Growing a human being is miraculous and empowering, but with this gift comes demand — aches and pains are bound to happen as our bodies change physically. I was surprised at how both of my pregnancies affected my body in different ways. One thing I remember very clearly with both, however, is how much my back ached during the second and third trimesters. At 17 weeks into my first pregnancy, I woke up one morning, stepped down from bed and experienced lightning bolt pain from my right buttocks all the way down my leg. Every time I would take a few steps it would bring tears to my eyes, and even brought me to the ground a couple times. I never had pain like that before I was pregnant. Luckily for me, this only lasted for a couple weeks. I sympathize with the ladies who have sciatica throughout pregnancy.
This last time I was pregnant, it was my mid back that ached constantly. It was worse lying down or sitting for long periods, and I would wake up in the middle of the night, not able to get back to sleep due to the discomfort. I was desperate to get relief, but wanted to make sure I only did what was safe for baby and me.
When these back aches get bad, it’s important to keep your OB specialist informed. One thing they may suggest is referring you to a physical therapist. Often times, a physical therapist can teach you exercises and stretches to do on your own.
With the help of my friends in the Avera Physical Therapy department, I have compiled some explanations of stretches I found very helpful for my own back pain when I was pregnant.
A simple stretch to start with is the pelvic rock, or Cat-Cow in yoga slang. Getting onto both hands and knees, curl your back upward and look down. Then drop your chest through your shoulders, letting your belly dip towards the floor and arch your back, looking forward. Hold each position for about 15 seconds at a time and repeat up to five times. This is great to do anytime during pregnancy, not just with pain.
For the sciatica-type pain I had with my first pregnancy, the seated piriformis stretch gave me some much-needed relief. To do this, take a seat on a chair and scoot to the edge. Bring your right foot up and rest your right ankle on top of the left leg. Placing your right hand on your right knee to keep it still, lean forward until you feel stretching in the buttocks and hold. Repeat on the other side.
For muscle strain in the middle back, the side lying thoracic rotation was wildly effective for me and helped me get some sleep again. Lie down on your left side on a flat floor surface with your knees curled up. Your head should rest on the floor — do not place a pillow underneath. Place your left arm straight out in front of you, palm up. Rest your right arm on top of your left arm so palms meet. Rotate your right hand and head backward. You should feel a stretch in your mid back as your hips and legs do not move. Do this motion 15 times, then repeat on the other side.
A couple extra tips to keep your spine in good shape during and after pregnancy:
Try prenatal yoga. Gentle, easy stretches while focusing on balance is what I loved about attending this type of fitness class. I also appreciated that I was in a room with other pregnant women and didn’t have to feel so awkward like I did in a regular yoga class!
Support your back during breastfeeding. When it comes to nursing babies, it can become second nature to hunch your back while holding your infant. With all the hours spent breastfeeding in a day, it can really strain the spine. Having something propped underneath baby to bring him or her closer to your chest will help keep your spine in better alignment. I really like the My Breast Friend nursing pillow. It has a lumbar support that is attached to the pillow, so I feel like I am sitting straighter when I use it.