How do I reduce back pain as a new mum? Back pain is common as a new mum. There’s more lifting than you expect. Your body has been through a lot. You may not have as much core strength as you did before you were pregnant. And you now have a little bundle of joy to lift with you as you do everything. Plus doing the extra laundry and other domestic work. That comes with being a mum.
I hate the idea that new mums are really struggling with back pain on top of everything else. It is exhausting. And it makes you less resilient for dealing with caring for another very vulnerable human at this really special time. Back pain can also persevere. So what starts as a niggle early on postpartum doesn’t always go away by itself and by the time your baby is eight months, there’s regular pain, slowing you down and affecting your ability to be a good parent.
What kind of back pain?
First things first, when you have back pain as a new mum is to rule some things out. How does the back pain present does it flare up after a particularly vigorous movement and are you immobile from the pain? Or is it a low grade pain that increases through the day from being on your feet and bending and lifting? This distinction is important. If you have immobilising pain that is triggered from sudden vigorous movement, I would suggest to go and see a physical therapist and get checked out for disc injuries or nerve damage.
It is important to know what you’re dealing with. Exercise is essential for both situations but it will be different exercise. This article will focus on back pain that is muscular. If you have the sort of pain that is low grade, it’s usually pretty good in the morning and then after a day of activity, lifting carrying moving about the pain is more pronounced and get worse through the day. You have muscular strain that’s occurring through your back and if that’s what you’re dealing with, then exercise can be really effective to just reduce this pain and not ever have it again.
Connecting to your core:
To address muscular back pain we need to address core strength. If your core muscles are weak and not coordinating with each other your back muscles (para spinals) will take over. If this is your pattern getting back into intense exercise can only make things worse. Can you connect with your core muscles? Try the hug the belly breath (below) to find out.
Next, we are going to focus on relaxing your butt as you contract your core. As a new mum it is very common to make up for lack of core strength by tucking your bottom under and gripping. It is usually a totally unconscious action that can really aggravate back pain. This 90:90 breathing exercise helps you connect with your core and check out whether you are a butt gripper!
Loading your core, keeping you back safe
Once you have connection with your pelvic floor again, you have your abdominal muscles firing and you are aware of any butt gripping, you can start to add load. If you have any trouble with connecting to your pelvic floor or your abdominal muscles I would recommend going to see pelvic floor for physiotherapist, sooner rather than later to help you get that connection really well before you start adding load.
Once you’re ready to start loading your abdominals, we need to really focus on form. The last thing we want to do is to get into an exercise routine where you are going to be loading your back when you want to be working your abdominal muscles and giving your back a rest. The dead bug exercise is great for this (below). I would recommend folding a tick towel in half or quarters and lying on it, as you lift your leg to load your abs imagine your back relaxing and ‘nestling’ into the towel. If your back gets tight reduce the load or reach out to a movement professional for help.
Bending and lifting to reduce back pain
Finally, it is very important to learn how to bend down to pick things up and lift things safely. Come on mamas how many times a day are we bending down and lifting a day? A LOT! Instead of this movement being a reason why you are getting sore, these movements can get you strong, if you are moving well and with awareness.
The general lifting instructions don’t go quite far enough. To really protect our low back it is well worth learning how to hip hinge to bend down. Use this technique for bending and lifting anything from a toy to a child and especially something heavy like a basket of wet washing.
Learning to lift and bend properly will protect your lower back through the day. It will help your core muscles get stronger and it will improve your posture as well. This is a really important part of postnatal recovery that is often forgotten. If you are not bending and lifting properly in the months after you have had your baby, you will likely continue to have back pain and to have more serious injuries down the track.
Frequency is everything
To reduce your back pain work through this flow at least 4 times per week, for the first week just do the first 2 exercises and then add the others as your time allows. Doing a little more often is more important than doing all the exercises once a week. We are retraining the soft tissue in your body and it needs regular training to respond the way you want it to, it is like learning a new skill. A little practice everyday is the best way to get results.
I hope you have found these ideas for dealing with postpartum back pain helpful. If you have any questions please contact me or comment below. New mums have enough to deal with, you shouldn’t need to cope with a sore back as well!
I am Brigid Pearse a certified Pilates instructor, Pregnancy and Post-natal Exercise Specialist, an ex-dancer and a mum. I run a fully equipped Pilates studio from my home in Lennox Head and I run community Pilates mat classes in Byron Bay, Ballina and online.