Bringing a baby into the world is one of the most amazing experiences in a woman’s life. However, along with all the joy of becoming a Mom, a good number of women suffer from postpartum back pain. Pregnancy and childbirth are natural processes, but they can take a toll on your body!
Research shows that 90% of women experience low back pain during pregnancy, and almost 75% of women report having low back pain after delivery. I suffered from it myself… and perhaps now it’s your turn!
What are the causes of back pain after pregnancy?
We can’t just treat the symptoms... we need to address the causes.
There are multiple reasons that a new Mom’s back may become vulnerable, but we more or less go through the same challenges! You’ll very likely recognize yourself in the following lines. So, let’s try and break down what’s causing your postpartum back pain!
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+ Center of gravity shift
During pregnancy, your center of gravity moves quite a bit and shifts forward. The reason is simple: as the belly gets bigger your pelvis starts to naturally roll forward into an anterior pelvic tilt, arching your low back, you may even have developed a sciatica...
After baby arrives, the center of gravity shifts again... affecting once more your posture and how you feel overall. Hello postpartum back pain!
+ Growing breasts
I remember enjoying my new glowing décolleté, but heavier beasts can alter the curvature of the spine and slouch the shoulders... Lower back pain after pregnancy is one of the biggest complaints from new Moms. However, postpartum back pain and tension can strike any area along the spine.
+ Hormones... still!
As the name implies, relaxin relaxes the body's muscles, joints, and ligaments during pregnancy. The quantity remains high for a little while after birth (roughly three months, more if you breastfeed) and your joints, ligaments and muscles are still not strong and tight enough to support your core, resulting in back pain after pregnancy!
+ Long/difficult labor and delivery or C-section!
If like me, you went through labor and vaginal delivery, then you’ll most likely remember that while pushing the baby, you used muscles and positions you may never have used before! It’s definitely strenuous work and some muscles and joints have been stressed out and over exerted resulting in back pain after labor and birth. This doesn’t mean that C-section Mothers will be spared though! Scar tissue adhesions can cause low back and pelvic pain as well.
+ Baby weight during and after pregnancy
If a mother is overweight or gains more than the recommended amount of weight during pregnancy, the chance of back pain after birth will be increased due to the pressure on the back. However, even if you gained a healthy amount of weight during pregnancy, the baby’s weight has put extra stress and strain on your joints and muscles. Your knees, hips, lower abdominal muscles and lower back were especially stressed.
Despite what many women's magazines would have you believe, losing weight after pregnancy can take time and be a much longer process than expected. But hang in there! With the right mindset, healthy diet and correct postpartum exercises, you should be able to achieve your weight-loss goal in the next few months.
+ Weakened abdominal muscles and diastasis recti...
During pregnancy, the growing uterus and baby have weakened and stretched the abdominal muscles, resulting in a change in posture and a poor core connection. Pelvic floor and transverse muscles can basically shut down, especially when pregnant women ignore their core altogether. I was one of them after my first! Then, for various reasons that we’ll see bellow, my diastasis recti (ab separation) got worse, weakening my core and contributing to my excruciating postpartum back pain...
It makes sense, right? If you have a weakness anywhere in your core it’s going to impact the rest of the system, especially your back.
+ Pelvic floor dysfunction
One Clinical study after another shows that of women with low back pain, the vast majority suffered from pelvic floor dysfunction as well.
A weakness in your back or pelvic floor can prompt the development of a trigger point that, in turn, causes pain in other areas. It’s not always clear in which order the issues develop, which make the treatment challenging, but pelvic floor dysfunction, pelvic pain and lumbar pain can be inter-related. For new Moms, all of these issues must be looked at together.
+ Daily posture
Parenting a young child is an endeavor filled with twisting, contorting, and bending. Posture is... the pet peeve of new Moms! Don’t underestimate the effect of bad posture on your body. Bad posture is one of the reasons why a good number of new moms still report suffering from postpartum back pain one year after pregnancy! I did... Too often, I wanted to act fast, thought about the baby first and totally forgot about myself! Yes, my crying baby needed to be picked up but bending over properly could have made a world of difference in the way I felt!
Let’s quickly review a few ways new moms may compromise their back health...
- Bad breastfeeding sitting positions during frequent feeding sessions (which is around twelve times per day, each around 15 minutes for newborns!)
- Constantly bending over: picking up the baby from the crib, play mat, bouncing chair, picking up toys, changing diapers, getting the stroller in and out of the car, carrying the car seat...
- Holding and rocking the baby in a wrong way
- Improperly supported child carriers
- ... and the list goes on!
If not done with correct posture and proper core connection, all these daily tasks can not only worsen your postpartum back pain but also increase your recovery time.
+ Improper exercise regimen
You may already know that there’s a big gap in the fitness world making new Moms vulnerable when returning to exercise. Pelvic floor issues, ab separation and postpartum back pain are too often ignored.
One myth is that “Ab workouts” and “Kegels” seem to be the answer to everything... This drives me crazy! Kegels on their own do nothing to address the real underlying issues like core instability, abdominal separation, and improper pelvic floor function.
Crunches are now top of the list of well established “no-no exercises”, but commonly accepted safe activities like Pilates or yoga can also be harmful when resuming an active lifestyle - if resumed before completing a comprehensive ab and pelvic floor re-strengthening program.
This is a subject very close to my heart, my core workouts prevented my own diastasis recti and back from healing after my 1st son... but I managed to recover entirely after my second! I want you to avoid the mistakes I made and make the most of this recovery journey. I’ll get back to this subject bellow.
+ No me-time
The words “new Mom” and “fatigue” pretty much go hand-in-hand... It can be extremely difficult for emotionally and physically worn out mamas to take care of themselves properly. We’re often burning the candle from both ends!
- Recovering from birth takes time,
- Brain is on high-alert,
- Being up all night,
The combination of a battered body and fatigue, definitely triggers postpartum back pain!
Moms are well known for putting themselves last, and many are so busy taking care of everyone else that they aren’t taking care of themselves!
Different ways to get rid of postpartum back pain
How to be your own medicine for back pain at home
Now you have a better idea about what could be causing your postpartum back pain. The situation is complex, but not hopeless! There are a lot many home remedies for back pain after delivery. Here are some tips to help you make some adjustments and recover from this difficult time.
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+ Strengthen your core and pelvic floor properly
Here we go... The immediate postpartum period is a very sensitive period for new Mothers, mentally and physically. As a result, many of us, in addition to pelvic floor weakness and postpartum back pain, will deal with a post-pregnancy ab separation called diastasis recti. Your body went through a lot in a short time, so one thing you want to avoid is rushing into a punishing fitness regimen to “bounce back”! Unfortunately, in our appearance-oriented culture, a woman who just delivered a baby faces tremendous pressure to “get her body back” almost as soon as she returns home. I know, it’s challenging (especially when scrolling down social media), but try to ignore that and focus on how to recover properly.
Once the baby is here, gentle postpartum belly exercises involving pelvic floor, diaphragm and the deepest layer of ab muscles are crucial, not only for esthetic reasons but also for healthful ones. Oh! I wish I had been educated on the subject 5 years ago...
Focus on strengthening your pelvic floor, core and stabilizing your pelvis area. Performing appropriate post-pregnancy exercises and having the right mindset can help you alleviate postpartum back pain tremendously.
Don’t hesitate to contact me if you need guidance to start your new fitness journey. With a stronger core you’ll be less beleaguered by any kind of pain and strain. Strengthening your post-pregnancy belly with correct postpartum exercises and diastasis recti exercises can be totally life-changing!
+ Get back to your favorite sports and activities progressively
I hear you… You’re itching to regain muscle and strength! It’s easy to be tempted to skip the steps and resume your favorite activity or sports without a strategy or plan, even if you have already followed a pelvic floor reeducation. Don’t rush though!
To start on the right foot, think of yourself as having been injured and on the road to recovery. If you tore a knee ligament, you wouldn’t start running right after a surgery, you would start with physical therapy, then walking, then power-walking, then jogging and then running progressively longer distance and/or faster.
This gradual approach should be applied to any activity. For instance, refrain from lifting heavy weights or indulging in weight training exercises without first working with your own body-weight and light weights! Forget about the “no pain - no gain” philosophy. You don’t want to subject your muscles and joints to too much stress.
If you decide to go with a personal trainer, be sure to check their credentials and ask their plan to approach postpartum fitness. Or contact me!
+ Gentle stretching
Just review your day quickly: breastfeeding, changing diapers, carrying the baby, bending over,... There’s a good chance that you are hunched over and constantly doing something in a forward motion, often leading to lower back pain after birth. You may also be much less active than you’ve ever been before, as well as sleep deprived!
Gentle stretching is key to ease postpartum back pain. Taking a few minutes for yourself can leave you refreshed and revitalized too. I’m pretty sure that the simple act of interlacing fingers then turning your palms upwards above your head as you straighten your arms and lengthen up can do a world of good for your stiff back, shoulders and upper sides of your rib cage.
However, be sure to not go too wide or drastic. Stay conservative. Stretching should never be painful and you should always feel better after a short stretching session. Remember that your body may still be producing some relaxin, especially if you are breastfeeding, making joints and soft tissues more elastic and supple. Gentle stretches can help keep your body mobile, ease your physical and mental stress, and help you stay calm. Sounds good, right!?
Tight hamstring muscles are also a common contributor to lower back pain after childbirth, so make sure to stretch those too.
+ Work on your daily posture
Next time you carry your child on a hip, check your alignment. You’ll quickly become conscious of the need to make postural adjustments during your day to get rid of your postpartum back pain! Good posture is a struggle for most new Moms, unfortunately, most them go back home with no posture tips to recover properly and avoid long-term damage on the core.
The demands of today’s world mean that there is often no rest for new mothers, especially if you’ve gone back to work, or are caring for additional children...
Regular daily life can be very demanding, and lack of proper form can have long term impacts! Work on living in optimal alignment as much as possible. You can’t get it perfect every second of the day, but be mindful of your posture to create new habits.
+ Bend over safely - posture tips
Bend those knees! On average, Mothers pick up a baby 50 times a day so bending properly is a must to protect your back and ease your back pain after giving birth!
- Don’t rush
- Avoid bending at your hips to pick up your baby.
- Come close to the baby/item,
- Lunge while keeping your back straight,
- Bring the baby/item close to your chest before standing back up,
- Contract your pelvic floor and exhale to stand back up (exhaling engages your core and protects your abs, pelvic floor and low back),
- Your back should stay straight the whole time.
You can find plenty of online videos demonstrating how to bend over safely, but here’s a video I made with my baby, showing both proper form and harmful form, and their impact on the body.
We spend a lot of time bending over our babies and holding that position for long periods of time... So protect your spine: lunging is usually easier on your back and knees!
+ Breastfeed safely - posture tips
Possibly, like me, you’ve been breastfeeding in a reclined position, in a rocking chair, slouching and maybe even cross-legged! Breastfeeding, one of the most natural acts in the world, but proper posture can feel far from natural. It takes practice and is key to alleviating back pain after pregnancy...
In reality they are much safer positions for your back, ab-midline and pelvic floor than the reclined position (see pictures bellow). For instance:
- The baby lies across your lap facing you - baby's tummy to your tummy.
- His head is resting on your forearm and his back along your arm.
- Use pillows to support his weight. Doing so prevents your arms and back from doing the job and you don't have to hunch. His head should be up to the level of your nipple.
- Use a pillow behind your mid-back (not low back!) to keep your back straight and prevent slouching.
- Support your feet on a footstool (or anything that raises your feet and is comfortable) to keep less than a 90 degree angle between your back and thigh
- Don’t cross your legs
The side-lying position is also safe for your back and allows you to rest while your baby is nursing, however it can take more time to master. Make sure to place a pillow under your upper knee to keep your pelvis square.
+ Take care of yourself
One of the easiest ways to take care of yourself as you care for others is to make sure you're eating properly. Good nutrition is the key to good mental and physical health.
A nap or a bath can be life changing and sooth your postpartum back pain! Remember to put yourself first sometimes! The simple act of doing so may already make you feel better.
Placing a hot water bottle on your sore back can help too... You can also opt for an ice pack! Listen to yourself and choose what relieves you the most. The cold has analgesic properties, the warmth relaxes the muscles and improves the blood circulation.
Perhaps, you can ask your partner for a light massage too!
Give yourself small expeditions to go on. A short walk to the park can be a mood enhancer for everyone and sooth this achy back!
Another thing that may relieve you tremendously is accepting help and using a grocery delivery service! Not only will you save some time (that you can put to good use for caring for yourself!), but you’ll also help protect your back, especially if you need to shop with your baby or buy heavy items like water bottles. If you need to shop by yourself, think about taking small grocery bags and lift items into the trunk of the car one after the other, preventing lifting heavy bulky bags!
Making time for yourself is a must. My proven postnatal exercise program based on posture and abdominal breathing, is the perfect way to start reducing your postpartum back pain as well as flattening your stomach and improving your pelvic floor function. Check out the Better Body after Baby program.
+ Visit a good physiotherapist, osteopath or chiropractor
Last but not least... seeing an osteopath 4 weeks after giving birth, was a key point of my speedy recovery after my second pregnancy. I was suffering from back pain after delivery so she assessed my alignment, made a few spinal and pelvic adjustments, made sure everything was back in the right place and moving well, including my internal organs! I can’t recommend it highly enough, making the time for this early visit. It played such a big part in kickstarting my well-being. Unresolved childbirth stresses on the mother’s pelvis can contribute to ongoing back problems, neck pain, pelvic floor issues, general fatigue, or headaches arising from the neck.
After giving birth, the body has to recover from both the changes it made during pregnancy and from the effects of delivery. A new Mom’s pelvis is often pulled out of balance by the passage of the baby.
If you had a C-section, a pelvic floor physiotherapist can assess your C-section scar and start treating the area with scar massage to break up the scar tissue, often responsible for back pain, ab and pelvic floor dysfunction!
In short, physical therapy or osteopathy work to restore your body to a state of balance and provide relief. Several kinds of therapies are available, so search for one that suits you and try to be the kind of patient who will be pro-active to resolve your issues. Some practitioners have worked their whole careers treating patients suffering from pregnancy-related issues and back-pain management, just find the right one for you.
On related note, the infant may benefit from a visit too. The delivery was traumatic for them as well, but that’s another story for later!
View and treat your body as a whole
Make that postpartum back pain go away
Back pain is often called the disease of the century, and it usually traps us in a vicious circle.
I have found that one of the best things you can do is try to have an understanding of what is going on with your body, and work with it. In most cases, if you do the right things, your postpartum back pain will quickly become a memory!
It’s supposed to fade over time. The pregnancy hormones will disappear, your ligaments will regain their strength, joint issues will fade away, you will probably lose weight, you’ll get stronger... and you’ll also find a new healthy balanced routine!
Enjoy the bliss of motherhood and give your body some time to get back to normal. Remember that your health comes first, and if you are down or not physically strong enough, then taking caring for your baby becomes difficult.
I hope you find the relief you’re looking for. However, if despite your efforts, this postpartum back pain continues or gets worse day by day, consider consulting a doctor to receive proper care and education on how to improve your back pain.
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