Have all the stories of terrible back labor got you worried? Maybe you’ve had people telling you that back labor is SO MUCH WORSE than belly labor.
Well the truth is back labor is not necessarily worse than belly labor in most cases.
We say most cases because there is one circumstance where it may be more painful and we’ll go through the reasons for that further down the page.
What is Back Labor?
Back labor simply means that labor pain is felt more strongly in the back rather than the abdomen, groin or legs (which are other common places to feel contractions).
Back labor is not uncommon and up to a quarter of all women will feel the majority of contractions in the lower back.
You may still feel contractions in your belly (or you may not) but the worst of the pain is in the lower back.
What Causes Back labor?
There is very little evidence to suggest what causes back labor but there are several theories.
The main explanation is that back labor is to do with how your baby is positioned prior to, and while, giving birth.
When your baby is face up (occiput posterior) – also sometimes called back-to-back – the baby’s head is pushing more against the spine.
This can definitely make labor more painful in the lower back, last longer and require more interventions to help baby out.
It’s important to remember though that just because your baby is in the occiput posterior position (LOA or ROA), it doesn’t necessarily mean you will have back labor or that it will be more painful.
Every woman is different.
Another explanation for back labor is that where you feel contractions depends on where your nerve endings are. It’s your nerves that transfer pain signals to the brain and give the sensation of pain.
Where you tend to feel period cramps can also be sign of whether you’ll have back labor or belly labor. If you tend to feel period cramps in your lower back then you will be more likely to feel the contractions of labor there as well.
There are a few additional risk factors for back labor, which include:
- A short torso – If you have a shorter torso, but your baby is measuring long, the baby may be pushing on your spine to get more space.
- You have bad posture – Bad posture can tip your pelvis forward and your butt inwards, making back labor more likely. Yoga, stretching and posture awareness during pregnancy can help.
- You have tight ligaments and muscles – Again, your baby is going to be trying to find space, which pushes them against your spine.
- Previous back or ligament injury – If you’ve had a back or ligament injury in the past, you’re likely to feel more pain in your back during labor.
What Does Back Labor Feel Like?
Because every woman experiences labor differently, it is impossible to accurately describe accurately how back labor feels for everyone.
It’s often an intense squeezing pain that is centered in the tailbone area and lower part of the pelvis.
The pain of contractions usually comes and goes in a regular rhythm but for some women experiencing back labor the pain is continuous. This is especially true when baby is in the occiput posterior position.
Continuous pain is a normal part of the last part of active labor, or when labor has been induced with pitocin and not necessarily anything to do with back labor or belly labor.
In these final stages contractions tend to come on top of each other without breaks in between. This is the most intense part of labor and when the pain level is usually at it’s highest.
It’s also important to note that back labor isn’t dangerous to you or your baby but if your baby is in a poor position you’re more likely to need help to get him or her out safely.
Isn’t Some Back Pain Normal?
Yes it’s normal to have some pain in the lower back during labor even if you feel your contractions in your belly, legs or groin.
With all that pushing and contracting, you’re going to be using muscles you never knew you had.
Your baby needs to get right down into your pelvis to move through your vagina and in doing so will push bones and stretch muscles and ligaments. This may cause some temporary pain or discomfort.
Fortunately, your body produces a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy so that your ligaments can stretch much more easily.
What Can be Done to Make Back Labor Easier?
If you are having back labor there are quite a few things you can do to help.
Firstly don’t lay on your back, finding other positions should alleviate some of the pressure.
There are also a few moves which can help to improve the positioning of your baby, and therefore help with the back pain:
- Waking around
- Lunging or squatting
- Leaning forward over a beanbag or pillows
- Sitting on a birthing ball
- Tilting the pelvis
- Sitting in a backward position on a chair
- Hula hooping is also thought to be good, but that depends on whether you really feel up for it!
To help with the pain at the source:
- Use hot or cold compresses on the lower back
- Use a birthing pool, or take a warm shower/bath
- Apply counter-pressure on the back. For example, massage or rolling a tennis ball down the back.
Is Back Labor Really Worse Than Belly Labor?
Again, we can’t answer that question for every woman because we’re all wonderfully different.
Some women say that back labor is far more intense but it’s almost impossible to compare unless you’ve experienced both back labor and belly labor (which is uncommon).
I had back labor with all of my babies and it was not due to positioning, it was simply where I felt the pain of contractions. I have nothing to compare it to, but I did get through each labor with very little in terms of pain relief.
A good strong massage in the lower back really helped, as did laboring kneeling up over a beanbag.
It certainly helps to move around so that you can find the comfortable positions.
There is no way to predict whether you’ll have back labor or belly labor and which might feel worse for you.
Prepare for labor by learning some breathing techniques to reduce pain and attending childbirth classes.
Regular monitoring of your baby’s position by your OBGYN or midwife will provide helpful information about what to expect.