We've got advice from the pros to strengthen your back now—and help ease the ouch as you enter new motherhood.
Back pain is a common pregnancy symptom, and it doesn't always disappear when your baby arrives.
Drop in to any physical therapist's office or massage studio and you're bound to see some baby bumps in the waiting room. That's because ligament-loosening hormones, weight gain and a shifting center of gravity all conspire to cause 2 million pregnant women to cry out from back pain every year, especially between the fifth and seventh months.
"That's when your uterus, normally housed in the pelvis, suddenly moves into your abdomen, putting a lot of stress on your lower and mid-back," explains Cambridge, Mass.-based Holly Herman, D.P.T., author of How to Raise Children Without Breaking Your Back: A Body Manual for New Mothers and the Parents of Small Children (Ibis Publications). Your spine sways as a result, hampering your posture and compressing the back vertebrae like a smushed Slinky.
Mercifully, the discomfort tends to diminish within two weeks of delivery, only to flare up as you begin lifting and carrying a 7- to 10-pound baby up to 50 times a day.
Here's some news to make you sit up (straight!) and take notice: You can start building a better back now. Our pain-busting moves are safe to do while pregnant and may help you avoid medication. Plus, our advice from the pros will keep you comfortable through nine months of pregnancy and into your baby's first year.
And remember: No slouching!
1. Get the Right Gear
Belly Support Band
Lift the growing weight of your baby bump with a belly support band that shores up the back and abdomen. We like: Upsie Belly support band ($70, bellybandit.com)
The Right Shoes
Supportive sneakers or flat boots are best for everyday use, but if you want some height, try rubber-soled wedges, which distribute body weight across a larger surface area and offer shock absorption.
You'll also want to ditch your ballet flats and flip-flops, says New York City podiatrist Jacqueline Sutera, D.P.M. Instead, wear flats with an arch support or try insoles or orthotics.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, 78 percent of women report more disturbed sleep during pregnancy than at other times. Not helping matters: An inability to sleep on your back or stomach in the latter months.
Placing a wedge under your belly when sleeping on your side can reduce back pain by bracing your bump so it doesn't pull on and strain your back muscles. We like: Boppy Pregnancy Wedge ($18, boppy.com)
2. Ear Acupuncture
Good news for moms-to-be who don't want to use pain medication:
Ear acupuncture can alleviate lower-back pain in pregnant women after just one week, according to new research published in the American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology.
To find an acupuncturist in your area, visit the National Certification Commission of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine (nccaom.org).
3. Be Hot and Cold
Feel fast relief with these easy tips from physical therapist Alison Sadowy:
For acute back pain (in the first 48 to 72 hours), apply a towel-wrapped ice pack for 15 minutes to ease swelling and slow pain signals to the brain; a bag of frozen vegetables works, too.
To promote healing after the acute phase, use heat to enhance circulation and lessen lingering aches.
Place 2 cups of uncooked rice in a cotton sock. Knot the open end and microwave for 60 seconds. Apply to the painful area for 15 minutes.
4. Design a Back-Friendly Nursery
After your newborn arrives, you'll soon realize that seemingly small details in your baby's room, such as the height of the changing table, can make a massive difference in preventing an aching back.
5. Know the Best Way to Carry, Lift and Push Your Baby
You'll help keep your back in its best shape if you know the right ways to move as a new mom: wear your baby; lift your baby in/out of the crib; breastfeed; push the stroller; transfer the car seat; hold a diaper bag
6. A Note about Cesarean Sections and Back Pain
A C-section mama needs to massage her scar to prevent it from adhering to the pelvic organs. "A too-tight scar can reduce your back's range of motion by 30 percent and prevent you from standing up straight,"warns physical therapist Holly Herman.
When your doctor gives you the go-ahead at your six-week checkup, begin massaging with firm pressure in an up/down, right/left and diagonal direction. You should also try rolling the scar between your fingers. "Just five minutes a day will make an enormous difference," she says.
7. Ease the Ouch with Exercise:
Research shows that women who exercise three times a week for 12 weeks during the second half of pregnancy have less low-back pain.
Incorporate these three back-strengthening exercises and stretches from Sergio Rojas, owner of reDEFINED Fitness & Physical Therapy in Chicago, into your workout routine to strengthen and protect.