Pregnancy. It is the best of times. It can be the worst of times. While the media often shows pictures of glowing women with perfect baby bumps, the reality can often feel quite different.
From swollen feet, to back pain, pregnancy can take its toll on your body. It’s no easy feat making a whole new human!
Causes And Risk Factors For Back Pain In Pregnancy
Back pain is one of the most common complaints among pregnant women. Mostly musculoskeletal in nature, pregnancy-related lower back pain can be due to many different contributing factors such as hormones, circulation, stress. Add to this changes in the pelvic region and carrying an unevenly distributed heavy load for 9 months, and you have the perfect recipe for low back pain during your pregnancy.
Common Causes Of Back Pain In Pregnancy
Increase In hormones — Hormones released during pregnancy allow pelvic-area ligaments to soften and joints to loosen in preparation for the birthing process. This change may affect the support your back normally experiences.
Center of gravity — Your center of gravity will gradually move forward as your uterus and baby grow, which causes your posture to change.
Additional weight — Your developing pregnancy and baby create additional weight that your back must support.
Posture or position — Poor posture, excessive standing and bending over can trigger or escalate back pain.
Stress — Stress usually accumulates in weak areas of the body. Because of the changes in your pelvic area, you may experience an increase in back pain during stressful periods of your pregnancy.
Diagnosing Back Pain In Pregnancy
It can also be hard to know the exact cause of back pain in pregnancy since, while imaging is often not helpful for diagnosing back pain in general, it is especially not something you want to expose your fetus to, unnecessarily.
This means that most treatments for low back pain in pregnancy are generally conservative and not always completely accurate. Most treatments consist of exercise and lifestyle changes and many women find themselves just waiting it out, hoping that the pain will go away after the baby is born.
While it is good news that most cases of pregnancy-related back pain resolve after the baby is born, the pain that pregnant women have to endure for the length of their pregnancy can have a substantially negative impact on their quality of life.
The pain can range from mild pain that is just associated with a few specific activities, to more intense acute pain, or even chronic pain.
In about 10% of cases the pain actually becomes so severe that it interferes with the ability to work or go about normal daily activities.
If you are experiencing low back pain that is not going away or feels a little “off”, you should have a conversation with your healthcare provider to rule out any more serious issues such as infection or preterm labor.
Risk-Factors For Pregnancy-Related Low Back Pain
Previous Back Pain
When it comes to pregnancy-related lower back issues, the data indicates that those who have had previous back pain issues are more likely to have pregnancy-related back pain.
The pain is also more likely to be severe and long lasting. Likewise, if you have back pain during your first pregnancy, the data indicates that you have an 85% chance of having it again in your next pregnancy.
How active you are in your daily life can play a big part in pregnancy-related low back pain. Women who are less active tend to have more low back pain that those who lead a more active lifestyle. Unfortunately this benefit has some limitations.
Women who have jobs that are described as “mostly active” and that are “physically demanding” also have higher rates of low back pain during pregnancy. Finding a good balance between too much rest and spending too much time on your feet can make a difference to how much lower back pain you experience during your pregnancy.
How To Relieve Back Pain During Pregnancy
Low back pain during pregnancy is pretty common, especially during the second half, with around 50 - 80% of women experiencing back pain at some point during their pregnancy. Studies show that lower back pain usually occurs somewhere between the fifth and seventh months of being pregnant, although in some cases it begins as early as eight to 12 weeks.
There are also some things that you can do to help reduce your chances of having back pain during your pregnancy, or at least give you some relief if you are already struggling with it. Here are our 5 best ways to relieve low back pain during pregnancy.
When it comes to the second half of the pregnancy, many women start to feel pain in their lower backs, often starting in the lower lumbar region or the posterior pelvic region. Much of this pain is connected to the fact that your baby is starting to grow and now putting weight and strain on areas of your body that are not used to feeling that way.
By adopting some techniques to improve your posture you can help reduce some of this pain and make your life a little more comfortable.
Try not to stand for long periods at a time.
When you are standing make sure that your feet are placed slightly apart and that your knees aren’t locked.
Try not to slouch - it puts more pressure on your spine.
Try not to lean back too much to compensate for your growing baby bump. Use a supportive foot stool to adjust your position if you need to and make sure you keep your pelvis tilted forward.
2. Safe Sitting
Sitting might seem like a better option than standing, and in many ways it is, but it can also come with its own set of challenges for pregnant women.
Try not to sit for extended periods of time.
If you do have to sit for long periods try to keep your knees and hips at a right angle with an ergonomic chair, or use a foot stool. Adjust the height of your desk, if necessary.
Make sure you have a proper backrest while you are sitting. It is important to have support to take the pressure off your spinal cord.
Make sure your legs don't hang off the chair when you are sitting. A hanging position can cause your legs to swell up as circulation becomes directed towards the legs and can make you feel uncomfortable.
Whether standing or sitting, try to get up and stretch at regular intervals, try to avoid being in the same position for more than 30 minutes at a time.
3. Supported Sleeping
For most women, figuring out how to sleep well during pregnancy is one of the biggest pregnancy-related challenges. A National Sleep Foundation poll found that 78% of women reported sleep disturbances during pregnancy.
Some tips to help you get some much needed rest during this special time of your life include:
Back sleeping is not a good option during pregnancy - especially during the third trimester - as it puts pressure on major blood vessels like your aorta. It can also double the risk of stillbirth due to the decrease in circulation.
When sleeping, use a special pillow to place between your knees and take the pressure off your spine.
Side sleeping on your left side is the best position for sleeping well during pregnancy. It is also the healthiest position as it increases blood flow and relieves pressure on your back.
Practice good sleep hygiene. Take time to unwind before bed. Have a warm bath, read a book or meditate to let your body know that it is time to start feeling sleepy.
Avoid strenuous exercise at least three hours before bed time.
4. Use Proper Lifting Techniques
As women we tend to feel like we have to do everything ourselves (don’t we?). If you happen to have any other small children in the house you might feel like you don’t have much of an option when they look at you with their sweet little eyes and beg to be picked up. Fortunately you can still do some lifting, you just have to be careful how much you lift and how often you do it.
Why do you have to be careful about lifting things when you are pregnant? During pregnancy your hormones can cause your ligaments to soften and your joints to loosen. This all happens to prepare your body for the baby but it can also put you at higher risk for an injury.
Your growing belly can make it harder to hold things close to your body and holding things further out can throw off your balance increasing your chances of falling over or straining something.
5. Get Someone To Help You
Due to a lack of conclusive evidence about the effects of lifting on pregnancy-related back pain, doctors have made up a lot of their own recommendations about what, and how much, to lift.
One of the most common recommendations is to limit an object’s weight to no more than 20 pounds. Whether you should be lifting things during your pregnancy is something you should definitely discuss one on one with your healthcare provider as every pregnancy is different and women’s bodies are very different.
Generally speaking, if you can find someone else to do it for you, you should probably go ahead and let them do it. This isn’t the time to be proving how capable or strong we are as women.
Also, if you are at risk for premature labor your doctor might actually have you stop lifting objects as early as after your first trimester. Lifting heavy objects during pregnancy can also lead to an increased risk of low birth weight for your baby or a hernia for you.
How To Do Proper Lifting During Pregnancy
Sometimes you just have to do things like pick up groceries, pets, children, that massive pizza you have been craving. So how should you lift properly when pregnant?
Bend your knees and keep your back straight when you lift or pick something up from the floor.
Avoid lifting heavy objects.
Safe lifting techniques dictate you should bend at your knees, not your waist, to pick up an object. It is important to keep your back as straight as possible while bending at your knees and pushing up with your legs. Also, do not make any jerking or sudden movements while lifting during pregnancy.
These are healthy lifting practices whether you are pregnant or not. It becomes even more important to lift things correctly while pregnant because your skeletal and support system is changing and you are more susceptible to strains or problems.
If you are worried about having to lift heavy objects at work or at home, it is best to talk to your doctor about these concerns to make sure it is safe. Remember, you can always ask for help from others if you need help lifting something while you are pregnant.
Pregnancy is an exciting time in your life but it can also be challenging, both physically and mentally. Low back pain doesn't have to make this time any less special especially when you understand how pregnancy can affect your body and what you can do to avoid or reduce back issues.
Taking these simple steps to minimize the physical challenges will help you make the most of this special time and help to give you the time to focus on the good parts of it. Resting will also help make sure that you are ready for the baby's delivery and for the next phase of your life.