Back Labor: How to Manage the Pain

pregnant back pain

You're in labor. Only instead of feeling those contractions thundering through your belly or pelvis, they're cropping up in your a far more surprising place: your lower back. Welcome to back labor. And while it may seem strange, experts say it's surprisingly common.


About one fourth of women experience back labor during childbirth, and one oft-cited cause is the baby's position in the uterus as it's moving on out.

"Back labor occurs when the back of the baby's head is toward the mother's spine," says Daniel Roshan, director of ROSH Maternal-Fetal Medicine in New York, NY. This "sunny side up" position can put added pressure on the nerves in the mother's back.

Yet baby positioning isn't the only culprit. One study by McGill University found that women who experience back pain during menstruation are more likely to experience back labor, which suggests that the exact placement of nerves within the back may be to blame.

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Whatever the cause, if you experience back labor, there are ways to get some relief. Here, some tips:

  1. Change your position. Don't lie on your back during labor since this gets gravity working against you. Instead, stand or lean over a bed or chair, or get on your hands and knees, says midwife Kay Johnson.
  2. Try a birthing ball. Drape yourself over a birthing ball, then rock back and forth or side to side. "By doing this, you can help put the baby in a better position that puts less pressure on your back," says Deena Blumenfeld, a childbirth educator a Pittsburgh, PA and founder of Shining Light Prenatal.
  3. Apply counterpressure. Since your baby's pushing against your spine, it can help to have someone push back! Lie on your side and ask someone (like your husband or nurse) press the heels of their hands into your lower back an inch or two above the buttocks. Have them keep the pressure going for twenty or thirty seconds and see if that helps.
  4. Put a heating pad or ice pack on your lower back. Generally heat (which relaxes muscles) works better during the early stages of labor; while ice (which numbs pain) works better during the later stages, says Blumenfeld.
  5. Experiment. The trick to easing back labor pain can vary from woman to woman, so be sure to try all your options to see what works best, from warm baths to cold compresses to various poses and stretches. For instance, yoga fanatics may want to try a "warrior pose" (where you lunge forward on one leg), or try the same move on stairs. 

Got any tips to add?


Image via Diego Cervo/shutterstock

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