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24th November, 20205 min read

How to relieve back pain in pregnancy

How to relieve back pain in pregnancy
Medical reviewer: Healthily's medical team
Author: Cassandra Parkin
Last reviewed: 24/11/2020
Medically reviewed

All of Healthily's articles undergo medical safety checks to verify that the information is medically safe. View more details in our editorial policy

It’s common to have back pain during pregnancy. In fact, studies suggest that around 2 in 3 people will develop some type of back pain while pregnant.

And even though it can happen at any point in your pregnancy, it's especially common during the early stages.

A combination of normal changes to your body, like extra weight from having a baby in your tummy, and stretching of ligaments, can lead to backache during pregnancy.

Most of the time, the pain is nothing to worry about, but it can sometimes be a sign of a medical complication. See a doctor or speak to your midwife immediately if:

  • the pain feels really bad or you’re worried
  • you have a fever, pain when you pee or you’re bleeding from your vagina
  • you’re in your second or third trimester, as this could be a sign of early labour
  • you also have pain under the ribs or shortness of breath
  • you can’t feel your legs, bum or genitals as normal

If you have back pain that doesn’t need medical attention, there are a few things you can do to manage the pain and reduce the risk of it coming back. But to do so, it helps to first understand why you may develop back pain during pregnancy.

Pregnant woman lying on a couch with back pain

What causes back pain in pregnancy?

When you're pregnant, your body makes a hormone called relaxin to help prepare you for labour. It makes the ligaments in your pelvis (the area between your tummy and your legs) to relax and the joints to become more mobile. But while this is good for childbirth, it can lead to back pain.

Relaxin isn’t the only cause of back pain during pregnancy, your growing baby also plays a part.

It’s common to gain between 10kg to 12.5kg (22 to 26lb) during a healthy pregnancy. This extra weight can put added stress on your joints and muscles, which may cause back pain.

There are a few more reasons why you may get backache while pregnant, including:

  • as your tummy grows, your body’s centre of gravity shifts forward. This causes you to lean backwards and this change in posture can put stress on the back muscles
  • as your tummy and pelvic floor muscles stretch to make room for your growing baby, they become weaker and support your back and pelvis less
  • feeling tired during pregnancy affect your posture, leading to back pain

But back pain in pregnancy isn’t always due to these changes. As you get closer to the end of your pregnancy, back pain can be a sign of early labour and may feel like period pain cramps or a low, dull ache.

If this happens, call your midwife or maternity unit immediately.

Woman taking a bubble bath with towel on head

How to relieve back pain while you're pregnant

There are lots of changes you can make to help manage and reduce back pain while you're pregnant. You can:

  • wear flat shoes to help distribute your weight evenly
  • keep your back straight and supported when sitting at work or at home
  • avoid lifting anything heavy
  • bend your knees and keep your back straight when lifting
  • balance the weight when carrying bags
  • move your feet when you turn to avoid twisting your spine
  • get plenty of rest, especially later in pregnancy
  • get a massage or take a warm bath
  • sleep on a supportive mattress
  • go to a back care class

It’s usually safe to take simple painkillers like paracetamol while you’re pregnant, but check with a pharmacist or doctor first. They can advise you on how to safely get and use these medicines.

If you do decide to take painkillers, always follow the instructions on the packet.

Pregnant woman sitting on an exercise ball

How long will it take for my back to get back to normal after pregnancy?

If you’ve had back pain during your pregnancy, it’s worth looking after and strengthening it after you've had your baby. This is particularly important as lifting and carrying your baby may put further strain on your back.

Activities like swimming and walking can help to support your spine properly. They can also reduce back pain by strengthening your muscles. You can also try muscle-strengthening exercises such as abdominal curls and pelvic tilts.

See a doctor before starting back exercises and be gentle with yourself. If an exercise causes or increases your pain, stop.

It can take a few weeks or months for back pain to get better, but it usually does in time. But, if your pain feels really bad or you’re worried, see a doctor.

Key points

  • lower back pain is common when you're pregnant. It affects around 2 in 3 pregnant people
  • in early pregnancy, the most common cause of back pain is the softening of your ligaments as your body gets ready for labour
  • later in pregnancy, back pain can be caused by weight gain putting extra strain on your joints
  • you can help manage your back pain by making sure your back is properly supported, avoiding heavy lifting and resting
  • back pain usually gets better without medical care, but see a doctor or midwife if it feels really bad, you’re worried or you have any of the warning symptoms listed above
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Important: Our website provides useful information but is not a substitute for medical advice. You should always seek the advice of your doctor when making decisions about your health.

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