Wonder how nobody told me before I got pregnant about the woes of back pain, and how everything contributes to leaving you without a good night’s rest. While I acknowledge that no two pregnancies are the same, let me be the one to inform you that being pregnant prepares the body for parenting a small baby that must be cared for, and who beats any alarm clock you might set to wake up.
The trouble starts when your waist starts expanding and that little bundle of joy starts kicking you awake at any time night or day. If you thought that being pregnant makes you sleep long hours in preparation for what lies ahead, think again. While that might be true for some lucky devils, if you’re anything like me, you might be lying awake counting sheep, and those hours of uninterrupted sleep only exist in your hypothetical dreams. To top all this, chronic lower back pain nags you, and all the while you took extra care not to pick up anything heavier than a teacup.
The good news is that you’re not alone and didn’t do anything wrong. It happens to a large majority of pregnant women and in many cases, it is perfectly normal.
Back Pain During Pregnancy
While I was pregnant with my second child, I started experiencing back pain during my second trimester. It was a continuous throbbing pain in my pelvic and my lower back area when I walked. Sometimes I felt a shooting spasm when I tried to sit down or get up. I suffered when rolling over in bed and getting out of a chair or the car.
When I spoke to my doctor about it, he referred me to a physiotherapist as I was hesitant to take painkillers. The physiotherapist explained the changes that happen during pregnancy and I realised that I didn’t do the exercises after my previous pregnancy to strengthen those muscles again. We also talked about the correct posture and looking after my back. She also suggested some Kegels or pelvic floor exercises that would help me strengthen my muscles and also help reduce my stress about incontinence.
This was some of the best advice I received. The exercises and some cautionary steps helped me reduce my backaches significantly. I also slept (slightly) better because of having less stress and knowing that my back aches were normal because of changes in my hormones and becoming ready for childbirth.
What Causes Back Pain During Pregnancy?
Before a strategy can be implemented to reduce back pain, it is important to look at possible reasons that can cause back pain during pregnancy. As Albert Einstein said, “Nothing in life is to be feared; it is to be understood.”
The same applies to back pain if you understand the reasons and possible causes the strategy to treat it can be successfully implemented.
Gaining some weight during the pregnancy which applies extra strain on the spine and the increased weight of the growing baby and uterus causes strain and pressure in the pelvic and lower back region.
The increased size of the tummy adds to posture changes, to counter the forward pull. This leads to increased strain and stress on the back and muscles support the spine.
The body excretes certain hormones to prepare for childbirth that relaxes ligaments and muscles, particularly the pelvic region.
Stressful situations which lead to spasms in certain muscle areas can also cause back pain.
Prevention is Better than Cure
It’s better to avoid certain situations that might be triggers, and care must be taken to prevent injuries that can lead to back pain.
- When you roll around at night in your bed.
- Be careful when using a flight of stairs climbing up as well as down.
- Getting in and out of cars with a low ground clearance.
- When getting in and out of a bath, shower if possible.
- Any lifting action, bending forward or twisting the body can cause back pain.
- Running and walking very fast can cause strain.
- Certain household chores’
- Picking up your other children.
- Any job that requires extended periods of sitting or standing in a bent position.
Back Pain Relief Myths that DO NOT Work
There are a wide variety of “Old Wives’ tales” and “snake-oil” remedies that will be offered as very good advice by well-meaning persons who in many cases don’t have any experience of being pregnant themselves. Below are a few different ‘treatments’ for back pain and insomnia that I do not recommend as they either DO NOT WORK or are even sometimes harmful to the body.
- People believe that the best treatment for backaches is the regular use of cod liver oil. There is some evidence that it can be beneficial for joint pain from arthritis but not for back pain stemming from your pregnancy.
- Using a hot poultice of mustard that gets applied to the painful area, this, unfortunately, won’t work with hormonally caused back pain.
- The use of ointments made from comfrey roots can be dangerous with the possible long period of use which can lead to liver damage.
- Prolonged use of painkillers which can cause damage to the baby and the mother.
Back Pain Relief Strategies that DO work
There are a number of strategies that can be employed to ensure that you reduce the prevalence of back pain while pregnant. One word of comfort is that if you didn’t suffer from chronic backaches before falling pregnant the likelihood of suffering from it after giving birth will be minimal.
There are various strategies that can be employed to reduce back pain and to prevent the incidence of it.
Exercise can be very beneficial and help to increase strength and flexibility. Care must be taken to do this in cooperation with your doctor. Care must be taken that strenuous exercise is avoided in particular to avoid increasing your blood pressure.
Swimming, stretching, walking and spinning offer great opportunities. Kegel exercises can assist with strengthening the pelvic floor muscles.
Posture improvement to prevent strain on your spinal column and the lower back provides great benefits. This is the ideal way to prevent backaches when you are sitting behind a desk, sleeping or sitting.
There are aids like maternity support belts that can be used to improve posture. Care must be taken when wearing a support belt to ensure that blood flow is not restricted to the baby.
When sleeping the use of a non-toxic-pregnancy pillow can reduce back pain and ensure that the body is well supported.
The application of cold treatment to the area can reduce the swelling or discomfort. Use a bag of frozen food enclosed in a piece of cloth on the painful region and follow it up with a heated bean bag on the area. Care must be exercised that the stomach area is avoided.
Stress can also lead to back pain and therapy to reduce stress can be very efficient and beneficial. Speak to your doctor who can recommend a therapist.
If the backaches don’t respond to any the above, a visit to a chiropractor can help clarify if there are any other underlying reasons or complications.
Insomnia and Sleep Deprivation During Pregnancy
I had never suffered from any lack of sleep before pregnancy. When I closed my eyes, I would be asleep within seconds. All of a sudden I struggled to fall asleep; I would count sheep and many other monotonous things just to try to fall asleep, still in vain.
This really wreaked havoc on me, and I felt like a zombie most of the day. I started reading articles about sleep deprivation and how to fall asleep without effort, but I was nowhere nearer a solution to my problem. I even contemplated ordering one of those potions from some funny person who made these outrageous discoveries while travelling in some exotic country. The country’s name is always unrecognisable as well as the name of the people who used the potion for centuries. It was only the thought of my unborn baby’s health that stopped me from doing it.
Eventually, I discussed it with my doctor who discussed several possible treatments and techniques to help with it. I also realised that it was something that happens with many other pregnant women and that the possible causes can be hormonal changes, the growing baby which causes me to wake up, as well as heartburn and discomfort when sleeping. I was advised to use a non-toxic-pregnancy pillow for more comfort when sleeping, which really helped, as it helped with my posture, and also weirdly had a positive impact on my back pain.
I also exercised more, avoided caffeine, drank more water and took short naps during the day. I focussed on the positives and joined a maternity support group which reduced my anxiety and stress. My husband was also a great help during this period.
Insomnia Relief Myths that DO NOT work
- Counting sheep in the proverbial fashion to introduce boredom that leads to sleep.
- Drinking organic products concocted by some magician which immediately lets you fall asleep.
- Rolling around in your bed trying to fall asleep.
- Refrain from taking any naps during the day.
- Using your bed as an entertainment area and sleeping with the television on.
Strategies for Reducing Insomnia During Pregnancy That DO Work
There are a number of strategies that can be employed to reduce the prevalence of insomnia while being pregnant. Using medicine always carries a risk for the unborn baby and nothing must be used without consulting your doctor.
The strategies that will be mentioned all relate to lifestyle changes that will assist with tackling insomnia during pregnancy. The following strategies can be helpful:
- Decide on a routine that includes setting a time when you go to bed.
- Limit the intake of caffeine in particular coffee which also influences the absorption of iron.
- Don’t drink water close to bedtime. Ensure that you drink it during the day to prevent getting up at night.
- Let your husband gently massage your shoulders to ensure that you are relaxed when going to bed. A nice bath can also help in this regard.
- Your bedroom must be the place where you go to sleep. Keep the atmosphere calm and relaxed.
- Don’t lie in your bed tossing and turning trying to sleep. Get out bed and do something else like reading until you feel drowsy again and get back to bed.
Other Reasons for Sleep Deprivation During Pregnancy
In the event that you still struggle after implementing these strategies, consult your doctor as you may have some condition that might require treatment.
You might have “restless legs” syndrome that can be prevented with the intake of vitamins and food that contains iron and folic acid.
Sinus or allergic conditions may block your nasal passages which could lead to snoring and discomfort at night.
Sleep apnoea may occur if you are overweight and the fear for it happening can lead to insomnia.
Sleeping on your back might also keep you awake at night. Use a non-toxic pregnancy pillow to help you sleep on your side which helps to prevent possible heartburn that will wake you up at night. Use a heartburn remedy that is safe and avoid spicy foods.
Big meals should be taken during the day and not at night. Instead, eat a light meal for dinner, and early on in the evening rather than just before bed.
If you suffer from anxiety consult your doctor. Breathing exercises can help to ensure that you remain calm and relaxed.
A Parting Word
Back pain and insomnia caused by pregnancy are not isolated phenomena but affect a very large percentage of pregnant women. There are many ‘solutions’ offered which are often not very effective but there are a number of strategies that can be implemented to deal with the problem and cope much better. These strategies implement lifestyle adaptation options to ensure that taking medicine can be minimized and only under the supervision of your medical practitioner.
The good news is that all the possible problems are normally of a temporary nature and can be reduced or treated, and all these problems shrink into insignificance and are overshadowed by that joyful moment when you hear that first cry of your newborn baby.