When Baby Zand was born, there was sleep deprivation, there was a constant fear of something happening to her, and there was an endless flow of oxytocin in my body, breaking my heart so wide open and loving like I had never loved before. What I didn’t realize though was that an incredible amount of back pain would come along for the journey, even though I was a fitness professional and knew everything there was to know about posture and training. I found it incredibly depressing that on top of the healing of my core and stitches and nipples, I now also had to deal with constant back pain debilitating me to the point of not being able to get up out of bed.
When talking to other mom friends about this, I realized all mothers suffer from more back pain, it was even considered “normal” by most doctors and nurses. When you start to think about it, there are so many changes going on in our body when we are pregnant, after birth, and nursing that barely anyone ever talks about. I am not one to keep quiet. I like to talk about how hard and painful things can be, so that I can help other moms fix these things, and make sure that they can enjoy their motherhood a little bit more. To me, it is not about going on a spa holiday weeks after having giving birth (although that does sound like a dream), but instead it is about making little changes in our daily lives that can have a huge impact on our physical and mental health as mothers. No trip to the gym is needed when you can move better at home with your baby. Here we go:
1. Be gentle with yourself
As your baby grows and your belly expands, your poor abdominal muscles have to go somewhere. Your rectus abdominal muscles runs from your chest down to your hip bones in a vertical way. As your belly expands, the rectus muscles get longer and start to separate out to either side to make space for growing baby - this is what can later cause diastasis recti. Your transverse abdominal muscles runs from side to side in a horizontal way, and you can think of them like a corset. This corset gets loser and stretches out more with every week of pregnancy.
Both of the rectus and the transverse abdominal muscles end up stretched out, and they don’t just bounce back into their original length once baby has popped out. Think of your stretched out underwear; it barely hangs off your hips, and doesn’t hold anything in. The same goes for your muscles. If we don’t actively engage our abdominal muscles throughout pregnancy to keep them strong (I have a pregnancy safe core video on my blog here), we end up with muscles that are weak and lengthened. They can’t help to engage our core for making our posture better or helping to carry our baby. Our lower back muscles start to compensate during pregnancy already, and they continue to do so after birth. As they get tighter and seize up more, we also become more uncomfortable and in pain.
First and foremost, throughout any stage of womanhood, it is vital that we learn how to properly engage our core through our breath. This will help us use our core to support us in every day moves, such as carrying car seats with heavy babies, getting up from a chair, or lifting anything from the floor to perhaps even up over our head. When I say do more core exercises, I don’t mean crunches and planks. I mean just mindfully breathing to engage your core is the first step. I teach that here.
Secondly, make sure you give your body time to recover after a pregnancy. I know how desperate you can feel to get back to your old exercise routine to make you feel like some part of you isn’t completely lost. However, please trust me when I say this: you don’t need to run a marathon when your baby turns one. You are a mother for the rest of your life, and your exercise routine should reflect that. Exercising shouldn’t be a way to punish you to lose those extra few baby pounds, but instead it should be a way to help you strengthen your body for every day tasks. Include more squats and lunges to help you safely pick up baby using your lower body and not just your back. Use foam rolling and ball massaging to roll out knots and tension in overstressed parts such as your lower back and hips. And be gentle with yourself, you just grew a human being!
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2. Mind your posture
Of course the most obvious reason for back pain is posture with a newborn. We often carry babies around for hours trying to get them to calm down. Especially when our core is still weak from pregnancy, we often push our hips out to the front to create a little shelf for baby to rest on, and for our arms not to fall off from exhaustion. After all, 5 lbs can seem like 50 lbs after 2 hours of non-stop crying and bouncing around. Every time we push our hips forward out of alignment, we scrunch our lower back into a tight ball. The muscles in the front of our core just flare open, and have no ability to support us. Our back muscles have to work over time and get extremely exhausted, at some point just seizing up into tension central.
Another point of tension in our posture is when we are feeding - whether we choose to breast feed or bottle feed. We are often hunched over our baby, staring down at it in wonder and awe. Neck, shoulders, and back round forward to hold baby in place, throwing our posture off yet again, and creating another point of tension in our back.
Every time you are standing holding your baby, check that your ears, shoulder, hips, and heels line up. This will seem difficult at first, as you will need to use your arms more to hold baby, as well as engage your core deeply. If you start this early on, this whole system will continue to get stronger as your baby grows and gets heavier. Your back will thank you for not feeling all the burden all the time. As mentioned before, doing releasing work for your lower back such as foam rolling and ball massages can do wonders to get into the tight knots, or if you can treat yourself to a massage, do that! And finally, when it comes to feeding, try to bring baby to you rather than lowering yourself down to baby. Use a nursing pillow or stuff a lot of regular pillows around you to life baby up to make you sit more aligned in your spine.
3. Show some extra love to yours stitches
Whether you have had a cesarian section or a vaginal birth with tearing or an episiotomy, stitches may have been inevitable for you. The more stitches you had, the more likely it is that they are pulling fascia and tissue around into unnatural patterns. I had a c-section, and afterwards had a very distinct pain I had never experienced before in my lower back. My stitches kept tugging at the fascia, pulling everything forward towards the stitches, throwing my back out of alignment. The same goes for vaginal stitches, where your pelvic floor is located, and can be pulled into abnormal directions.
Once the scar has healed - as in there is no more open wound - you can start to use body oil to massage the scar gently, rolling it around to loosen any scar tissue that may be pulling on underlying skin, fascia, muscles, and even organs. I have to be honest and say that with my c-section scar, it is an ongoing process. As soon as I don’t take very good care of myself, the pain comes back, and I know that my scar needs some love and attention. For many of us it feels gross to touch our scars, and maybe even bring up trauma from birth. In that case I highly suggest you see a professional post-birth and pelvic floor massage specialist to help release the tension and stored trauma.
When do you feel your back seizing up with baby? Observe yourself in the mindless loop of feeding, poop explosions, and bouncing to get baby to sleep, and see if you can make a few subtle changes to show some love to yourself. Above all, be gentle with yourself, you are in this for the long haul!