Intro

For many women, one of the biggest complaints during pregnancy is that aching back! Somewhere between half and three-quarters of all pregnant women will experience back pain.

While it’s easy to pinpoint the cause of back pain in the later stages of your pregnancy (hint: blame the belly), what’s behind back pain in the first trimester? Here’s what to expect.

Causes of back pain during early pregnancy

Early pregnancy

There are many contributors to the back pain you experience during pregnancy. For some women, it’s actually an early sign of pregnancy. If you’re experiencing back pain in the first trimester, there may be a few culprits.

Hormone increase

During your pregnancy, your body releases hormones that help ligaments and joints in your pelvis to soften and loosen. This is important for the delivery of your baby, later in your pregnancy. But the hormones don’t just work in your pelvis. They move throughout your entire body, affecting all of your joints. In the first trimester of your pregnancy, this softening and loosening can directly impact your back. You’ll often feel this in the form of aches and pains.

Stress

Stress can be a contributor to back pain, whether or not you’re pregnant. Stress increases muscle pain and tightness, particularly in areas of weakness. If hormones are already wreaking havoc on your joints and ligaments, a little bit of anxiety about work, family, your pregnancy, or anything at all can go a long way to making your back hurt.

Second and third trimester

As your pregnancy progresses, other factors can come into play to aggravate that sore back.

Shifting center of gravity

As your belly gets bigger, your center of gravity creeps forward. This can lead to changes in your posture that can affect how you sit, stand, move, and sleep. Bad posture, standing for too long, and bending over, can trigger or worsen back pain.

Weight gain

Your back must also support the growing weight of your baby, which can strain the muscles. Add poor posture to the mix, and back pain is essentially inevitable.

Women who are overweight or have had back pain before becoming pregnant are at a greater risk of back pain during their pregnancies.

Treatment for early back pain during pregnancy

No matter what stage of your pregnancy you’re in, there are ways to treat back pain. You probably won’t be able to prevent it completely, but you can help to minimize the pain.

Follow these tips for reducing back pain throughout your pregnancy.

  1. Focus on maintaining good posture when you’re seated or standing. Stand straight, with your chest high, and your shoulders back and relaxed.
  2. Try to avoid standing for long periods of time. If you’re on your feet a lot, try resting one foot on an elevated surface.
  3. If you need to pick something up, remember to squat instead of bending at the waist.
  4. Avoid lifting heavy things.
  5. Wear sensible shoes that offer support.
  6. Try sleeping on your side, not your back, with pillows tucked beneath your belly and between your knees for gentle support.
  7. Practice pregnancy-safe exercises designed to strengthen and support your abdomen and back.
  8. As your abdomen grows, consider wearing a supportive garment or belt to help take some of the pressure off your back.
  9. Research local chiropractors who specialize in pregnancy-related care and learn more about how an adjustment can help relieve back pain.
  10. When seated, try to elevate your feet and make sure your chair offers good back support. Use a lumbar pillow for additional low back support.
  11. Try to get plenty of rest.

If your back pain seems to be linked to your stress levels, things like meditation, prenatal yoga, and extra rest can all be helpful ways to manage your stress levels.

You can use ice packs to provide relief to back pain, and prenatal massages can be wonderfully relaxing and soothing, as well. If your back pain is excessive, speak to your doctor about medications to treat inflammation. You shouldn’t take any medication without approval from your doctor first.

When to contact your doctor

Back pain is typically a normal part of pregnancy. But in some cases, it can be a sign of serious problems, like preterm labor or a urinary tract infection.

Back pain that’s accompanied by fever, burning during urination, or vaginal bleeding shouldn’t be ignored. If you experience these symptoms, contact your doctor right away.

Next steps

Back pain is a normal, if uncomfortable, part of pregnancy for most women. In the first trimester, back pain is commonly linked to an increase in hormones and stress. You may be at a greater risk of back pain during your pregnancy if it’s something you’ve experienced before becoming pregnant, or if you’re overweight.

You can minimize back pain by avoiding excessive standing, wearing supportive shoes, and focusing on good posture. While you likely won’t be able to remedy back pain completely, you don’t have to suffer. Use ice packs for relief, and spring for a prenatal massage, if possible. Chiropractic care may also be effective at minimizing back pain during all stages of your pregnancy.

Q:

Are prenatal massages and chiropractic care safe during the first trimester of pregnancy?

A:

Chiropractic care and message therapy are usually OK during the first trimester of pregnancy. That being said, you should look for a chiropractor and a massage therapist who have been specially trained for caring for pregnant women. Some will specialize in prenatal and some in postnatal care. There are a few certifications, so do a little research to learn about the type certification that your practitioner holds or which type of certification you want your practitioner to hold when they care for you. A chiropractor will also offer exercises and stretches that are safe to use during pregnancy.

Debra Sullivan, PhD, MSN, RN, CNE, COIAnswers represent the opinions of our medical experts. All content is strictly informational and should not be considered medical advice.