Postpartum Back Pain: Info and Solutions for New Mothers

17 Mar 2024, by

Dr. Lusine Badalian

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Postpartum back pain is a common condition affecting new mothers, with a significant impact on their ability to care for their newborns and engage in daily activities. A study from Pubmed reveals that over 67% of women report experiencing back pain immediately following delivery, and 37% continue to face this discomfort during subsequent check-ups. 

This condition can manifest in various forms, including lower, middle, and upper back pain, each with its unique causes and treatment options. Addressing postpartum back pain through safe exercises, physical therapy, and proper posture can greatly enhance a mother's postpartum recovery journey.

postpartum back pain

Causes by Location of Back Pain

Understanding the specific causes of postpartum back pain based on its location can help new mothers identify the best approaches for relief and management. Back pain postpartum can manifest in various areas, each with its unique triggers.

Upper Back Pain Postpartum

Upper back pain postpartum often results from the new demands placed on a mother's body. This type of discomfort is primarily associated with the posture and muscle strain from nursing and carrying the baby. Here are the main causes:

  • Poor Nursing Posture: Spending hours in a slouched position while breastfeeding or bottle-feeding can strain the upper back muscles and spine.
  • Muscle Strain: Carrying a newborn, often in one arm, can imbalance muscle use, leading to strain and discomfort in the upper back.
  • Stress and Tension: Emotional stress can lead to physical tension, particularly in the shoulders and upper back, exacerbating pain in this area.

Middle Back Pain Postpartum

Middle back pain postpartum is less common but can occur due to similar factors affecting the upper back, compounded by certain lifestyle aspects of caring for a newborn. The causes include:

  • Extended Periods of Bending and Lifting: Frequent bending to pick up the baby or change diapers, combined with the awkward lifting of car seats and strollers, can stress the mid-back area.
  • Poor Core Support: The middle back depends on core strength for support. Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken these muscles, leading to increased strain on the back.
  • Pre-existing Conditions: Conditions such as scoliosis or prior injuries to the spine can be exacerbated during the postpartum period, leading to pain in the middle back.

Lower Back Pain Postpartum

Lower back pain postpartum is the most common type of back discomfort new mothers experience. Several factors contribute to this condition:

  • Hormonal Changes: Relaxin, a hormone that relaxes ligaments in the pelvis in preparation for childbirth, can also loosen ligaments in the spine, leading to instability and pain.
  • Childbirth Trauma: The physical strain of childbirth, especially with difficult or prolonged labor, can cause injuries or strain to the lower back muscles.
  • Weight and Posture Changes: The added weight of pregnancy often leads to altered posture, which can put additional strain on the lower back. This issue may persist postpartum as the body adjusts.
  • Weak Pelvic Floor Muscles: Pregnancy and childbirth can weaken the pelvic floor muscles, contributing to instability and pain in the lower back.

Postpartum Epidural Back Pain

Postpartum epidural back pain is a specific type of discomfort that some new mothers may experience if they received an epidural anesthesia during labor. Unlike other forms of postpartum back pain, which can stem from a variety of physical and hormonal changes associated with pregnancy and childbirth, this pain is localized to the site where the epidural was administered. It is often characterized by tenderness, bruising, or soreness at the injection spot in the lower back.
This discomfort is generally temporary and should diminish on its own as the body heals. However, for some women, the pain can linger, affecting their postpartum recovery and daily activities. Here are some remedies that can help alleviate postpartum epidural back pain:

  • Apply Heat or Cold Packs: Alternating between heat and cold can be effective in managing pain. Heat helps to relax muscles and improve blood flow, while cold can reduce inflammation and numb the area, offering relief. Use a warm towel or heating pad for heat therapy and a wrapped ice pack for cold therapy, applying each for 15-20 minutes at a time.
  • Gentle Stretching and Movement: Engaging in gentle, low-impact exercises can help to strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, supporting the spine and reducing pain. Simple stretches that target the lower back can also alleviate tension. It's important to start slow and gradually increase intensity based on comfort and healing progress.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Medication: For those who need immediate pain relief, over-the-counter medications can be helpful. However, it's crucial to consult with a healthcare provider before taking any medication, especially if breastfeeding, to ensure it's safe for both mother and baby.
  • Professional Physical Therapy: If the pain persists or interferes with daily activities, seeking the guidance of a physical therapist can be beneficial. They can provide targeted exercises and therapies to strengthen the back and reduce pain.
  • Massage Therapy: A professional massage can help relieve muscle tension and pain around the epidural site. Ensure the massage therapist is aware of your recent childbirth and specific back pain to tailor the therapy accordingly.

If postpartum epidural back pain continues for an extended period or is accompanied by severe symptoms, such as headaches, fever, or loss of sensation in the lower extremities, it's important to contact a healthcare provider. These could be signs of complications related to the epidural and require immediate attention.

Risk Factor for Postpartum Back Pain

Certain factors can increase the likelihood of experiencing postpartum back pain. Identifying these risk factors can help in developing strategies to mitigate the chances of suffering from this uncomfortable condition.

  • Pre-existing Back Problems: Women with a history of back pain or injuries are more likely to experience back pain postpartum.
  • Overweight and Obesity: Carrying extra weight can exacerbate the strain on the back during and after pregnancy.
  • Multiple Pregnancies: The physical demands and changes of multiple pregnancies can increase the risk of postpartum back pain.
  • Pregnancy-Related Complications: Conditions like gestational diabetes and preeclampsia can contribute to the development of back pain.
  • Type of Delivery: Both vaginal deliveries and C-sections carry risks for back pain. Difficult labors, the use of forceps, or having an epidural can all influence postpartum back discomfort.
  • Lifestyle Factors: Lack of physical activity, poor posture, and inadequate lifting techniques can all increase the risk of developing back pain after giving birth.

Understanding these causes and risk factors for postpartum back pain by location offers valuable insights into managing and preventing discomfort. Addressing the underlying causes, whether they be hormonal changes, physical strain, or lifestyle factors, is key to alleviating pain and improving quality of life postpartum.

Complications of Postpartum Back Pain

While postpartum back pain is often temporary and manageable, neglecting it can lead to more serious complications. Persistent pain can interfere with a mother's ability to care for her newborn and impact her overall well-being. Complications may include:

  • Chronic Pain: Without proper management, postpartum back pain can become chronic, lasting beyond the postpartum period.
  • Impact on Mental Health: Continuous discomfort can contribute to postpartum depression and anxiety, affecting a mother's emotional and mental health.
  • Mobility Issues: Severe back pain can limit a mother's mobility, making it difficult to carry out daily tasks or engage in physical activity.
  • Sleep Disturbances: Pain can disrupt sleep patterns, leading to fatigue and further complicating postpartum recovery.

Treatment for Postpartum Back Pain

Addressing postpartum back pain requires a multifaceted approach, focusing on relieving pain and strengthening the body to prevent future discomfort. Here are some effective treatment options:

Physical Therapy

Physical therapy can be invaluable for new mothers experiencing postpartum back pain. A physical therapist can tailor exercises and stretches to strengthen back, abdominal, and pelvic floor muscles, improving posture and reducing pain.

Pain Management Techniques

  • Heat and Cold Therapy: Applying heat packs can relax tense muscles, while cold packs reduce inflammation and numb the painful area.
  • Over-the-Counter Pain Relievers: Non-prescription pain relief can be useful for managing acute pain but should be used cautiously, especially if breastfeeding.

Effective and Safe Exercises for Postpartum Back Pain

Engaging in gentle exercise after childbirth can help strengthen the back and abdominal muscles, supporting spine health and reducing pain. Here are some safe and effective exercises:

  • Pelvic Tilts: Strengthen the abdominal muscles and relieve lower back tension.
  • Walking: A low-impact activity that improves overall strength and cardiovascular health.
  • Stretching: Gentle stretching exercises, such as yoga, can increase flexibility and reduce muscle tension.

Before starting any exercise program, it's crucial to get approval from a healthcare provider to ensure the activities are safe for your specific postpartum recovery situation.

Consultation with a Healthcare Provider

For persistent or severe back pain, consulting with a healthcare provider is essential. They may recommend additional treatments such as medication or, in rare cases, surgery. 
Remember, if you're unsure about your symptoms, an online tool like Symptom Checker for Women can help guide you, but it's not a substitute for professional medical advice.

Prevention of Postpartum Back Pain

Preventing postpartum back pain begins during pregnancy and continues after delivery. Here are strategies to minimize the risk:

  • Maintain Good Posture: Proper posture while sitting, standing, and breastfeeding can reduce strain on the back.
  • Exercise Regularly: Engaging in prenatal and postnatal exercise programs can strengthen the core and back muscles, supporting the spine.
  • Lift Correctly: Always bend at the knees and lift with the legs, not the back, when picking up your baby or other objects.
  • Weight Management: Keeping within a healthy weight range can lessen the burden on the back muscles and joints.

Incorporating these practices can significantly reduce the incidence of postpartum back pain, enabling new mothers to enjoy this special time with their newborns without the shadow of discomfort looming over them.

Key Takeaways

  • Understanding the specific causes of postpartum back pain can guide more effective management and treatment strategies.
  • Physical therapy and safe exercises are crucial for strengthening back, abdominal, and pelvic floor muscles, aiding in the relief and prevention of postpartum back pain.
  • Maintaining good posture, engaging in regular physical activity, and using correct lifting techniques can significantly prevent the onset of postpartum back pain.
  • Consulting with healthcare providers for persistent or severe back pain is essential to receive tailored treatment and ensure there are no underlying complications.
  • Using resources like the Symptom Checker for Women can help in the initial assessment of symptoms, but it's important to follow up with professional medical advice for accurate diagnosis and treatment.


If you want to read more about back pain, we have articles about Causes, Symptoms of Lower Back Pain and Relieve Upper Back Pain.

Frequently Asked Questions

What can cause lower back pain postpartum, and how can it be managed?

Lower back pain postpartum is often caused by hormonal changes, the physical demands of childbirth, and posture changes during pregnancy. Management includes physical therapy, safe exercises, and pain relief strategies.

Are there specific treatments for postpartum lower back pain?

Yes, treatments for postpartum lower back pain include physical therapy, gentle exercises like pelvic tilts and walking, and, in some cases, over-the-counter pain medications after consulting with a healthcare provider.

Why might some women experience middle back pain postpartum?

Middle back pain postpartum can result from extended periods of bending and lifting, poor core support, and the stress of caring for a newborn, which can all contribute to discomfort in this area.

How is postpartum epidural back pain different, and what are the remedies?

Postpartum epidural back pain is specific to those who received an epidural during delivery and might experience lingering discomfort at the injection site. Remedies include applying heat or cold, gentle stretching, and if persistent, seeking advice from a healthcare provider.

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