Back pain during pregnancy - causes, prevention and treatment

Affecting more than half of all women in pregnancy, back pain is very common - but that doesn't make it any less troublesome, unfortunately

Dr Sophie Kefi from Doctor Care Anywhere offers advice on preventing back pain when you're pregnant, and tips on what to do if you are one of those suffering.

pregnant back pain

What causes back pain in pregnancy?

As with most pregnancy health issues, you can blame your hormones largely for this one: increased levels of progesterone relax muscles ready for birth, which softens ligaments all over your body. The muscles around the spine tend to try to compensate for this, which means they are overworked and easily pulled.

On top of all that, the additional weight from your growing baby puts pressure on your back and at the same time throws your centre of gravity forward, which causes curvature of the spine, known as lordosis - squashing vertebrae and putting the muscles under extra strain. 
Ever feel like your body is out to get you?

Can you prevent getting a bad back in pregnancy?

There are definitely things you can do to lessen your chances of getting back pain: 

  • Being a healthy weight before you get pregnant and not stacking on the pounds once you are pregnant will mean you aren’t putting as much pressure on your back. But obviously if you’re carrying a 10-pounder or twins, there’s only so much you can do.
  • Doing exercises that strengthen your core, like pregnancy pilates or aquanatal classes, or exercises which aim to improve posture, will help.
  • Taking a bit of extra care, particularly when lifting (always bend at the knee, not the back). Also try not to make movements that twist your body - getting out of bed too quickly is a very common way to hurt your back when pregnant.

swimming pregnancy

What can you do to relieve back pain during pregnancy?

  • Remain a healthy weight to avoid any additional pressure on the back. 
  • Try exercises that can help ease back pain as well as avoid it. Something like swimming, where the water supports your weight, or pregnancy yoga, is ideal.
  • If you’re finding you get back pain in bed, you could invest in a pregnancy pillow, which allows you to sleep on your side but with your knees apart, stopping your back from twisting as you roll into the mattress.
  • Acupuncture and massage can help, but always use a practitioner who is fully qualified in treating women during pregnancy.
  • Talk to your midwife or GP about whether you could take pain killers. Some, like paracetamol, are usually safe to take in pregnancy and there’s no point suffering in silence. Your GP may also be able to refer you to an obstetric physiotherapist.

Will back pain affect my labour?

It's very unusual for back pain that has come on during pregnancy to affect the way you labour and give birth.

If you suffered with back pain, an injury, or a condition such as scoliosis prior to pregnancy you should talk to your doctor about whether any special arrangements will need to be made for birth.

Does back pain go away after birth?

There's good and bad news here. Yes, it will go away - but it can take some time. Pregnancy hormones hang around for a while, particularly if you’re breastfeeding, so everything doesn’t miraculously return to normal the day after birth.

If you already have a weakness, it’s also very easy to hurt your back picking up your baby and dealing with the buggy, cot, car seats and myriad other pieces of equipment that seem to be designed to cause you injury - just when you need it least.

What Mumsnetters say about back pain during pregnancy

"I've had pretty horrid back pain around my coccyx since about 14 weeks. The methods I have found to manage it are going to the osteo, doing pregnancy yoga, and swimming. The pregnancy yoga is brilliant - I've never done yoga before, but the circular movements they get you to do seem to do the trick. If my back flares up during the day, I nip to the loo at work and do them in there."

"I don't have any surefire solutions except hot water bottles, paracetamol and sleeping with an ever more creative arrangement of pillows."

"I saw an osteopath this week and it was the best thing I could have done as she did loads of things that made my back feel a whole lot better. She advised me to get a fitted support belt as the pain is likely to get worse later in pregnancy, and the belt will help relieve it. She recommended warm baths, rest, heat packs and aquanatal classes. I've also decided to go for a pregnancy massage as that will help me relax and help reduce the inflammation I have on my lower spine. Bring on the R&R!"

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Last updated: 3 months ago