How to Cope with Back Labor

Pregnant woman has backache and touching her torso

Pregnant woman has backache and touching her torso

What is “back labor”?

Back labor is the experience of intense back pain during labor contractions.

What causes “back labor”?

Most babies face the mother’s back during labor. The most common cause of “back labor” is when the baby faces the front of the mother’s body instead. When this happens, the hard back of the baby’s skull places pressure on the mother’s sacrum and tailbone which causes intense pain. Other causes of back labor can be a history of tailbone injury or a misaligned pelvis from a prior athletic or automobile accident.

What comfort measures can I use to alleviate back labor?

  • Change positions: Try positions that hang your belly forward and use gravity to move the baby off your back. These include hands and knees, kneeling on the ground with your chest resting on a yoga ball, standing and leaning forward over a counter or sitting on a chair backwards.
  • Apply hot and cold compresses: Find the spot on her back that is causing her the most pain (she will guide you!) and apply one minute of heat with a heating pad, followed by one minute of cold with an ice pack. Continue to alternate this for as long as she desires. The hot & cold sensations will overwhelm pain sensing nerves and can decrease her pain.
  • Counter Pressure: With one open hand over the other, press your flat palm firmly onto the spot on her back that is causing her the most pain throughout each contraction (about 1 full minute). Again, ask her to guide you to where that spot is. You will know you are in the right place when your pressure brings her relief.
  • Back massage: Use your thumbs to provide a back massage to her lower back in between contractions. Move your thumbs in big and small circles over the areas that are causing her the most pain.
  • Pelvic Tilts: Assist her to her hands and knees position on the floor or bed and encourage her to perform “pelvic tilts” in between contractions (also known as “cat” and “cow” yoga positions). Check out this video for instructions.

Not only can these techniques decrease back pain in labor, but they can also encourage the baby to turn their head which can alleviate the problem, decrease your pain and speed up your labor!

Written by Melissa Anne DuBois, RN, BSN, CCE, CLCP24

Melissa graduated from the UMass Amherst School of Nursing in 2006 and has been a maternity nurse with Milford Regional Medical Center since 2017. Her professional interests include natural childbirth, breastfeeding, infertility, postpartum depression and contraceptive education. She is passionate about teaching new parents how to have a safe, positive and empowering birth experience and thrive during their first year of parenting. She loves ethnic food, tea, cooking, scrapbooking and dressing up for theme parties. She lives in Millbury with her husband, three children and a crazy dog.

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