Carrying a baby during pregnancy not only places an enormous strain on a woman’s pelvis but also her back and spine, which help support the weight of the growing baby. It is estimated between 50-75% of pregnant women experience some form of lower back pain – while some who suffered from lower back pain before getting pregnant may find this eases.
Women who are overweight or naturally carry a large amount of weight on their stomach – or who lead sedentary lifestyles – may find they suffer from back pain outside pregnancy. But if it develops once you are pregnant, you may find that your next pregnancy results in even more severe symptoms of lower back pain, as the weight of carrying a baby can weaken back and pelvic muscles.
Getting fit before falling pregnant is one way of trying to prevent lower back pain in pregnancy – but women with weak ligaments in the back or who suffer from sciatica before falling pregnant may find these conditions do not ease with a pre-pregnancy get fit or keep fit regime.
However, pregnant women should not down tools and sit out a pregnancy, as gentle exercise, walking and swimming – or simply floating in the swimming pool and gently stretching arms and legs – can help ease back pain. Most local swimming baths will hold an antenatal swimming session and this is also a good way of meeting other mums-to-be in your neighbourhood.
Many personal trainers are experienced in helping pregnant women maintain fitness levels – and pregnancy may also result in other conditions such as pelvic pain which can cause referred pain in the lower back and spine.
Massage is one of the easiest and simplest ways of relieving lower back pain – midwives can usually advise on how best to do this without causing damage to tender back muscles. Be wary of using massage oils, however, as homeopathic oils can have adverse effects during pregnancy.
The following massage oils are best avoided when you are pregnant:
Traditional herbal teas like raspberry leaf should also be avoided, as although raspberry leaf can relieve abdominal cramps and pain, it can also induce labour or miscarriage if taken early in pregnancy.
Sleeping with a bolster pillow to support your bump can also take the pressure off your back and help you get a good night’s sleep if back pain gets worse at bedtime. Some pregnant women find early morning and late at night the worse time for lower back pain – and this may be because they are more aware of it, or simply because they are unable to get comfortable in bed or have slept in an awkward position because of their bump.
As your pregnancy develops, there is also a chance you will compensate for the weight by not standing up straight – leading to a curved back and pressure on the lower spine. Practice good posture so that your spine remains straight but relaxed. Try not to lift heavy items – and also support your weight whenever possible when standing for long periods. Placing one leg on a step or foot rest can help take the pressure off your lower back and bringing your shoulders down so they are relaxed can help ease back pain.
The Alexander Technique is also useful as it can help you practice the perfect alignment of the spine – and exercises are carried out while lying down, so that the neck is relaxed and the whole body is positioned without tension.
If your back is really sore, standing under a warm shower can help relax tired and tense muscles – direct the shower at the lower back, or relax into a warm bath with knees slightly raised if possible to relax the spine.
Chronic and constant back pain can be eased using a support belt to help take the weight of your growing tummy. The weight of your baby will place demands on your pelvis as well as back and spine and a back support can help free up the increased weight on the lower part of your body and also help you relax your shoulders and upper spine to prevent tension headaches.
Osteopaths are also a good resource if you feel you need expert help for lower back pain during pregnancy. Osteopathy fees can be expensive but GP surgeries may have a practitioner who visits, as the NHS is now more open to alternative therapies. NHS Choices has a section on osteopathy and its uses.
Private osteopathy practices often have a special service for pregnant women and can advise on lower back pain or other conditions affecting the spine, or causing strain on muscles and joints in pregnancy.