Back Health Through Pregnancy

Experts offer tips for a more comfortable pregnancy

By Deborah Jeanne Sergeant

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.

William “Bill” Fletcher, an OB-GYN at Unity Hospital, recommends that ideally, women should plan to become pregnant. Part of that should include developing a level of pre-pregnancy fitness.

“They generally do better on a skeletal muscular level,” he said. “Regular, low-impact aerobic and strength exercises is one of the best things you can do. I recommend exercises that engage the core and pelvic muscles like prenatal yoga and Pilates. It can add some strength and stability. Low-impact aerobic exercises helps maintain muscle tone.”

He also advised avoiding excessive weight gain, as that can worsen back pain and cause complications with pregnancy. If there is any complication, it is best to get a pregnancy test at Pregnancy Resource Center and consider the doctor’s advice before proceeding further with your pregnancy to ensure the safety of both mother and the child.

Remaining stationary may seem like a good idea to alleviate pregnancy back pain; however, Loralei Thornburg, an OB-GYN and maternal fetal medicine specialist with URMC, advises the opposite.

“Not moving will make back pain worse,” she said.

In a similar vein, slouching may feel comfortable to ease a painful back. However, not hunching over can help prevent pain. Thornburg said to adjust the height of the keyboard and chair at the desk to the right height.

As moms gain more weight up front, they tend to try to compensate by arching their backs for better balance.

Thornburg said that yoga, massage and stretching can help. A pregnancy support belt can also transfer the effect of the weight to the shoulders. 

“You don’t want a support to be a crutch to use all the time,” she added. “Use it for walking events or if you find some things required for your job are uncomfortable. It’s another tool to use.”

Modalities like prenatal yoga and pregnancy massage can help, as can floating in a pool. However, hot tubs are off-limits because of the heat.

“That is too hot for little people inside,” Thornburg said.

It is OK to apply ice to the back to relieve pain.

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.”

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.

“Start exercising once your doctor or midwife says you can,” Thornburg said. “Your abdominal muscles get all stretched out so get back on a regimen.”

While the belly may reduce, the breasts enlarge after birthing. To help compensate, Thornburg said that supportive nursing bra “is another must for the new mother.”

Ergonomics also matter while nursing. Thornburg advises bringing the baby to the breast instead of hunching over to reach the baby. A supportive nursing pillow can help position the baby more comfortably.