Back pain in new mums
Mother’s Day is just around the corner, so we wanted to dedicate this blog to all the mum’s out there. Being a mum is a tough job for anyone. Juggling work, keeping a home, family and friends, and of course caring for your little ones, can be draining both emotionally and physically. This is especially the case if you are a new mum, when life with your new addition is in its settling in period. Your body has been through a major change over the last 10 months, and it’s still changing now. Having a baby is a big deal, and you now have a recovery period ahead of you. But of course, you have a child to care for constantly, so there’s no time to worry about yourself, right? Wrong… it’s a difficult balance for sure, but looking after yourself means you’ll be able to look after your new recruit to the very best of your abilities.
My back STILL hurts 🙁
Pain is a common symptom experienced by new mums, with approximately 10% of women still experiencing pain two months post-delivery. Imagine being in pain all that time AND having a baby to look after – it doesn’t sound fun does it? Now, whether you’ve been through a natural birth or c-section, your body is vulnerable and weaker than pre-pregnant you, so it’s important to look after yourself to ensure you recover quickly and nip that pain in the bud!
The back is one of the most common areas of the body affected during and after pregnancy. Other areas include the pelvis and the wrists. The main reasons your back will complain in those early days boils down to the fact your posture won’t have a clue what has just hit it. Firstly, during pregnancy, ligaments become lax, muscles stretch or separate, which can produce imbalances or weakness. Even your breathing might change, depending on where bub is sitting in your uterus. Then of course your body is frantically trying to realign your centre of gravity to deal with your growing bump. Your body is working like crazy simply to keep you upright!
Then baby comes along. Of course, there’s the trauma you may experience with a vaginal or cesarean birth. Then, straight away, you will be feeding, changing, bathing and dressing/un-dressing your bubba multiple times a day. All these activities require you to have your baby lying down in front of you, with you bent over them, keeping them fed, warm, and happy. This continuous motion, combined with broken sleep, tiredness, and a recovering body, can lead you to over-work those back muscles. It’s also important to remember that your core muscles will have taken a big hit during pregnancy, so you won’t be as stable in the trunk as you were pre-pregnancy. Eventually your body will let you know things are not right by sending a few signals to the brain – hello pain!
What can I do to help?
Now you know why you may experience back pain, we want to let you know some of the things you can do from the very first day you bring your newborn home, to care for your back (and the rest of you of course), and reduce the risk of injury and pain. That way, you can dedicate 95% of your time to looking after your son or daughter. “Only 95%” we hear you ask – don’t worry, we’ll get to that!
To reduce the impact of feeding on your back, consider the following tips:
- Get a comfortable and supportive feeding chair: Avoid chairs that allow you to sink into them, such as a low arm chair or sofa. You will struggle to get yourself up from a slouched position, whilst holding your baby, without risking strain on your back and shoulders.
- Move regularly: Enjoy the one on one time, it’s magical! But, when you sit for long periods, your back and neck muscles will eventually feel it. Try some light neck stretches, and gentle spinal movements like rotating side to side and extending to open out the chest.
- Try a feeding pillow: As your baby grows, they will get heavier and heavier. A feeding pillow will take the weight of your baby so your arms, shoulders and back don’t have to bear the brunt of it all.
- Get your partner involved: If you’re a bottle feeder, then spread the load and ask your partner (or another family member) to feed when possible to give you a break. If you are breast feeding, they can still help by taking the baby from you when you have finished so you can get yourself up off your chair, minus the weight of your baby.
Oh so many nappies! “I didn’t sign up for this!” Ahem, sorry, yes you did! Just embrace the poo… It gets easier ;). The following tips also apply for dressing your baby:
- Get a change table: Whether it’s a nappy change or outfit change, do it at a height where you can stand comfortably and not be bent over for long periods.
- Following on from the above point… Avoid changing your baby on the floor. It’s not only your back that might complain, but your neck, shoulders and knees also!
There is no easy solution to this one. Most baths are low to the ground and require you to kneel and lean right over to get to where you need to be. However, we have found that baby baths can be useful as they are small, mobile, and can be placed at a height that suits your back better. Some change tables even double up as baby baths. Obviously be careful about carrying a heavy bath of water though – as long as it’s safe, try to bath your baby near a sink where you don’t have to carry the bath to fill and empty it.
So, you mentioned 95%?
You’re right, we did! And this is very important. Your baby is going to need lots of attention. But you also need attention. So, the remaining 5% is just for you. The following tips are aimed to address other areas of your life that often get neglected when being a new mum:
- Sleep when the opportunity arises: Whether this is when your baby is sleeping, or when your partner or family member are looking after your baby, getting sleep is very important. You need time to restore energy levels and allow the body to repair and recover. Who cares if the housework gets left for an extra day or two – it will still be there when you are ready to do it. Better still, get a family member to help. Team work!
- Eat well, stay hydrated: Don’t forget about the importance of a good diet. Eat lots of fresh, nutrient rich food, such as fruits and vegetables. And keep a bottle of water on the go constantly. It’s easy to forget and become dehydrated. If you are breast-feeding, remember where the water in the breast milk comes from… YOU!
- Have a bath: Of course, this doesn’t have to end at bathing. Read a book, do a crossword, go and sit in the garden with a cuppa… Our point is, make time for yourself regularly. These little breaks will keep you sane during a chaotic time of life. If help is at hand, use it. It is OK to have a break from it all. We cannot stress this point enough.
These last points can also help in the fight against back pain. Sleeping, eating and relaxation will help to reduce the risk of fatigue. Fatigue will compromise your ability to hold your posture in standing, sitting, and other positions such as bending. So, you can see why the 5% is so important.
At some point, you will need to address the physical changes that have occurred as a result of pregnancy and giving birth. These may include abdominal and pelvic floor muscle dysfunction, as well as spinal and other joint restrictions and dysfunctions. Every woman that has given birth needs to rehabilitate and strengthen their core again. Unfortunately, many don’t get around to it or it isn’t high on their priority list. However, (see points above) it needs to be! And of course, if you’re reading this and are pregnant, or thinking about having a child, there is so much you can do pre-birth to aid your recovery after having your baby, so come and see us!
If you’re a new mum or have had a child in the last few years, we can’t recommend enough to come and see one of our women’s health focused physios. We’ll assess you, and advise you on the best course of treatment and exercise to get you ‘back’ (excuse the pun) fighting fit and who knows… Another baby anyone?!
Pelvic pain in pregnancy
You’re growing a human – a tiny person that will change your life and body forever. Of course, we expect changes and some discomfort as our body adapts to our growing belly, but seriously – this pelvic pain is another level! But what is it?
Pelvic pain during pregnancy can be from a range of things, but Symphysis Pubic Dysfunction (called SPD) is a pretty common cause. It can also be called Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP). SPD & PGP can be explained as a bunch of signs or symptoms relating to pain in the pelvic area and lower back. It also includes musculoskeletal pain radiating to the upper thighs and crotch area.
So why does this happen? At certain stages throughout pregnancy, your body produces the Relaxin hormone, which relaxes the ligaments, producing more movement in the pelvic region to allow for expansion, not just for the baby to grow, but ultimately for the delivery of bub. This relaxation of the pelvic ligaments leads to increased joint mobility. Where the ligaments usually provide support to the joints, the muscles now have to step in and help stabilise them – they get overworked and that’s when the pain starts. Symptoms of SPD can vary widely – from mild discomfort to severe pain that can see women bed-ridden or needing walking aids.
It’s hard to say how many women actually experience SPD in pregnancy. Research suggests it’s somewhere between 4 – 84%! The variation is because of the wide range of definitions and diagnosis of SPD, as well as differing research cohort selections. However research also suggests that the incidence rate increases during the later stages of pregnancy. So what influences its onset, and how do you treat it?
Influences of SPD
While there is no way of accurately predicting which women will experience SPD, common factors that might influence the onset include women:
- who have a history of low back pain or trauma of the back or pelvis
- with an increased number of previous pregnancies
- who partake in physically demanding work
- with a high Body Mass Index (BMI)
- experiencing emotional distress
- who smoke
There isn’t one particular treatment, but common treatments include:
- Physiotherapy: Research suggests that women receiving physio treatment reported less pain in the mornings and evenings than those women who didn’t have treatment.
- Acupuncture: As with physio, acupuncture helped with pain, and functional movement.
- Pelvic support garments: Research suggests that these improved women’s ability to do things like walk and perform basic movements.
- Exercise: This can also help improve functional movement and help decrease pain, but ensure you visit your physio first, to understand what exercise is right for you, your condition and your pregnancy.
- Rest: It’s not always possible to rest completely but try to limit doing the activity that causes the most pain, avoid standing on one leg, limit weight-bearing exercises like climbing stairs or standing for long periods of time.
Pelvic pain in pregnancy is common. If you are experiencing pelvic pain, your first step is to see your physio to understand what it is and how to treat it.
In the meantime, try changing your routine by sitting down to get dressed and rotate those stilettos for low heels or flat shoes. One of the best things to try is pretend you’re always ‘walking around in a pencil skirt’ – take small steps, and when getting out of the car, slide your bottom 90 degrees and get out with your legs together. Heat might also provide some temporary relief.
To help you see an end point of your pain, know that SPD usually sporadically fixes itself after birth. And of course, holding that tiny human in your arms makes up for the grief (and you can remind them about the pain they put you through for years to come).