Congratulations! You’re pregnant! There are moments when being pregnant feels so magical and thrilling that you never want it to end. And there are moments when you are so achy and fed up that you are really looking forward to labour!
I, like many pregnant women experienced back pain during pregnancy. I have experienced sacroiliac pain on and off for years. An achy pain from the back of my pelvis, my lower back and across to my hips. It would keep me at wake at night. I was concerned that pregnancy was really going to aggravate it so much that I would have to stop teaching Pilates.
But of course, being a Pilates instructor and a prenatal Pilates instructor since 2011, I have built up plenty of ways to ease these aches for my clients. I am finally putting them to good use for myself. So, I am very excited to share with you how to relieve back pain during pregnancy.
What causes back pain during pregnancy?
Studies indicate that somewhere between a half and three quarters of pregnant women suffer from back pain at some point of time during their pregnancy. This is due to both mechanical and hormonal factors.
Pregnancy back pain is typically observed in the area where the pelvis meets your spine, at the sacroiliac joint. Your body produces the hormone ‘relaxin’, to prepare your body for childbirth. One of the effects of ‘relaxin’ is the loosening of ligaments of your pelvis. This makes pregnant women less stable and more prone to injury; and as our belly/baby grows larger, our muscles are working harder to carry our extra weight, especially in the back region, which in turn, leads to back pain.
Another cause of back pain is Diastasis Recti. Your "six pack" abdominal muscles will naturally move away from one another toward the end of your pregnancy to allow more room for your growing baby. If this gap is wide, your core is less supportive to your lower back, which may be felt as back pain.
Keep reading for some ways to help relieve your back pain, plus a Prenatal Pilates video with some of my favourite stretches for myself and my pregnant clients...
Seek a Professional Bodyworker
Any time my back pain became more uncomfortable, I saw my osteopath. He is generally a miracle worker with some sort of x-ray vision/superpower anyway. But any time my pelvis is really out of alignment, he puts things right. Try to see a reputable osteopath or physiotherapist sooner rather than later. It really is worth it!
It is actually becoming a pet hate of mine when I talk to people in pain and they put off seeing a professional bodyworker in the hopes that it will "go away". I'm guilty of this too. Try to see this as an investment in your body and mental wellbeing. Imagine how much more enjoyable your pregnancy will be with less pain sooner, rather than waiting to see if it settles itself.
A gentle prenatal massage can also be really helpful. I enjoyed quite a few over the past few weeks to keep me teaching right until the very end of my pregnancy. Make sure your chosen masseuse is qualified in prenatal massage.
Practice Good Posture
My (not pregnancy related) sacroiliac pain is due to a muscular imbalance of the muscles of my lower back, pelvis and legs. My pelvis tends to works it's way out of alignment due to the imbalance that these muscles exert on it causing my back pain. I have become much more aware of how I hold myself and rest during the day which has really paid off.
Some ways we can practice good posture while pregnant (and postnatally) are:
- Stand evenly on both feet to distribute your bodyweight over both legs, hip joints and each side of your back and core. Ensure you are not leaning your shoulders back and pressing bump forward (I am very guilty of this, while rubbing my belly like Santa).
- Try to sit as upright as you can (cushions or a lumbar support are your friend) and again, be mindful that you are distributing your bodyweight evenly across both sides of your hips/pelvis. Try not to sit with legs or ankles crossed. Or my personal favourite, sitting with legs folded to one side and leaning onto the armrest. So hard not to do.
- If you work in a sedentary job (desk life), check your workstation, try to have your monitor at eye level straight in front of you and your keyboard close to the edge of your desk so you can avoid slouching to reach it and your mouse. Take breaks from sitting and walk around as often as you can.
- Avoid high heels, these encourage our pelvis to tilt forward, increasing the curves of our spine. While pregnant, these curves are already increasing so let's not add to the adaptation. Also, think of all the extra pressure on your feet as your pregnancy progresses.
- If you have a toddler and you are pregnant, it’s especially important that you adhere to correct lifting techniques with them too. Always squat, back straight not rounded, to pick up your child and if this becomes difficult, sit down and let your child climb up onto your lap.
Rest is the old prescription for general back pain. Now we know that a little movement helps. Make time during your day to move your body! A simple 15-20 minute walk/stroll. Maybe a nice walk on your lunch break to get your legs moving! I walked to my studio as often as I could. On achy days t really helped my feel much more able to teach by the time I got there.
A nice mobility routine also helps, simple side bends plus rotations to keep your spine moving and preventing any stiffness.
Support Your Body
I wasn't "showing" long before I bought myself a bump support from Mothercare. One of my clients had raved about it! When I first put this on I felt immediate relief. It hugs my baby in to me, lifts my belly and distributes his weight more evenly across my back and hips. When it became a little tight for me, I began folding down my maternity leggings so they supported my bump from underneath.
I am naturally quite flat chested so this wasn't an issue for me. But, I do always recommend wearing the correct size bra to my clients. Both as they are losing weight when beginning to train with me and as they are sizing up when attending my prenatal classes. Check that the band size is correct for your ribcage, especially toward the end of your pregnancy. And that the straps are wide enough and tight enough to support your breasts and ease the pull on your upper back.
Take A Warm Bath
This is my favourite! Toward the end of my pregnancy I was having a bath almost every night. I would draw a warm bath, pour a cup or two of Epsom salts plus a few drops of lavender essential oil in and soak for 20 minutes. Epsom salts ease tight muscles, they help aches and pains so much! I went through almost a bag a week, and it helped me feel so much better after each soak. However, lavender oil should be used only occasionally in your first trimester, as it may stimulate contractions.
Comfy Sleeping Positions
My sleep has really been impacted by my lower back and hip pain. I regularly wake during the night needing to turn over to switch the pressure to my other hip. We bought a mattress topper which really improved my comfort. A pillow between my knees and another between my arms has really helped. I should have bought a pregnancy pillow, but I was being budget conscious.
Clevamama have a maternity pillow that also doubles as a sleep pod for your little one. If I was doing things over again, I would have purchased it. Instead I bought their nursing pillow and barely used it for me. I used it as a seat for my children a lot more.
Mindful Weight Gain
Keep your pregnancy weight gain manageable (extra weight is extra hard on any back). We will of course gain weight while we are pregnant. We are growing another human being after all! But any extra weight gain than what is recommended will add extra pressure on your body.
Check in with your GP or a registered dietician while pregnant if this is a concern of yours.
I hope some of these tips and the video below ease your back pain! If you are unable to view the embedded video below, please click here.
Pregnancy and giving birth requires strength and stamina, much like a marathon. If you are not sure of what is safe and effective exercise throughout pregnancy, I would be happy to coach you with my complimentary Prenatal Workout Series. You will love the workouts and feel good about doing them.
I wish you so much luck during your pregnancy. THANK YOU so much for all the love and support.