Almost two thirds of women will experience back pain during their pregnancy. It often begins in the late second trimester as the weight piles on and can continue on through until birth, and sometimes even afterwards. It really isn't a surprise that women get back pain during pregnancy – weight gained during the pregnancy, changes in their centre of gravity resulting in changes in posture, muscle separation, loose joints (due to hormonal changes) and often purposeful reductions in exercise as they get bigger unfortunately leaves them an easy target for pain and general discomfort.
Types of back pain
The typical back pain associated with pregnancy is usually a dull persistent ache in the lower back. It often first manifests as stiffness in the morning, progressing to dull soreness through the day. If your pain is severe (or increasingly severe), sudden in onset and/or involves rhythmic cramping – you should seek immediate medical assistance.
There are quite a few different techniques to prevent back pain associated with pregnancy, many of which are discussed in detail below.
Exercise regularly to strengthen your back and abdomen
For both your health and the baby's health it is important that you remain active through your pregnancy. Not only does it help to reduce stress (see below), it also helps to prevent excessive weight gain, keeps your heart healthy, helps prevent gestational diabetes, and last but certainly not least it helps strengthen muscles and increase flexibility – both helpful for a (relatively) comfortable birth.
There are many different exercises you can take part in through your pregnancy, including: walking, swimming, stationary cycling and light to medium weight lifting. Check with your doctor if there are any particular exercises you should or shouldn't be doing during your pregnancy, as every pregnancy is different.
Maintain good posture
Good posture is important in all periods of life to avoid injury and nagging pains. During pregnancy it is really important you work to maintain a good body posture, especially as you get larger. Bend your knees rather than your back when picking up items (including children) or putting them down – and don’t lift heavy weights! Check this page out for more information on how to lift properly during pregnancy.
When standing, keep your chest up, shoulders back and relaxed, and make sure to use a comfortable wide stance (rather than keeping your feet together) for best support. Take regular breaks from standing, choosing seats and chairs that support your back. If none are available, then use a small pillow or back support to ease back tension when sitting.
Wear comfortable gear
We all know that high heels are bad for your posture and back at the best of times – they're much worse during pregnancy, so do yourself a favour and stick to flat comfortable footwear. When shopping for footwear aim to pick shoes that provide your feet support. To check your chosen shoe has adequate support, use your hands to try to bend one in half or twist it (when you’re not wearing them!) – If the sole of the foot allows you to do this, move on to find something else.
Some women find comfort from using back support belts to provide extra support. We suggest you borrow one from a friend to give it a trial before parting with any money, as many women find them uncomfortable.
Relaxation and meditation
Stressful periods during your pregnancy can bring on pain in weak spots in your body, including your pelvis. Taking time out from each day to put your feet up, relax and/or meditate will help to reduce your chances of back pain as well as the severity of any pain you do experience. Some women find that yoga designed specifically for pregnancy helps to reduce stress and removes dull aches; whereas other women find that simply taking the time to meditate in their home is enough.
Importantly there is research to indicate that highly stressed women are at a greater risk of pregnancy complications including early births and low birth weight, and may potentially be putting their child at increased risk of developing depression and irritability – yet more reasons to find ways to relax.
If you are under a lot of stress or undergoing a highly emotional period in your life (more so than that caused by having a baby), seek professional help from a counsellor or a psychologist.