Pregnancy guide > Your baby in pregnancy > Pregnancy health > Protecting your back in pregnancy

Protecting your back in pregnancy

Our must-know guide to protecting your back in pregnancy with advice on preventing back ache and back pain.
Backache is an incredibly common pregnancy ailment and over 50% of women report suffering from this uncomfortable symptom at some point. However, even if you have had back problems in the past there are a whole host of things you can do to protect your spine and reduce back related discomfort during your pregnancy.

Why?

The reason backache is so common in pregnancy is because your centre of gravity changes as your baby (and tummy) grow. This causes you to arch your lower spine and throw back your shoulders to compensate for the extra weight 'out front', placing extra strain on your upper and lower back. In addition to this, the pregnancy hormones oestrogen and relaxin that help your body to accommodate your developing baby throughout pregnancy and birth also make your joints and ligaments very supple so it can be easy to over stretch the muscles in your back and pelvis.

How to prevent back pain during pregnancy

While some pregnant women suffer with severe back issues such as sciatica or SPD, back pain in pregnancy can often be a result of poor posture putting extra strain on your already overworked back muscles. By taking care of your back a little better some of the discomfort you're feeling can be easily prevented, we explain how.... Take regular exercise

Taking gentle exercise several times a week helps to prevent backache as it strengthens and stretches your muscles so that you develop improved posture, strength and flexibility. Swimming or aquarobics are ideal as they give you a full body cardiovascular workout in a completely weightless environment as the water supports your body and takes the pressure of carrying a baby off your spine. Yoga and pilates are also good as they help to strengthen the muscles around your core stabilising your back. Exercising regularly will also help you to stick to your recommended weight gain as this is something else that helps to ease pressure on your back as you progress through your pregnancy. If you feel like nothing else, taking a short walk each day helps to keep your body mobile - however, try not to carry too heavy a handbag though.

When embarking on a new exercise regime its important that you consult your doctor first and then only go to classes supervised by an instructor who is qualified in fitness for pregnancy.

Avoid heavy lifting

It can be difficult to avoid lifting anything for the whole nine months of your pregnancy (especially if you have small children) so when you do it's important to master the art of doing it 'properly' as this will minimise potential strain on your back. When you have no choice but to lift a heavy 'object' you should focus on taking the weight with your legs and not your back. Do this by bending your knees into a squatting position, keeping your back straight and pushing upwards with the strength in your thighs. You may find that you feel more stable if you place one foot slightly forward of the other.

When carrying anything remotely heavy you should avoid twisting from the waist and instead move your feet when you want to turn around. Similarly, if you're carrying several heavy objects (i.e. shopping bags) you should split the weight evenly between your arms so that your body is balanced.

Stand up straight

If you're on your feet for long periods of time it's important to focus on good posture. Try standing tall (so that you're not collapsing in at the lower back), keep your shoulders relaxed down your back and tuck your bottom in slightly so your pelvis isn't tipping backward. Keeping this position and taking regular 'sit down' breaks will help to minimise any discomfort.

Sit up straight

It's also really important to sit up straight - wherever possible choose a straight back chair with arms as these make it easier to straighten your back. You may find it more comfortable to place a folded towel or small cushion behind your lower spine for support. Additionally, sitting with your legs parallel to the floor is much kinder on your back than sitting with crossed legs.

Wear comfortable shoes

High heels can throw your centre of gravity off even further so to protect your back you may need to say goodbye to stilettos in favour of comfy, flatter shoes until your baby arrives. Thankfully, comfortable doesn't have to mean boring and cute ballet pumps, pretty sandals or sheepskin boots are all great alternatives.

Careful in bed

Side facing positions tend to be much more comfortable in pregnancy and are recommended for a number of reasons, not least because they reduce the pressure on your spine. Try lying on your side with your knees bent and a pillow placed between your legs and under your waist, investing in a maternity pillow is another option.

A firm mattress provides much more support for your back that an soft one so if you suffer with your back, placing a piece of hardwood underneath can help a lot.

Strengthen your pelvic floor

Practicing pelvic floor exercises daily can help to strengthen your lower abdominal muscles, provide more support for your baby and relieve some of the strain on your back.

How to soothe back pain

While the above tips will help to strengthen your body and help to reduce the chances of you getting backache during pregnancy, if you are suffering you will need remedies that provide immediate relief, in this instance you could try the following.....
  • Place either a hot water bottle, a cool flannel or ice pack on the area that feels strained - by trying all three you will discover whether a hot or cold compress works better for you.

  • Make sure you're getting plenty of rest as when you're physically tired and feel worn out your posture often suffers and this in turn can cause uncomfortable backache.

  • Try kneeling on all fours as this helps relieve the pressure of carrying a baby on you spine and can prove quite effective in relieving backache. Many find that gently tilting the hips backwards and forwards (to the sky, then to the floor) in this position can help further.

  • Ask your partner or a friend to massage your back with baby oil or an unfragranced moisturiser as this can really help to relieve tension in your back and soothe the aching.

  • If you regularly suffer with back pain it can be an idea to invest in a maternity support belt as this helps to lift your tummy and reduce the pressure on your lower spine. Most belts are reasonably priced, fully adjustable and can be worn comfortably under regular clothes.

  • If you're suffering from severe and prolonged backache you should seek the advice of your midwife or doctor as they may be able to refer you for additional treatment.
Do you suffer with backache? Can you share any tips for relieving back discomfort with other members? Why not visit the AskBaby forums and share your concerns and questions with other parents-to-be.

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