Many discomforts of pregnancy occur as the baby grows and begins to press on your stomach, gall bladder, diaphragm, backbone and pubic bone.
As your baby grows and your womb expands from the size of a teaspoon to that of a beach ball, the rest of your body adjusts. Your lower back develops more of a curve and your center of gravity shifts, both requiring changes in your posture and the way you move.
“Back pain pops up during pregnancy, usually in the third trimester, from the natural stress that the pregnancy is placing on your body,” says Sheri Puffer, M.D., an OB/GYN and physician on the medical staff at Texas Health Arlington. “In pregnancy, your body secretes a hormone called relaxin and it does just what it sounds, like — it allows the ligaments, joints and muscles around your pelvis, back and abdomen to relax and shift. This helps to make space for the growing baby and get your body ready for delivery.”
While these are all good things, it can also cause some joint hypermobility which can contribute to low back pain as well.
To help prevent lower back pain, Puffer suggests being mindful of your posture and ergonomics, especially if you sit for long periods of time, such as at work.
A few examples include:
- Wearing low-heeled shoes.
- Avoiding lifting heavy weights.
- Squatting when you pick up things.
- Sitting in chairs with good back support or placing a small pillow in the small of your back when sitting or driving.
- If you must stand for an extended time, put 1 foot up on a small box or stool.
“I also suggest getting compression socks,” she adds. “I know that might seem like an odd thing to purchase to help with back pain but they’ll make your legs a lot less fatigued and they actually do impact your lower back because everything feels better when your legs feel better.”
You may want to consider purchasing a “baby band” (or “baby hugger”), as well. These bands or band-reinforced clothing provide additional support to the growing uterus and stretching abdominal muscles, and can be helpful for low back pain.
In addition to the prevention methods listed above, there are quite a few things you can do to help treat pain that pops up. Puffer says her go-to recommendations to patients is doing some light, gentle stretching, such as pregnancy pilates and yoga, as well as daily exercise. Exercises such as rocking your pelvis back while lying down — or rocking on a birthing ball to strengthen your abdominal muscles — can also provide relief.
“Many patients don’t know that prenatal physical therapy exists, but I’m actually a huge fan of it for my patients that are experiencing pain, such as sciatica, hip pain, pelvic dysfunction, etc.,” Puffer adds. “You do need a referral from your physician, and from there they can direct you to a physical therapist who is comfortable working with pregnant women. “It really helps so much. They’re very hands-on, can give you the right exercises and the right stretches to do to where it’s almost like a massage, and you can take those exercises home with you to do outside of physical therapy.”
For generalized aches and pains, Puffer recommends Tylenol and the use of heating pads set to warm. Additionally, you may find comfort in a warm — not hot — bath.
What to be Mindful Of
While back pain is a relatively common complaint during pregnancy, especially as you head into your third trimester when relaxin levels are at their highest and your body is gearing up for delivery, there are times when back pain should be evaluated.
“If you have an acute onset of sharp pain around your spinal cord or weakness in your legs or tingling going down your legs with weakness, you need to get evaluated right away,” Puffer warns. “Those symptoms could be signs of a possible herniated disc or something more serious. Really, any new onset of pain should be discussed with your physician or nurse, not just back pain.”
Additionally, back pain late in your pregnancy, especially as you near your due date, may cause you to nervously wonder if this might be a sign of labor. However, Puffer says there’s an easy way to differentiate between labor pains and general lower back pain.
“Steady, ongoing mild to moderate back pain is not typically a sign of labor,” she explains. “With contractions, the pain is coming and going, and it’s typically getting stronger and popping up with less time between as it progresses. So that’s going to be your differentiator if you’re wondering if this may be a sign of labor. But by all means, reach out to your physician or their nursing staff if you are concerned.”
For more help and guidance about what to expect during your pregnancy, visit Women and Infant Services and join the Texas Health Moms Facebook page, a private group where you can network with other moms, swap ideas and share helpful advice.