If you’re experiencing contractions in the lower back, specifically above the tailbone, you might be dealing with a particular form of discomfort known as back labor. Understanding what true back labor feels like can give you a clearer picture of what to expect and how to handle it. Let’s delve into the causes and remedies of this labor-related back discomfort.
Women in labor may experience contractions anywhere along their bodies during pregnancy. During the early stages of labor, back pain affects between 13 and 32 percent of women. According to Logan Van Lessen, a consultant midwife for the U.K.’s Nursing and Midwifery Council, back labor occurs in the lower back, right above the tailbone, and may be a sign that your baby is in the occiput posterior position, or “sunny-side up” (head down but facing your tummy instead of your back).
While back labor may be excruciatingly painful for you, it poses no danger to the baby. The vast majority of newborns naturally rotate during childbirth. In the meanwhile, your doctor or midwife can assist you manage the pain of back labor. What follows is essential information.
Why Do Women Have Back Pain?
If you plan on giving birth while resting on your back, the baby will typically be positioned with its head pointing downward. The term for this placement of the occiput is “anterior.” However, a small percentage of newborns have their heads turned up (occiput posterior posture). According to Laura Riley, M.D., medical director of labor and delivery, laboring with a baby face-up causes more back discomfort because the baby’s head can press severely against the spine and tailbone.
How Does Labor in the Back Feel?
Dr. Riley believes that the reason you’re in so much pain in your lower back is because the back of your baby’s head is pressing against your tailbone or spine. Some people who have given birth while experiencing back contractions describe the agony as awful, while others say it’s no worse than regular labor pain — just different. While most people experience pain in their lower abdomen during contractions, some may feel pain in their lower back instead or in addition.
The pain of back labor may worsen with each contraction and persist in between them. Back labor symptoms might also include painful spasms. “I was writhing around, screaming,” parent Becky Kleanthous recalls of her own back labor. My pelvis felt like it was already forcing the baby out with each contraction, and my lower back felt like it was being smashed with a sledgehammer.
Pregnancy-Related Back Pain Vs. Manual Back Labor
At least half of all pregnant women complain of backaches and pains, according to medical professionals. There are many factors at play in pregnancy-related back discomfort, including changes in your center of gravity due to your expanding belly and ligament loosening due to the hormone relaxin. The question then becomes how to distinguish between everyday back discomfort and the pain of birth. Back labor typically feels considerably more intense than front labor, so it’s easy to recognize the difference. As labor contractions progress, the pain increases. If you are concerned, contact your doctor.
What Time Does Back Labor Start?
Though unpleasant, there are no hard and fast rules for when to travel to the hospital for contractions in the back. In fact, if you arrive at the hospital too soon in the labor process, they may send you home. Simply adhere to the timetable recommended by your doctor or midwife. You may be admitted to the hospital when contractions are close together and happening often. If you experience any unusual symptoms, including a leaky water bag, you should call your doctor immediately.
What About Giving Birth While in Back Labor?
According to Dr. Riley, back labor is more difficult and may take more pushing time than regular labor. Most babies who enter labor in a posterior position will turn 180 degrees on their own. A doctor or midwife may use their hand to rotate the baby.
If the baby remains in a posterior position, delivery is possible if the birth canal is large enough. However, if there is insufficient space in the birth canal and the baby is posterior, the doctor may propose a cesarean section. The likelihood of interventions like an episiotomy, help with forceps or vacuum extraction, or medication to keep labor continuing is also higher in cases of back labor.
Easing the Pain of Back Labor
Changing positions is advised if you experience back labor symptoms since laying on your back can significantly increase the intensity of back contractions. You can also squat, get down on all fours, or roll onto your side.
Pelvic tilts and other positions may help reposition the baby. You can perform a pelvic tilt by getting down on your hands and knees, tucking your bottom in, and then releasing. You can ease the strain on the pelvic area by gently shifting the baby’s position. The infant has plenty of room to turn around in there as well.
Your labor coach or doula can massage your lower back, provide heat, or press on your lower back with a tennis ball, hand, or something else spherical. This technique, known as counter-pressure, can help alleviate the discomfort of back labor.
Although an epidural can alleviate some of the agony of back labor, it may not eliminate it entirely. While an epidural may not eliminate all of your pain during back labor, it can help you relax enough so that your baby can shift positions and alleviate some of the discomfort.
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