As your baby grows, your belly grows— and as your belly grows, your back takes on more and more strain as it holds you up and adjusts to your changing body. The majority of pregnant women will experience back pain— most often low back pain— at some point during their pregnancy. It is most common during the second half of pregnancy, as your baby grows bigger. These are some of the most common causes and treatments of back pain during pregnancy.
During pregnancy, a hormone called relaxin is released. Relaxin increases flexibility, relaxing the pelvic area and preparing it for birth. Studies show that relaxin is involved in the development of pelvic pain and back pain during pregnancy. In fact, there is a clear association between high relaxin levels and symptoms of pain during pregnancy— meaning that the higher the relaxin levels, the greater the pain.
Extra weight during pregnancy can put a strain on your muscles, joints, and spine, causing back pain. Many women find that back pain is worse toward the end of the day. The most common types of back pain during pregnancy are lumbar (lower back) pain and posterior pelvic pain.
Change in posture
As baby grows causes your stomach to expand, your center of gravity shifts and your abdominal muscles stretch. When the abdominal muscles stretch, they become weak and are unable to support you as well as they did before pregnancy. This causes the back to compensate, putting a strain on it and affecting your posture. If your expanding uterus is putting pressure on a nerve, this can also cause you to shift your weight and change your posture to take pressure off the nerve.
Pregnancy is an emotional and physical roller coaster. You may feel especially stressed right before an important test, and it doesn’t help that your hormones are raging, causing mood fluctuations as well. The physical and emotional stress of pregnancy can cause stress hormones to be released into your body, exacerbating those aches and pains that you already feel. Stress can accumulate in the low back and pelvic area, so your back pain may be worse during especially stressful times.
Contractions and labor
Early on in the pregnancy, you may have something called Braxton Hicks contractions, which are “practice contractions,” or contractions that happen spontaneously and are not a part of true labor. It is common— and perfectly safe— to have these contractions throughout the second and into the third trimester. Usually, the contractions are painless, but occasionally, they can be strong, and very painful— mimicking contractions during true labor. You may experience back pain during Braxton Hicks contractions. After 37 weeks gestation, or if you are having regular contractions a few minutes apart from one another (even before 37 weeks), contractions may signal true labor. When a woman in labor feels contractions in her low back, this is referred to as back labor. According to the American Pregnancy Association, back labor is pain or severe discomfort in the lower back that is especially intense during contractions, and painful in between contractions. A woman may experience back labor due to the position of the baby in the uterus.
Staying stationary for a long time in any position can cause strain on the back. If you find yourself sitting a lot, try to switch chairs every once in a while, and get up every half-hour to stretch. Exercise during pregnancy is important for maintaining flexibility and for strengthening your muscles, which will need to work harder with the 25-35-pound weight gain of the average pregnancy. Low- to moderate-intensity exercise is ideal during pregnancy. Recommended exercises include walking, swimming, stationary cycling, prenatal yoga, and Pilates.
Improve your posture
To ensure that you are not putting any unnecessary strain on your back, stand up straight. This may be easier said than done because your growing belly causes you to slump your shoulders and arch your back naturally. Make sure you are sitting in chairs which offer proper back support. In bed, lie on your left side with a pillow between your knees to take stress off your back.
Take the proper precautions
It is extra important to protect your back during pregnancy, and there are many small habits you can implement to do just that: Instead of bending down using your back, bend your knees into a crouching position. Avoid lifting heavy things during pregnancy, and don’t hesitate to ask for help from people around you. When sitting up from a lying-down position, roll onto your side and bend your knees and legs at the hips. Push up into a seated position using your arm instead of your back. Wear supportive shoes. Ditch the high heels and slip-ons and opt for supportive tennis shoes for every-day wear during pregnancy. Stay in tune with movements that make the pain worse, and discuss it with a health professional, who may be able to pinpoint the problem and provide a treatment plan.
Use heat and cold
Heat may provide some short-term relief, and a little rest won’t hurt either. Lie down on the couch or in bed with a heating pad or a hot water bottle on your lower back. Some women report feeling relief by alternating heat and cold. A warm bath might help also, but never a hot bath or a hot tub.
A massage therapist trained in prenatal massage can soothe and relax your back, releasing built-up tension. Look up some massage techniques online for your partner to do, and ask your massage therapist for tips to keep the ache at bay. A little back pain is perfectly normal in pregnancy—it is an indication that your baby is growing big and strong! If the pain becomes debilitating or unmanageable, talk to your doctor as soon as possible to rule out any complications, and to get started on a treatment plan.