Back pain is a problem for many pregnant women, who feel both the happiness of supporting a growing baby – and the weight of the baby, too.
“It’s an extremely common complaint,” says Dr. Monica Selander, an OB-GYN who practices at the Georgetown and Holmestown Road locations of Tidelands Health Women’s Center.
One reason for back pain among pregnant women is weight gain associated with the pregnancy and resulting change in center of gravity. Another is a hormone called relaxin that helps a woman get ready to give birth by relaxing her ligaments and loosening her joints.
“Weight gain puts strain on the back,” Dr. Selander says. “And hormones relax the ligaments that support the pregnancy. That can prompt women to bow their back or change their posture, which can lead to back pain.”
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Back pain can also occur as the uterus grows larger and two parallel sheets of muscles (the rectal abdominis muscles) that extend from the rib cage to the pubic bone separate.
Back pain usually doesn’t occur until the second half of the pregnancy, and most often occurs in an area called the sacroiliac joint where the pelvis and spine connect.
Talk to your doctor
A pregnant women experiencing back pain should always talk with her OB-GYN or other qualified provider before taking any pain medications. A doctor can advise which medications are safe and suggest other measures a woman might take to minimize the pain.
There are certain types of back pain that warrant a doctor’s attention, so be sure to consult with your care provider if your pain is severe, increasing or begins abruptly. Pain that feels like a series of cramps can indicate pre-term labor.
If you’re pregnant and experiencing back pain, here are some options your care provider may suggest, depending on your unique situation:
“Yoga and Pilates stretches, massage and appropriate exercise such as walking or swimming can be helpful,” Dr. Selander says. “Exercise can help strengthen the muscles and improve flexibility.”
A maternity support belt
A maternity support belt can help support the lower back and abdomen to help relieve back pain.
“Maternity support belts can help by putting pressure on the lower abdomen and holding the ligaments in place,” Dr. Selander says.
Hot or cold compress
Using a heating pad, hot water bottle or a cold compress, pregnant women can apply heat or cold to the painful area to help relieve pain. However, heat should never be applied to the abdomen.
Sleeping on your side
Pregnant women who have a hard time sleeping at night may need to change their usual sleep position. Sleeping on your side during pregnancy may be more comfortable. The American Pregnancy Association reports that sleeping on your left side can increase the amount of nutrients that reach the placenta and the baby.
A pregnant women can also use pillows to support her back or abdomen or between her legs as she sleeps.
“Pillows can offer support and help keep your body in alignment,” Dr. Selander says.
A visit to the chiropractor or acupuncturist
For more severe pain, an expectant mother may want to try a chiropractor or acupuncture. But be sure to clear it with your physician first.
“Be sure to discuss your unique condition with your health care provider before trying an alternative treatment,” Dr. Selander says. “It’s important to make sure you don’t have any risk factors that could lead to problems when receiving these treatments.”
Another option is physical therapy, which – like exercise – can help a woman strengthen her back muscles and improve flexibility.
The good news? As difficult as it back pain can be, Dr. Selander says it usually subsides after giving birth.
Dr. Monica Selander
OB-GYN, Tidelands Health Women's Center
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Tidelands Health OB-GYN Dr. Monica Selander offers care at Tidelands Health Women’s Center.Learn More
- Norwich University
- University of New England, College of Osteopathic Medicine
- Michigan State University
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Dr. Monica Selander
Call to Schedule
Tidelands Health OB-GYN Dr. Monica Selander offers care at Tidelands Health Women’s Center.