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Backache in pregnancy

8-minute read

Key facts

  • Changes in your hormones as well as your growing uterus and baby contribute to back pain in pregnancy.
  • Exercises, stretches and changing how you do some movements can help prevent and treat back pain in pregnancy.
  • If you feel ‘pins and needles' down your legs, leg weakness or changes to your bowel or bladder function see your doctor.
  • Sometimes back pain can be from a urinary tract infection (UTI) or preterm labour, so see your doctor if you are worried.

What happens to your back during pregnancy?

During pregnancy, changes to your hormones cause the ligaments in your body including your lower back and pelvis to relax and stretch, to prepare you for labour. Because these changes mean the joints are not in their normal alignment, you can experience backache.

The weight of your growing baby also can also pull your spine forward adding to the back pain.

Back pain in pregnancy may be worse at night and may affect your sleep.

How can I avoid backache during pregnancy?

Doing exercise can help prevent you from developing back pain pregnancy. You can protect your back during pregnancy by avoiding or changing the way you do some things. This becomes more important the further along in your pregnancy you are.

Some strategies to help you manage back pain include:

  • stand and sit up straight, keep your spine long and don't slump
  • avoid sitting or standing for a long period of time
  • take breaks when you are doing physical activities
  • wear support garments or belts if you have pain
  • sleep on your side with a pillow between your legs and change which side you lie on sometimes
  • when you get out of bed keep your knees together as you roll over
Sleep tips to ease backache during pregnancy.
Sleep tips to ease backache during pregnancy.

How is back pain treated during pregnancy?

If you have back pain while you are pregnant, low impact exercise can help. Examples of exercises you may try include:

  • walking
  • swimming
  • stretching and strengthening exercises

A physiotherapist can usually help you manage your backache.

In very rare cases, you may have a serious injury such as a herniated disc while you're pregnant. In this case, you might need surgery — see your doctor for advice.

Can I take medicine to treat my back pain in pregnancy?

Talk to your doctor if you need to take medicine to help manage your back pain. For most people, paracetamol is usually the safest pain medicine to take during pregnancy. You should take the lowest dose that you need to manage the pain and take it for as short as possible. Do not take aspirin or non-steroidal anti-inflammatories such as ibuprofen while you are pregnant. Ask your pharmacist for advice, and be sure to tell them you're pregnant.

Will my back pain affect my labour?

Your backache should not affect labour or the pain relief you can use during labour. However, if you have had major back surgery in the past then your doctor might not recommend that you have an epidural. Tell your midwife and doctor about your back pain because there are different positions you can use to help with your back pain during labour.

What exercises I can do to ease backache when I pregnant?

You can try the stretches and exercises described below. You may benefit from seeing a physiotherapist to give your personalised exercises to treat back pain in pregnancy.

Child's pose stretch

Kneel on the floor with your knees slightly apart to allow space for your belly. Then, lower your upper body down with your arms stretched out so they touch the floor in front of your head. You should feel this stretch along your whole spine.

Hold the stretch for up to 30 seconds and repeat 2 or 3 times. Make sure that you breathe as you do the pose and stop if it causes or worsens your pain.

Child's pose stretch
Child's pose stretch

Belly dancing movements

Slowly move your hips and pelvis in the shape of a circle as if you were doing belly dancing. You can do this while sitting, standing or on all 4s.

Belly dancing movements
Belly dancing movements

Pelvic tilts

Stand with slightly bent knees. Slowly flatten the curve of your lower back by tilting your pelvis and hips backwards. Hold this for 3 to 5 seconds and repeat the tilt up to 10 times. This can be done while standing, lying, or sitting on an exercise ball.

Pelvic tilts
Pelvic tilts

When should I see a doctor?

Sometimes back pain can be a sign of premature labour or a urinary tract infection (UTI).

See your doctor if you experience:

Contact your doctor or midwife if you notice bleeding from your vagina at any time during your pregnancy. If you have very heavy bleeding, strong pain or feel very unwell, call triple zero (000) immediately and ask for an ambulance.

If you have lower back pain while exercising or are concerned, see your doctor.

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Resources and support

The Royal Women's Hospital has information about back care and posture in pregnancy.

More tips on stretches and advice about managing backache in pregnancy is available from South Australia Health.

Advice about exercises and comfortable positions for back pain in pregnancy is also available from Queensland Health.

Speak to a maternal child health nurse

Call Pregnancy, Birth and Baby to speak to a maternal child health nurse on 1800 882 436 or video call. Available 7am to midnight (AET), 7 days a week.

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: December 2023

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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