strengthen these muscles without requiring too much lifting.
Put your high heels away: Pregnancy is the time to lean into comfortable, supportive footwear. Find out what type of arch you have so you can ensure you’re wearing the best shoes for your body.
Add support: A pregnancy support band can be really helpful during the second and third trimesters to take some of the pressure off the lower back and provide relief from round ligament pain. Pants with form-fitting elastic over the belly can also provide a bit of back support.
Sleep matters: Keep one knee bent and place a pillow between your knees for added support. Some mums swear by pregnancy pillows for supportive sleep. A firmer mattress will help alleviate back pain as well.
Posture matters: Try to avoid arching your back excessively which pushes your hips too far forward and out of alignment. Taking time to focus on your posture – set a reminder on your phone to sit up straight every few hours so it becomes a habit. Try to sit in symmetrical positions (no tucking a leg under!).
Avoid standing for too long: Take breaks to sit as often as you need. Prop one foot up higher than the other if you do need to stand for a longer period or to complete a task. A good trick: open your cabinets under the sink while doing dishes so you can prop one foot up!
Functional movement: Before pregnancy, you may have been able to get away with moving in less optimal ways. Now is the time to really focus on the correct way to move your body. For example, this means bending at the knee and squatting rather than at the waist to pick things up.
Don’t overdo it: This extends to all aspects of life right now. Be mindful of the additional work your body is doing. A good rule of thumb is to try to exert 70% of the energy that you normally would when doing physically demanding tasks.
Support your body: Acupuncture and chiropractic work can be a real back-saver during pregnancy. Acupuncture works by restoring movement to energy in the body which can be very supportive. Chiropractic work helps with keeping the body in alignment and allowing the body to continue to send the appropriate signals through the nervous system for overall health. Often, despite our best efforts, the body continues to come out of proper alignment as our weight distribution shifts. Chiropractic is a good way to help with this. Make sure to find a practitioner who works particularly with pregnant bodies.
Medication: Taking a pregnancy-safe pain reliever may be a necessary tool if all of the above options don’t work and you are dealing with severe back pain. Talk to your doctor about what medication is safe for use during pregnancy.
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When to worry about back pain during pregnancy
Back pain is par for the course in pregnancy but sometimes it’s a sign of something more. Call your provider if you experience any of the following:
Sudden, severe pain
Back pain accompanied by bleeding and cramping
Loss of sensation, numbness, or tingling in any part of your body from the waist down
New lower back pain that comes on suddenly during the second or third trimester
Back pain accompanied by pain under the ribs
Ask any mum and she’ll have her own story to tell about back pain during pregnancy. Pregnancy is incredibly hard on our bodies and it’s important to remember just how much our bodies are doing and changing during this time. Consider this your gentle reminder to sit down, relax, and prioritise yourself while you grow a human!
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Natalie Ehrlich Follow +
A lawyer turned professional writer, Natalie Ehrlich is a mother of three under five with a passion for supporting parents. With a history of editorial experience at major lifestyle and fashion brands, writing about parenting while in the thick of it feels like a career dream come true. In her “free” time, she enjoys reading one page of a book uninterrupted, cooking with...
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