Laurie Plouffe fully expected some back pain during her pregnancy. The Edmonton-based physical therapist spends considerable time getting up and down while she assists her clients, so she had already experienced some lower back and anterior pelvis pain before, which worsened during pregnancy. “I would have called it excruciating,” says Plouffe, “but I now save that word for childbirth. Still, it was pretty darn uncomfortable.”
Pressure and Posture
Prenatal back issues aren’t necessarily because of pre-existing back problems. In many cases, pain arises due to posture changes. Karen Nordahl, MD, who practises family medicine and obstetrics at BC Women’s Hospital in Vancouver and is co-author of the self-published book Fit to Deliver, says moms-to-be can experience a shift in their centre of gravity as they gain weight, putting more pressure on the back. “A lot happens to a pregnant woman’s body in nine months,” says Dr. Nordahl. “The parts of the body do not work in isolation, so a change in one may cause problems in another, hence the back pain.”
Relieving Pain During Pregnancy
During pregnancy your body releases relaxin, a hormone that makes muscles, joints and ligaments in the pelvic area more flexible to allow the baby to pass through the birth canal. Looser joints also means the pelvis and lower back can become unstable (more mobile). The lower back being pulled forward by the weight of the fetus, combined with the effects of relaxin, can cause irritation of the joints and potentially spark inflammation of the lower back and sciatic nerve.
Read more: 5 Easy Ways to De-Stress During Pregnancy
Here’s the good news: you don’t have to accept back pain as something that’s just part of pregnancy, says Samantha Montpetit-Huynh, a pre- and postnatal exercise specialist in Toronto. Below are some expert suggestions on how to ease your discomfort.
Is It Back Labour?
Back labour occurs when the baby is positioned head-down in the birth canal but facing up, spine-to-spine with the mother rather than spine-to-abdomen. “If the baby is facing the wrong way, the pressure of the head against the tailbone and lower back can cause back pain,” explains Plouffe. You can distinguish between simple back pain and back labour by the amount of pain, says Dr. Nordahl. “With back labour it can be constant or intermittent, but the main thing is that it will get more intense.” Back labour, she adds, “has an endpoint—a baby’s birth—while back pain does not.”