The miracle of life, the anticipation of a beautiful baby, and that expectant-mother glow may make pregnancy a magical time of life, but it’s not all a bed of roses. There’s morning sickness, acne, swollen feet, fatigue, and all sorts of aches and pains to deal with. Your physician may be able to help with morning sickness, and a few well-deserved spa days and afternoon naps could help with acne and fatigue. But, for the dreaded back pain during pregnancy, what can you do? We discuss some of the most common, all-natural treatments that can help your back pain immensely.
Is it normal to have lower back pain during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is one of the most miraculous processes of the human body, but it may not feel that way around month number six, especially when it comes to pregnancy and low back pain.
At that point in pregnancy, the growing baby is changing a woman’s center of gravity. It pulls on the muscles in the low back and changes her posture. Abdominal muscles may be weakening and separating to accommodate the baby as well. This puts additional strain on already-taxed back muscles. And to add insult to injury, hormones that the body releases to lubricate joints to make the birth easier can backfire by making joints too loose and flexible to properly support the spine.
All of this can lead to back pain during pregnancy, whether you’re in the first trimester or last. The following video goes over the basics of back pain.
How do you get rid of back pain during pregnancy?
In preparation for birth, the ligaments in the pelvis lose their rigidity, which can lead to the pelvis becoming unstable. The growing uterus can push and pull the parts of the pelvis and hips into different positions. These changes can both affect pelvic balance and cause low back pain.
There are ways to support the back throughout pregnancy. We’ll discuss each of these in more detail:
- Small daily changes
- Chiropractic care
If you’re suffering from severe and chronic pain, we’ll also touch on if it’s safe to use opioids to manage back pain during pregnancy.
Small daily changes
The first way is to start early. Even before the baby is a bump, try exercises like pelvic tilts. These can help keep the muscles of the abdomen strong and supportive. Wearing flats or very low-heeled shoes can help keep the spine in alignment. Make sure that there is good arch support as well. As pregnancy progresses, do not lift heavy objects without assistance. If you must, lift with the legs by squatting to pick up the object instead of leaning over.
At bedtime, sleep on the side with a pillow between the knees for support. You can try out long, curved “pregnancy pillows.” These loop under the belly for support there, but a second pillow under the belly works just as well. When sitting, either in bed or at a desk, a pillow at the lower back provides additional support, too.
Exercises for back pain during pregnancy
Pregnancy may be a great excuse to gain some healthy baby weight, but in reality, a gentle, appropriate exercise regimen throughout your pregnancy will make birth and postpartum healing go more smoothly. Exercise boosts mood, helps with sleep, and builds stamina, a must when getting ready for the work of labor and childbirth.
The American College of Obstetrics and Pediatrics recommends 30 minutes of daily exercise throughout pregnancy. If you are already active, you can continue your exercise plan until your doctor feels it is time for modifications, but if you are looking to get started there are several types of exercises for pregnancy that are excellent. As with any new exercise regimen, talk to your doctor before beginning.
Exercises for pregnancy should focus on strength, flexibility, and balance, and there are a number of ways to get there.
One of the best ways to achieve these three things all at once, with the added benefit of a cardiovascular workout, is swimming. Swimming exercises all large muscle groups and lends a feeling of weightlessness at a time when that might feel welcome.
You can use flotation devices during your workout in the pool so you feel supported.
Another excellent type of exercise during pregnancy is simply walking. You can do this throughout your entire pregnancy. It does not require any special equipment and is easy on knees, hips, and ankles.
Walking has the added benefit of being highly portable. The stress relief of being outside is worth the price of a supportive pair of walking shoes!
In addition to walking and swimming, prenatal yoga is an excellent way to prepare both body and mind for childbirth.
This type of yoga is gentle and focuses on opening the hips, strengthening the body overall, and relaxing the mind. This can be started with a class (many community centers and workout facilities offer a series of prenatal classes) and then continued in your home, all the way up until (and during!) the day you deliver.
Should I try weight lifting?
Weight training works well for pregnant women, but only if you are weight training prior to pregnancy. Lifting weights builds stamina and conditions the body for hard work, but you may need to reduce the amount of weight as your pregnancy progresses.
If you are working with a trainer, make sure they are aware of your pregnancy, and do switch trainers if yours does not feel qualified to work with you during pregnancy.
Chiropractic care during pregnancy
Chiropractic care while pregnant, if performed by a full-licensed chiropractor, is completely safe. There are no known contraindications to chiropractic care during pregnancy. In fact, chiropractors are trained to safely and effectively treat pregnant women.
In fact, some researchers suggest that musculoskeletal pain management, such as chiropractic care, ought to become a standard part of obstetric care. Specialized techniques are used to avoid putting unnecessary pressure on the abdomen. Also, specialized tables or equipment might be used. These are also to avoid putting undue pressure on the abdomen.
However, few women receive the chiropractic care during pregnancy that they really need. One study found that 80% of women reported going without treatment for musculoskeletal pain during pregnancy. Also, pain in the first pregnancy has been linked to pain during subsequent pregnancies, so undergoing chiropractic treatment sooner rather than later might have seriously lasting benefits.
Pain conditions that occur during pregnancy
Chiropractic care can minimize back aches, leg pain, and loss of balance during pregnancy. In fact, TheBump.com, a website devoted to all pregnancy-related topics, states:
“Not only is it safe to visit a chiropractor during your pregnancy, it’s also highly beneficial… Getting regularly adjusted while pregnant is a great way to relieve the added stress on your spine that comes along with the weight gain.”
In addition to helping you control lower back pain during pregnancy, chiropractic adjustments can prevent sciatica. Sciatica is the inflammation of the sciatic nerve. This runs from the lower back down the back of the legs and to the feet. When this nerve is inflamed or damaged, it causes radiating or shooting pain down the buttock, the back of the leg, and potentially all the way to the foot.
Some medications that could help with the back and leg pain of pregnancy may be contraindicated during pregnancy. Your physician or OB/GYN should be able to provide medications that are completely safe to take while pregnant, but chiropractic care is a great drug-free pain management option for expectant mothers who prefer to use as few medications as possible. It’s still a good idea to discuss pain, medications, and chiropractic care with your physician or OB/GYN, though.
Chiropractic care and sleep
Chiropractic care during pregnant might also facilitate better-quality sleep.
Getting enough sleep is vitally important all the time, including during pregnancy. This is largely because once that new baby comes home, sleep will become a rare thing. However, sleep is important for other reasons, too. Researchers at University of California San Francisco (UCSF) compared the amount of sleep women got late in their pregnancies with their labor times and types of birth. It was found that women who got less than six hours of sleep per night during their final month of pregnancy averaged 29 hours of labor, compared to an average of 17.7 hours of labor for women who slept seven or more hours per night.
Additionally, it was found that compared to women who reported poor sleep two or less nights per week about three weeks before delivery, women who reported poor sleep three to four nights per week were 4.2 times as likely to need a cesarean delivery. Women who reported poor sleep five or more nights per week were 5.3 times as likely to need a cesarean delivery.
This means that it’s important to take the time to get a good night’s rest while pregnant. If you’re experiencing back pain during pregnancy, it’s hard to sleep. Research has even shown that a pregnant woman’s quality of sleep is closely related to back pain. By undergoing chiropractic care during pregnancy, you can improve your sleep. By extension, you might make your labor experience a little easier.
More about chiropractic care during pregnancy
There are additional ways that chiropractic care during pregnancy can help you have an easier birth.
When a baby is breech, it’s positioned to come out feet- or bottom-first. The delivery for a breech baby has a higher risk of complications, and most medical professionals recommend a cesarean delivery rather than a vaginal birth. Several options exist to encourage the baby to move into a cephalic (or head-first) position before delivery. One of these is the Webster Technique. This is a chiropractic adjustment that’s used to encourage the baby to move into the head-first position by correcting the musculoskeletal causes of intrauterine contracture.
In 2002, the Journal of Manipulative and Physiological Therapeutics published the results of a survey about the effectiveness of the Webster Technique. Chiropractors using the Webster Technique reported an 82% success rate at encouraging the baby to move into a cephalic position. This technique has the added benefit of being medication free, unlike some of the other potential ways to encourage a breech baby to move into a cephalic position.
Chiropractic care while pregnant might also shorten labor time. Women who received chiropractic care during their first pregnancy will experience a labor time that is, on average, 25% shorter. During subsequent pregnancies with chiropractic care, the time spent in labor is reduced by 31% on average.
Finding a chiropractor for back pain during pregnancy
There are several ways to find a chiropractor who can provide chiropractic care during your pregnancy.
Your OB/GYN or primary care physician might be able to provide recommendations. A local phone book or a quick online search might also yield results. While all chiropractors are trained to provide care to pregnant women, it’s always a good bet to find someone with experience treating pregnant women. Because of this, consider calling a few different chiropractic offices and enquiring about the practitioners’ experience with pregnant women.
Additionally, online databases provide a quick, easy way to find chiropractors with specific specialties. The American Chiropractic Association (ACA), for instance, includes a host of specialty options in its search criteria, including obstetrics and the Webster Technique. The International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) specializes in providing information about chiropractic care for children, but they also have a search available for Webster Certified Chiropractors.
Should I take pain medications while pregnant?
If you’re suffering from severe back pain during pregnancy, you may consider using pain medications to help. While it’s an understandable inclination, it’s a bad idea. If a mother takes an opioid pain medication while pregnant, their child could be born addicted to the drug. Once they’re born, they could go through withdrawal symptoms immediately.
It’s called neonatal abstinence syndrome, and rates are increasing. The National Institute on Drug Abuse explains:
“There was a five-fold increase in the proportion of babies born with NAS from 2000 to 2012, when an estimated 21,732 infants were born with NAS —equivalent to one baby suffering from opiate withdrawal born every 25 minutes.”
Because people trust their doctors (and rightfully so), they expect that any medicine is safe for them and their situation. But doctors don’t necessarily know when someone is planning a pregnancy, and may not warn the person taking said medication. That means that a woman with nothing but the best intentions may still take a medication that could harm their child in the womb, and be completely unaware of it.
To avoid this, limit your opioid use leading up to and during pregnancy. The doctor needs to determine if the only possible treatment is an opioid, and if so, then they should prescribe a small or no dosage as possible. Other lifestyle management treatments should be used instead, like chiropractic care, physical therapy, or exercise. Always talk to your doctor about any upcoming or planned pregnancies so they can suggest the best medication options for you.
If you need help with your severe back pain during pregnancy, it’s important to talk to a doctor who’s specialized in treating pain. You can find one in your area by clicking the button below.