Why back pain is so common for new mums?
There are a number of factors that can contribute to back pain after having had a baby. So it’s important to understand why, by understanding how the body changes during pregnancy, and how these changes can continue to affect your body after birth, too.
During the long, joyful 40 weeks of pregnancy, the hormone Relaxin, produced by the placenta, loosens the joints and the ligaments within the body which in turn allows your uterus to grow and make room for your baby. Your musculoskeletal system also loosens up, giving your joints more flexibility and naturally creates more of a curvature within your back to prepare for carrying and delivering a baby. To compensate for this, the muscles around the joints, pelvis and spine may become tight as they try to add a little more support to your skeletal system.
Your expanding uterus also stretches and weakens the abdominal and core muscles which in turn alters your posture, putting strain on your lower back. The extra weight of your growing baby means more work for your muscles and increases stress on your joints. Getting into a comfortable position in the later stages of pregnancy can be hard, resulting in awkward body positing, be it in bed, on a chair or in standing.
‘GET THIS BABY OUT OF ME…!’
And then there’s birth itself. Unless you have a planned C-section, the chance of having a long and/or difficult labour is probably likely. This can lead to muscle fatigue of, well, pretty much every god damn muscle within your body. – Hey – you’ve just pushed a cannon ball out a golf ball hole – what do you expect?
If you had an epidural, you may also notice some tenderness at the site of the injection for a few days after giving birth, and even this can occasionally be a factor in long term back pain.
These hormonal changes don’t go away as soon as your baby has been born, so your back may continue to ache until your muscles regain their strength and tone and your joints become less lax.
Many of us new mums develop further back pain when breastfeeding. Having to learn how to feed your new born baby and becoming so focused on getting your baby to latch correctly can result in you sitting hunched over, putting strain on your neck and upper back muscles whilst looking down at your baby.
Continual bending over and picking up of your baby as well as taking on the ‘holding a needy baby for 20 out of the 24 hours a day’ stance, can also create added tension and further strain on your back muscles.
And then there’s the overall exhaustion and stress that us new mums experience whilst taking care of our beloved new-born 24/7. Lack of sleep can also make it harder to recover from aches and pains after pregnancy and childbirth.
What can you do to help?
Depending on what might be the cause of your back pain, we’d suggest trying to incorporate some form of exercise into your day. Sitting all day with little movement will only add to your discomfort.
Walking is a great way of creating movement within the body, freeing up tight muscles without causing any pressure upon your joints or tendons that might already be feeling a little sore. Walking is safe to start almost immediately after birth and even after a caesarean section. They key factor is to start as soon as YOU feel up to it.
It is a good idea to start strengthening your core and pelvic floor muscles as soon as possible. This also includes any Diastasis Recti (abdominal separation) that you are likely to have after having a baby. These core muscles help stabilise your pelvis and lower back as well as supporting your internal organs that will be slightly ‘misplaced’ after having spent the last 40 weeks crammed alongside your baby. The stronger your pelvic floor and core become, the less likely you will be to suffer from back pain.
Musculoskeletal alignment is key to a body that moves freely. Which brings us onto posture.
Pay more attention to your posture. When sitting, sit evenly upon your sit bones, with both feet on the ground. This will create an easy and comfortable sitting up straight position for your spine and is a nice neutral position for your pelvis. When feeding your baby, whether you’re nursing or bottle feeding, try using a footstool to keep your feet slightly raised off the floor. Choose a comfortable chair with armrests, and use pillows to provide extra support for your back and arms. You should feel as comfortable and content as your feeding baby is.
You could also try alternating feeding positions so that you don’t favour a particular side and end up with lop sided stance that will lead to upper back, neck and shoulder tension.
- Try to stand up straight with both feet flat on the ground. Wear comfortable supportive shoes when out of the house. Avoid resting your baby on your hip to prevent the pelvis from becoming elevated and unbalanced, which will create further back pain.
- When picking up your baby, bend from the knees and lift from a crouching position to minimise the pressure on your back when lifting. If you’ve had a c-section, you shouldn’t be lifting anything heavier than your baby for the first eight weeks.
Remember, it’s OK to give yourself some TLC too. Making time for some alone time IS ok and you shouldn’t feel guilty about it at all. Enjoy a nice warm bath to help relax your muscles as well as your mind too. The more relaxed the mind, the more relaxed the body.
If you find warmth comforting for your back pain, you could try using stick-on heat pads that allow you to continue on with your day whilst providing your muscles with warmth that might ease your ongoing pain. Or snuggle up with a hot water bottle in the evening, resting the bottle on areas of tightness.
Soft tissue massage will also provide you with some relief from muscle ache. If you are unable to make time to see a qualified therapist, ask a family member or friend to gently massage your shoulders for some temporary relief.
Good nutrition will help your body to heal faster after birth too. Dark, leafy green vegetables, colourful fruits, lean protein and lots of water are just a few super foods that can reduce muscle inflammation and can help with overall recovery after birth. A healthy balanced diet with gentle exercise is the ticket to a happier, healthier body.
For more information about recovery after birth, we have published a Victory Mums book – Life After Birth – specifically written to help heal new mums after birth.
And finally, if your back pain becomes severe and progressively worse, don’t be afraid to tell your midwife, healthcare visitor and Dr about the pain or discomfort you are in. If your back pain doesn’t respond to any of the home care remedies suggested above, they can evaluate your situation, discuss treatment options, provide you with prescribed painkillers, and refer you on to a specialist like us for treatment.