Day or night, a growing baby is always with its pregnant mother. So too, for a large percentage of expecting women, is back pain, a not-so-happy but highly common consequence of pregnancy, according to Orthopedic Spine Surgeon Dr. Fabien Bitan with Atlantic Spine Center.
Between 50% and 70% of all pregnant women experience back pain, and not just in the later months as their growing belly causes dramatic shifts in posture, according to the American Pregnancy Association. A combination of factors – both preventable and unavoidable – contribute to the prevalence of aching backs among expectant moms.
“For these women, back pain can disrupt their days and get in the way of a good night’s sleep, which is so important to counteract the physical demands of pregnancy,” says Dr. Bitan. “Fortunately there are many techniques and interventions that can alleviate the problem, if not eliminate it altogether.”
Causes of pregnancy-related back pain
Women who are overweight or have experienced back pain before their pregnancy are even more likely than the average pregnant mom to develop the condition. But certain factors related to gestating a baby for nine months up the odds that women might develop back pain, Dr. Bitan says.
- Increasing hormone levels: To soften ligaments in the pelvic region in preparation for childbirth, the body releases a flood of hormones. This ligament-loosening sacroiliac joint-shifting can reduce normal levels of back support from these structures.
- Center of gravity shift: As the uterus become heavier, pregnant women tend to lean backward to compensate for their growing bellies. This posture change can make the back muscles work harder, leading to pain, soreness and stiffness.
- Weight gain: It’s a simple fact that the back must support perhaps dozens of extra pounds as pregnancy progresses, creating back strain.
- Stress: Worries about the growing fetus or changing family dynamics due to the new addition can manifest in back pain.
How expectant moms can minimize back pain
Not all pregnancy-related back pain can be prevented, but wearing flat shoes with good arch support is a good first step, Dr. Bitan notes. “Also consider investing in a firm mattress, which can provide extra support for your back during pregnancy,” he says.
Other ways expectant moms can reduce the odds of experiencing back pain include:
- Wearing a support belt under your lower abdomen.
- Using doctor-approved exercises that support and strengthen the back and abdomen.
- Picking up items by squatting and bending at the knees, not bending at the waist.
- Sitting in chairs with good back support, or using a small pillow behind the lower back.
If a pregnant woman develops an achy back despite her best efforts, Dr. Bitan advises common interventions such as applying ice or heat; using braces or other support devices such as a sacroiliac belt; and sleeping on her left side with a support pillow between the knees.
t’s important to note that severe back pain, or a backache that persists for longer than two weeks, may signify a bigger problem and mean it’s time to contact your health care provider, Dr. Bitan explains. Back pain can be a symptom of preterm labor or a urinary tract infection, both of which can be serious.
But for most women, the joys of pregnancy simply don’t include how their back may feel on any given day. “Back pain may be common during the nine months leading up to childbirth,” Dr. Bitan says, “but it doesn’t have to overshadow the big event if women do their best to avoid it and tackle an aching back with common-sense measures.”