Lower back pain is a common issue we see at the clinic, and it is also one of the most common aches that new parents experience, both mums and dads. In this article, we look specifically at why you may be getting lower back pain as a new parent and some simple ways you can help reduce that discomfort.
The Body – Post-Pregnancy
During pregnancy, your abdominal muscles stretch to accommodate the life growing inside you. Once the baby is out, however, those muscles are now weakened and not able to as effectively support your lower back as they might have been before. If you’ve had a caesarean, you have the added complication of a longer recovery time as well as scar tissue (which was very helpful in sewing you back together) creating restriction. Pelvic floor and abdominal muscles are essential in supporting your lower back – together all three work as a team to support your body. When the abdominals/pelvic floor are weak, the muscles in the lower back try to pick up the slack. The result? A tired, overworked lower back.
The Body – For Dads
Just because you haven’t been pregnant doesn’t mean you don’t have weak abdominal and/or pelvic floor muscles. If you have a desk job, or just spend a lot of time sitting, you too will probably have some weakness in these areas. Added to that, you’ll probably be doing a lot more bending over and lifting than you were before the new arrival, especially in the early weeks. New dads often end up lifting the car seat, the pushchair, and various baby-related accoutrements as mum is recovering from the delivery and are just as prone to getting lower back pain with the new arrival as mum.
What Can You Do?
In hospital, every new mum is given a sheet outlining a few simple exercises for pelvic floor and lower abdominal strengthening. These are very gentle exercises and can be done fairly soon after birth. They include:
– Fast and slow pelvic floor contractions
– Contracting the lower abdominal muscles
– Pelvic tilts
It’s essential to start with these exercises in the first instance as they are instrumental to supporting your lower back. As both parents are likely to experience lower back pain, these exercises will be good for both mum and dad. It’s important not to graduate to more difficult exercises until you’re comfortable with these (read: don’t do loads of crunches/sit-ups). Personally, whenever my lower back started to bother me, I found re-committing to these exercises provided immediate results.
How to Fit Them In
It can seem difficult, if not impossible, to fit in anything else around the demanding little bundle of joy that’s been introduced to your house, sleep deprivation, and all the other day-to-day obligations. A couple easy ways to fit in these essential exercises:
– Pelvic floor exercises can be done almost anywhere – feeding, sitting, watching TV.
– Keep the sheet (or a post-it note) next to your bed, and before you go to sleep do a few if you can – remember, three is better than zero!
Here are a few other things that are easy to incorporate that can yield great benefits when it comes to lower back pain.
Bend Your Knees When Lifting
I would be surprised if this was the first time any of you have heard this one, but it always bears repeating. Where you can, bend your knees before your bend your back.
Use Your Abdominals When Bending Over
With a baby, bending your knees isn’t always an option (i.e., picking up baby from the crib). When you must bend at your back:
– Before you bend over, gently activate your lower abdominals (this means contracting your lower stomach about 10-20%).
– When you come back up, imagine you’re pushing your body up with your stomach instead of lifting yourself up with your back.
Try it both ways. Bend over and come back up without using your abdominals and pay attention to how your lower back feels. Try it again, this time activating your lower abdominals. Can you still feel your lower back working, or does it feel different (or can you not feel it at all)?
Support Your Back With Your Abdominals When Stationery
Whether it’s changing a nappy, wiping a face, putting a toddler in a pushchair or clearing up the floor after lunch, we all find ourselves having to be bent over for periods of time with a baby or toddler. In these instances, try to keep your back flat and again, activate your lower abdominals to support yourself as long as you’re in this position to reduce the strain in your back.
All the above tips are about helping your body reduce the strain on your lower back. But we all need a good stretch from time to time. Here are a couple of my favourites for lower back pain.
Child’s Pose to the Side
This is a common one in yoga – lay down with your hips on your feet and back curved. You may want to stay here for a bit. You can also stretch your arms out in front of your body and move your fingers over to one side (for example, the left side to stretch the right side of your back). Hold for as long as you feel comfortable.
Variations: If you find it difficult to be in this position comfortably, put a pillow between your stomach and your thighs, and/or a pillow between your calves and your thighs.
Seated Back Stretch
I like this one for the lower back in particular because it’s easy to move around to stretch the specific area in your back that’s tight.
Sit cross-legged and raise one arm over your head.
Lifting up and over, stretch to the opposite side, or slightly diagonally to the front.
Move your arm around to stretch different parts of your back and find the area where you feel a gentle stretch.
Variation: Try it cross-legged (as in picture) or with your legs forward/in a chair. Some people will feel the stretch differently depending on how they hold their legs.
Quad/Hip Flexor Stretch
Tight quads/hip flexors can pull your back forward, making your lower back work harder. Stretching the front of the thigh can help take some pressure off your lower back.
Sit so both feet are on pointed toward one side of your body, legs bent.
Grab the front of your top ankle or foot and gently pull it back towards your buttock, ensuring you don’t bring your foot up.
Increase the stretch by pushing that same hip forward.
Variation: If you can’t reach your foot, you can use a belt or towel wrapped around your ankle. You can also do this when lying on your side in bed.
How Massage Can Help
When trying to release tight muscles, massage therapy is a good option. In a session, we’ll look at your posture and go through your day to day to see what can be done to both help alleviate the immediate symptoms and prevent them from returning. At Leyton Sports Massage, we are familiar with what the body goes through following the arrival of a new baby and will work with you to help your lower back pain as much as we can.
New Parent Workshop
In our workshops this October and November, we will be reviewing these and other techniques/stretches you could do to help lower back pain. For more information about what’s included in the workshop, you can check our workshop page here, or call or email for more information.
Important note: Lower back pain can have a number of different causes, of which soft tissue can be one or part of. If you have lower back pain that is persistent, sharp, or at all worrying, you should check with your doctor. Also, we strongly recommend you not start any new exercise programme without checking with a health professional, whether that be your GP, midwife, or postnatal physiotherapist.