You're having a baby! Congratulations! Though you might have found out recently, or be coming close to delivery, you're probably experiencing many physical changes and discomforts. Low-back pain is an extremely common complaint for pregnant women, at all stages of pregnancy. In fact, more than half the population of pregnant women goes through a period of low-back pain at some point. The causes are primarily hormonal changes and a shifted center of gravity.
Many women will be surprised that they feel back pain so early in their pregnancy. Progesterone, a hormone produced early in pregnancy, is responsible for much of this low-back pain. This hormone, which is essential to embryo implantation and gestation, softens the ligaments and disks in your back as well. This reduces the support required by your upper body, often resulting in muscle spasms and cramps in your lower back.
Further on in your pregnancy, your body increasingly produces the hormone relaxin. This hormone is essential to labor and delivery; as the name implies, relaxin relaxes the joints in your pelvis, which enables the baby to pass through the birth canal with ample room. However, the hormone can lead to inflammation and pain in your other joints, as it may cause other joints in your body to move abnormally.
Several changes resulting from the growth of your fetus can contribute to low-back pain. As your uterus expands from the growth of your fetus, your abdominal muscles are pushed beyond their usual limit, in order to accommodate the surplus growth. This effectively keeps your abdominal muscles from helping to support proper body posture, transferring the additional weight from your torso to your lower back.
As you carry your child to term, your center of gravity undergoes significant change. On average, a woman will gain 7-8 pounds of weight from the baby itself, 1-2 pounds of placenta, 2 pounds of amniotic fluid, and 2 pounds that can be attributed to uterine tissue. The outcome of all this extra weight is that the center of gravity shifts forward, putting still more strain on the lower back.
Back pain is a serious issue, however common it might seem in pregnancy. Talk to your healthcare provider if you experience any low-back pain, to be confident that you are not suffering from an undiagnosed, deeper condition. Dull backaches, felt low and in rhythmic intervals, might indicate labor. Many women have "back labor," which just means that they feel the labor in their back. Another possibility, if you suffer from severe back pain, particularly if accompanied by a fever, may be infection.
There are many things you can do to prevent and manage low-back pain while pregnant:
- Exercises that focus on stretching, like pelvic tilts.
- Standing straight and tall, maintaining your shoulders down and back, and aligning your buttocks under - all the elements of proper posture.
- Try not to stand for extended periods of time, though, if that is unavoidable, you can take some of the strain off by elevating one foot on a small object like a box or step stool.
- Try placing a small pillow behind your lower back while you are sitting.
- Beware of high heeled shoes! Flat shoes with adequate arch support are a much better choice.
- For a little extra support, find maternity pants with a wide elastic band that you can wear under the belly.
- You can find maternity belts, or girdles mean specifically for expecting women in healthcare and maternity stores. You may also find that your insurance company covers such a purchase when prescribed by your healthcare provider, so check in with them.
- Keep a pillow between your legs at night, sleeping on your side. Also, if possible, use a firm mattress that supports your back better than softer ones.
- You might try using a maternity pillow, a specially designed pillow for pregnant women that can alleviate some strain in your back.
- Remember the adage: lift with your legs and not with your back. Of course, try not to lift heavy things at all.
- Rather than carrying a single big load, divide larger bundles into smaller, manageable portions.
- Keep fit! If your healthcare provider thinks it's wise, try walking or swimming.
- See if you can find a trained pregnancy masseuse. You might discover that your partner or friend can provide adequate relief with gentle rubbing or kneading on the sore spots on your back.
- Warm compresses can be effective. A heating pad set to its lowest point, an adequately warm bath, or arranging yourself on your hands and knees in the shower to direct warm water at your lower back, may all offer relief.
- Look into chiropractic care, which is considered safe and may benefit many women - of course, discuss this possibility with your doctor first.
- Also look into acupuncture treatment - again, only after consulting your doctor.
- Acetaminophen - the active ingredient in Tylenol - is a painkiller safe for use by pregnant women.
Naturally, you won't find a "magic cure" that will instantly relieve your back pain, whether you go to a chiropractor or not. On your search for a treatment option that leads to a pain-free life, you are in charge of your decisions. As oftentimes back pain is the result of discrete moments of strain or injury, you may discover that it takes weeks to discern a change in your conditions, so you must remember to be patient.
No matter what the individual symptoms of your pregnancy are, make sure to note all the details in your changing physical condition. Don't let anything unusual just slip by your attention that you would have ignored in normal circumstances - remember, you have to worry for two, now. Especially for first-time mothers, get ready to experience dramatic, surprising changes to your body, regardless of how much research you've done. This is to be expected. Stay focused on your body, treat low-back pain seriously, and take pleasure in the process of being an expectant mother!