My number one complaint I hear from personal training clients after having a baby is back pain.
Caring for your infant puts a lot of stress on your back because your abdominal muscles have been stretched, and perhaps separated, and they cannot support your upper body. As your baby gets heavier, the back pain can get worse if it isn’t addressed.
So, the best way to reduce back pain is to first focus on strengthening your abdominals. The inner most layer of abdominals, the transverse abdominis, goes all around your trunk and, when activated, takes pressure off of your lower back. The way to strengthen the transverse correctly is by doing the Drawing-In Maneuver, which is essentially pulling your belly button to your spine.
Once you master this on your hands and knees, you can do it standing up and bending over. So every time you reach over the top of a crib or into a stroller to pick up your child bring your belly button into your spine to activate this muscle.
Bend those knees! In general, a mom picks up a baby 50 times a day so this is a must! To strengthen, bend those knees! The more you use your legs you take even more pressure off of your back. To strengthen your legs and reinforce proper positioning when you pick up your baby, hold your baby to your chest and do squats with your feet a little wider than hip width apart. Make sure your knees never go in front of your toes, keep your belly button in and make sure you are not holding your breath.
Whenever you are holding your baby
Keep the baby close to your chest and try to avoid twisting. And avoid holding your baby on your hip. This is murder on your back as you are pulling your spine out of alignment and the back muscles need to compensate in a way they are not designed to!
When you experience upper back pain, the answer is to strengthen the muscles behind the shoulder blades. As you hold your baby for long periods of time you’re not only need to build up these muscles, you must build up the endurance of these muscles. Try bringing your shoulder blades together (keep your shoulders down away from your ears) and hold for 20 seconds. Then increase the time until you can hold it for 2 minutes.
Also, stretching out your back will help with back pain. The easiest way is to lie on your back and hug your knees to your chest gently. Close your eyes, breathe and focus on releasing the muscles of your back when you exhale. If you do this for 2 minutes a day it will make a huge difference. For an extra stretch, stay on your back, drop your knees to one side. Bring your arms by your sides or out to the side, whichever is more comfortable, and again breathe and focus on your back muscles releasing. One minute on each side will also make a noticeable difference.
If you can, begin safely exercising soon after delivery to restore all of your muscles. If you have had a C-section, wait at least 6 weeks after your delivery or until you get an OK from your doctor before exercising. Do try to return to your normal weight within six weeks after giving birth. The more weight you have on your body the pressure you are putting on all of your joints. Being a healthy weight (and getting there safely!) is very important.
To minimize back pain while breastfeeding, always bring your baby to you rather than bending over to your baby. Usually an upright chair rather then a soft couch will help. Also many women like to place their baby on a supportive pillow so this can help too.
So in conclusion, experiencing back pain is not OK and can be eliminated. So, strengthen your abdominals and your upper back, stretch your back, and pay attention to proper movement and your back pain should dissipate completely.
Maariana Vikse is a personal trainer and certified by the National Academy of Sports Medicine.