Back pain in pregnancy

Backache with your bump (even before your bump pops up) is pretty common in pregnancy. Here, we explain why it happens, what it means – and how you can ease your discomfort

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Back pain or backache is one of the most common health complaints in the UK – and with the added weight your body is carrying during pregnancy, it will come as no surprise that it’s also very common while expecting.

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And like other common side effects, it’s not something that is exclusive to a particular part of your pregnancy.  Yep, back pain could (unfortunately) be a constant throughout your 9 months of baby-growing.

It begs the question: WHY, exactly, do we get back pain? We also know it can be hard to tell what backache during pregnancy really means: when is it one of your usual symptoms, and when is it something more?

Here’s everything you need to know about backache in pregnancy…

What causes pregnancy back ache?

Naturally, as your bump grows, the extra weight can cause backache and discomfort – but that’s not the only reason why it happens.

It’s all to do with (another!) pesky (but oh-so-helpful) pregnancy hormone called relaxin.

Basically, relaxin softens your ligaments to allow the joints in your pelvis to do some expandin’ in time for the birth. You’ll appreciate this when the time comes, but right now? Not so much.

Because of it, your back isn’t getting the support that it is used to, and that’s what causes the strain.

How can my back hurt when I’m only just pregnant?

You might’ve thought that backache only occurs when you’re ready-to-drop pregnant, in the final trimester.

Sadly, that’s not the case, explains GP Dr Sarah Wigmore. Relaxin kicks in right from the get-go.

“From the very beginning, the pregnancy hormones flood your system,” she says. “And relax the ligaments in your back which can make it ache.”

Will my backache get worse as my bump gets bigger?

As your pregnancy progresses, more relaxin floods the body to prep that pelvis for the birth. But now, the size of your bump does come into play.

As you grow, your centre of gravity shifts, which sets things off-balance a bit. Dr Wigmore adds: “As your bump grows, your centre of gravity shifts, affecting your posture and making muscles and joints work even harder.”

For one of our forum mums, Fiona86, she definitely found the aches kicked in during her final trimester: “I was awake until midnight really achey and getting horrible backache – even the baby was hurting me!”

Can backache or back pain be a sign of labour?

It could be, says Dr Wigmore. “New onset or worsening back ache, especially when coupled with other signs of labour, can be a sign that your baby will arrive soon.”

Nothing’s set in stone, though, so if you’re concerned or unsure, contact your midwife ASAP.

For mum-to-be K-lou, it was definitely a sign of something: “I am due on Thursday – and have had really really bad back pain lower down.”

Does exercise affect pregnancy backache?

Exercising in pregnancy – especially if you were active pre-pregnancy – is totally safe. As long as you’re doing all the preg-approved sports/moves, of course!

However, exercising with bump in tow does place more demands on your pelvis and spine.

Exercise during pregnancy also has the tendency to exacerbate any pre-pregnancy back problems you may have had and perhaps not even noticed.

That’s not to say you shouldn’t exercise, though. Simply avoid high-impact activities that require extensive joint movements and any activity that places a direct strain on your back, such as sit-ups – as these can really aggravate your symptoms.

Even swimming breaststroke can cause problems if you over-extend your pelvis as you kick.

If your back’s in turmoil, stick to gentle exercise, such as pregnancy yoga – which can strengthen the muscles that support the back.

How can I stop pregnancy back pain?

Firstly, your best port of call is you GP or midwife – just to rule out there’s nothing serious or underlying going on, like pelvic joint pain (sometimes called SPD).

If you find out you’ve just got regular old pregnancy backache, it can still be really debilitating, uncomfortable and stressful – so there are a few little things you can try to ease it.

On our forum, the general consensus is to take it easy and slow down a bit.

“Get hubby to do housework!” says MummyKtoTwo. “Definitely put your feet up and get lots of rest.”

You could also treat yourself to a back massage, use a pain relief gel (approved by your pharmacist), use a hot water bottle or have a long uninterrupted soak in a warm bath.

As K-lou adds: “My back hurts most of the time now, actually just running a nice hot bath as I type this to ease it.”

Tried those? Check out 11 more ways to ease pregnancy backache

How do I avoid getting back pain at all?

Ideally, you’re reading this not because you’re already struggling – but because you want to AVOID backache in the first place.

It’s easier said than done – though BackCare’s helpline manager Christine Hughes has shared a few top preventative things you can do:

  • Bend from your knees when lifting – not your back
  • Take care getting up – when getting out of bed, roll on to your side and sit up before putting your feet on the floor. When sitting, choose a chair that you can sit upright in, with a cushion behind you
  • Exercises like swimming (excluding breaststroke), walking and yoga can do wonders for your back
  • Keep a cushion handy – when you’re in bed, try sleeping on your side with a pillow under your tummy. Keeping one or both of your knees bent and placing another cushion between your knees can also help
  • Skip the high heels –  “pregnancy changes the natural curve of your spine, so you’ll already be off-balance without adding heels to the problem,” says Christine
  • Try the Alexander Technique when standing and walking – hold your head up and your chin slightly in, and you’ll see how your back changes shape.

Need more advice for coping with pregnancy back pain? Here’s our guide to easing your backache

Images: Getty Images

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