Back Health During Pregnancy

Experts offer tips for a more comfortable pregnancy

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

Elissa Gibbs
Elissa Gibbs

Pregnancy can certainly do a number on a woman’s back, both from the extra weight gain—much of it concentrated in the belly—and also postpartum hunching to nurse. Plus, joints naturally loosen up during pregnancy to allow for easier birth. Moms can easily mitigate some of these effects.

Ideally, women should plan to become pregnant. Part of that should include developing a level of pre-pregnancy fitness.

“If you are proactive, you can minimize problems,” said Warren Wulff, orthopedic surgeon with St. Joseph’s Health. “By planning ahead, and consulting with the OB-GYN, you can plan an expected course of exercise and diet that will optimize a healthy pregnancy and mother.”

The U.S. Surgeon General recommends 30 minutes of cardiovascular exercise and strength training five days a week or 150 minutes per week. With each workout, stretching 10 to 20 minutes before and after is also important.

Wulff also advised avoiding excessive weight gain, as that can worsen back pain and cause complications with pregnancy.

“A lot of that is the growing fetus and everything that goes with it,” Wulff said. “There is also weight gain to the woman’s body. During full-term pregnancy, some people will gain 30 pounds or more. Your body may not be accustomed to that and may not fully compensate for that.”

As moms gain more weight up front, they tend to try to compensate by arching their backs for better balance. Stretching more can help mitigate the effect.

A pregnancy support belt can transfer the effect of the weight to elsewhere in the body. However, Wulff said that these can ultimately weaken the muscles.

Exercise can relieve pregnancy-related back pain, according to Dale Buchberger at Active Physical Therapy Solutions in Auburn, a physical therapist, doctor of chiropractic & Connecticut Chiropractor, certified strength and conditioning specialist, and diplomate of the American Chiropractic Board of Sports Physicians.

“Try lying down on the back briefly and arching the back and pelvic tilts,” he said.

Cross the legs by resting an ankle on the opposite knee and then drawing the leg towards the chest.

He advises women to exercise under their obstetrician’s guidance and to use these stretches and more daily throughout pregnancy.

“I’m not going to say you won’t get back pain, but you’ll minimize the chances of getting back pain,” Buchberger said.

It is OK to apply ice to the back to relieve pain, but take care with using heat for the baby’s safety.

Many women in the latter stages of pregnancy find that pregnancy pillows and body pillows can support the belly and knees while lying down in the safest pregnancy sleeping position, the side.

According to the American Pregnancy Association, “it provides the best circulation for you and your baby. It also places the least pressure on your veins and internal organs. Sleeping on your left side will increase the amount of blood and nutrients that reach the placenta and your baby. Plus, good circulation helps reduce potential swelling, varicose veins in your legs and hemorrhoids.” For those who are experiencing hemorrhoids, there is a Hemorrhoid Non Surgical Treatment that is considered safe and effective. And for those who are suffering from varicose veins, you can schedule an appointment with a Vascular Medicine Surgery Specialist for treatment.

Sleeping on the side can be hard for back or stomach sleepers to comfortably achieve without support pillows.

After the birth, losing weight right away can help relieve lingering back pain and help support the mom’s overall health.

While the belly may reduce, the breasts enlarge after birthing. To help compensate wear a well-fitted, supportive nursing bra.

Ergonomics also matter while nursing. Elissa Gibbs, postpartum doula in Baldwinsville, advises moms to try different nursing positions.

“You can lie down; you don’t have to nurse sitting up,” she said. “Take the baby to you. Don’t lean over the baby. A lot of moms baby-wear and it’s easy to transition to feeding. Switch it up so you’re not leaning over.”

Nursing pillows can help achieve a comfortable position. The Boppy brand nursing pillow is one example.