Back Pain During Pregnancy
Frequently Asked Questions: Pregnancy
Backache is one of the most common pregnancy problems, especially in the later months. The pain usually goes away after the baby is born. But for many women, back pain lingers for months after giving birth.
You can blame your growing uterus for your aching back. Your expanding uterus shifts your center of gravity and stretches out and weakens your abdominal muscles. This changes your posture and puts a strain on your back. Plus, the extra weight you’re carrying means more work for your muscles and increased stress on your joints. This is why your back may feel worse at the end of the day.
The abdominal muscles support the spine and play an important role in the health of the back. During pregnancy, these muscles stretch and weaken. These changes also can increase your risk of hurting your back during exercise.
Yes, pregnancy hormones can contribute to back pain. To prepare for the passage of the baby through the birth canal, a hormone relaxes the ligaments in the joints of your pelvis to make them more flexible. Back pain can occur if the joints become too flexible.
There are several things you can do to prevent or ease back pain. For example, wear supportive clothing and shoes. Pay attention to your position when sitting, sleeping, and lifting things. If you need to stand for a long time, rest one foot on a stool or a box to take the strain off your back. You also can use heat or cold to soothe sore muscles.
Look for an abdominal support garment (for sale in maternity stores and catalogs). It looks like a girdle and helps take the weight of your belly off your back muscles. Also, some maternity pants come with a wide elastic band that fits under the curve of your belly to help support its weight.
Wear low-heeled (but not flat) shoes with good arch support, such as walking shoes or athletic shoes. Avoid high heels—they tilt your body forward and strain your lower back muscles.
Sit in chairs with good back support or tuck a small pillow behind your lower back. Lumbar supports, special devices that support the lower back, are sold at office supply and medical supply stores.
If you must lift something, squat down, bend your knees, and keep your back straight. Do not bend at the waist to pick up things.
Sleeping on your side is best later in pregnancy. Keep one or both knees bent. It also may help to place a pillow between your knees and another under your belly. You also can try a full-length body pillow.
You can use a heating pad or warm water bottle for painful back muscles. Heating pads should be set at the lowest possible temperature setting. Wrap your heating pad or warm water bottle in a towel to help prevent burns. Cold compresses also can help ease pain. Limit the time you use heat or cold.
If you have severe back pain, or if the pain goes on for more than two weeks, call your obstetrician–gynecologist (ob-gyn) or other obstetric care provider. He or she will want to rule out other causes of the pain.
Back pain can be a sign of some pregnancy complications. For example, back pain can be a symptom of preterm labor. Pain also can be a sign of a urinary tract infection (UTI). Contact your ob-gyn or other obstetric care provider if, in addition to back pain, you:
- have a fever
- feel burning during urination
- have vaginal bleeding
Once other causes for your pain are ruled out, your ob-gyn or other obstetric care provider may recommend that you see a rehabilitation specialist or a physical therapist. He or she also may recommend a maternity girdle or brace if you aren’t already using one.
Yes, exercises for the back can:
- strengthen and stretch the muscles that support your back and legs
- promote good posture
- keep the muscles of the back, abdomen, hips, and upper body strong
- help ease back pain
- help prepare you for labor and childbirth
Before doing any exercises, talk with your ob-gyn or other obstetric care provider to make sure they are safe for you. Exercising should not cause pain. If you have pain, stop doing the exercise. See Exercise During Pregnancy for more exercise tips.
Yes. Walking generally is safe during pregnancy and is great for the back. Wear walking shoes or tennis shoes that fit well and give good support, flexibility, and cushioning.
Water exercise can be especially helpful for back pain. The water supports your weight so you avoid injury and muscle strain. Many women swim right up to the end of their pregnancies.
If you have no complications that prevent you from doing so, staying active during pregnancy reduces back pain and increases your ability to go about your daily activities. Always talk with your ob-gyn or other obstetric care provider before starting or changing an exercise program during pregnancy.
Complications: Diseases or conditions that happen as a result of another disease or condition. An example is pneumonia that occurs as a result of the flu. A complication also can occur as a result of a condition, such as pregnancy. An example of a pregnancy complication is preterm labor.
Hormones: Substances made in the body by cells or organs that control the function of cells or organs. An example is estrogen, which controls the function of female reproductive organs.
Ligaments: Bands of tissue that connect bones or support large internal organs.
Obstetric Care Provider: A health care professional who cares for a woman during pregnancy, labor, and delivery. These professionals include obstetrician–gynecologists (ob-gyns), certified nurse–midwives (CNMs), maternal–fetal medicine specialists (MFMs), and family practice doctors with experience in maternal care.
Obstetrician–Gynecologist (Ob-Gyn): A doctor with special training and education in women’s health.
Preterm: Less than 37 weeks of pregnancy.
Urinary Tract Infection (UTI): An infection in any part of the urinary system, including the kidneys, bladder, or urethra.
Uterus: A muscular organ located in the female pelvis that contains and nourishes the developing fetus during pregnancy.
If you have further questions, contact your obstetrician–gynecologist.
FAQ115. Copyright May 2020 by the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
This information is designed as an educational aid to patients and sets forth current information and opinions related to women’s health. It is not intended as a statement of the standard of care, nor does it comprise all proper treatments or methods of care. It is not a substitute for a treating clinician’s independent professional judgment. Read ACOG’s complete disclaimer.