Is Motherhood Killing Your Back?! Pregnancy/Postpartum Back Pain

by Jen Larsen, Maternity Fitness Expert

Today's topic: BACK PAIN! Whether you're pregnant or postpartum, being a mother takes a mega toll on your back. So in this post we will discuss the aches and pains, the whys, the hows and some things to help you get some relief.

We'll start with pregnancy first. Well, let me back up. If at all possible, it's best to start working on core, pelvic, and all-over strength before your baby is conceived. So if you're reading this and trying to get pregnant or thinking about it, start strengthening your core, pelvis, upper back, shoulder muscles & leg muscles now! If you are pregnant already - do not worry! You can never start too late. Before I offer up some advice and techniques, we need to talk about why your back hurts so much.

  1. Your new belly weight from a growing baby, expanding uterus, amniotic fluids and such creates a forward "pull" around your midsection. Most abdominal muscles are not prepared for pregnancy and your growing uterus weakens your abdominal muscles (which definitely happens if your abs start to separate - aka a diastasis recti) which then leaves your spine and back to do all the work of supporting this new weight.
  2. Your added breast weight. This plays into upper back pain soreness from supporting your growing breasts in preparation for birth. I'm going to hold off on addressing this for the postpartum section since breastfeeding and holding a new infant in your arms is when this upper back pain worsens for most moms. (Rebecca Overson calls it "Nursing Neck")
  3. Changes in your center of gravity.  While pregnant, your growing belly changes your center of gravity and throws your posture off. This takes some adjusting and often when we are not prepared for this change in center of gravity, our back and spine again take the brunt of the work.
  4. A hormone called Relaxin. This hormone has so many great functions (like allowing your pelvis to shift so you can give birth) but can also loosen things up so much that you can lose some stability - specifically pelvic stability. Because your uterine ligaments are relaxing, other muscles have to take over the job of supporting your growing belly. Again, here comes the back muscles and spine to the rescue!
  5. Posture is another factor. If you are uneasy and unsure of your changing body your posture may get more and more hunched over as you progress in your pregnancy. Don't be ashamed - stand up straight and be proud of your belly!

Now let's chat about the cause of postpartum backache:

  1. Added breast weight. I added this into the list above but will now explain a little more. As your breasts become heavier and more full, often women start to hunch over. This could be because of posture issues and not being comfortable with your new growing and changing body. It can also be because of a lack of strength in your chest and upper back muscles to support the new weight of your breasts, so your spine comes in to take the load off your potentially weak and tired muscles.
  2. Breastfeeding. The added weight of your breasts plus your posture while breastfeeding can attribute to a lot of upper and lower back pain. Posture and sufficient support for the weight of your baby are crucial in this aspect.
  3. Carrying around your baby. Whether trying to soothe your baby, picking him/her up, carrying a car seat or any kind of front baby carrier etc. is just adding more weight to the front of your body, which compounds the stress on your upper back & shoulders and lower back.

Phew! Now that we have gone over all the reasons WHY your back hurts so darn much, we need to talk about ways to relieve this pain. You thought I'd never get to the point, huh? :)

Without over-complicating the answers, below are some easy tips and methods to lessen back pain. Some of these may be more or less relevant whether you are pregnant or postpartum (so email me if you have questions) and like always, check with your doctor or midwife before starting any kind of new fitness program.

  • Strengthen your muscles! The most important for upper & lower back pain are abdominal strengthening including lower back muscles - aka work those TRANSVERSE ABDOMINALS. (If you don't know what those are, come to an Ab Rehab Class or schedule a session with me. I'll teach you all about it.) Second, strengthen your upper back and posterior (back) shoulder muscles. Third, your glutes, quads and hamstrings. If you can use your legs to pick up your baby (and anything else for that matter) instead of your back, you will save yourself from a lot of lower back pain. By all means don't stop there if you have time. Getting a full body workout to strengthen the majority of your major muscle groups will help immensely. These are just the main ones to start with to help ease back pain.
  • Stretch gently! Lengthen the muscles that are tightened. The most important are your chest muscles, lower back and hips to relieve tension.
  • Be aware of good posture. Belly up, chest out ladies! Don't be ashamed of your changing body. It's beautiful and the fact that you are carrying a baby or just gave birth is something to empower and boost your self esteem not the other way around.
  • Meditate, breathe! and get some YOU time. Work on deep breathing and meditation exercises to relax you and help center you back to what is important. This gives you time worry about YOU (for a change) and if pregnant connect with your baby. Once you give birth, it is important to bond with your baby so involve them in your relaxation sometimes...but make sure you have alone time to regroup and center without any little ones around too. This is important because a lot of us hold stress in our backs. I didn't mention this on the list but it is also a major contributor to back pain.
  • Come in for a massage! Your body needs support through all the changes.  Our therapists here at Salt Lake Prenatal Massage especially will be able to target exactly what you need since they are masterful working on pregnant and postpartum women.
  • See a chiropractor. Pregnancy & Family Chiropractors are able to skillfully support a pregnant woman's spine. Dr. Reynolds, our chiropractor at Salt Lake Prenatal Massage, does an excellent job of easing all kinds of back, neck, and hip pain.
  • Sleep properly supported. Check out Rebecca's videos on How to Sleep Comfortably During Pregnancy.

I hope this post helps those of you reading that are struggling with back pain. There is hope to enjoy your pregnancy and motherhood with less pain!

As always, if you have questions about anything health/fitness/wellness related or if you'd like to schedule a free Maternity Fitness Evaluation, please email me at  jen(at)slcprenatalmassage.com