How To Ease Back Pain in Labor

Changing positions during labor is one thing you can do to relieve pain in your lower back. That pressure is often due to your baby’s position and is called back labor: the back of your baby's head presses against your lower back. In clinical terms, it's called Occiput (head) Posterior (back) or O.P. position. It's not uncommon, nor is it dangerous or an emergency, but it is uncomfortable and labor may progress more slowly. Being upright and in motion will lessen that pressure and help your baby move. And the good new is, once your baby is in a good position, she/he usually stays that way! Here are other effective techniques to help you and your baby.

When you are pregnant:

  1. Sit with your back well-supported. Slouching doesn’t help your baby to get into a good position and it’s generally lousy for you, too.
  2. Walk every day or some other exercise. Be aware of your alignment and posture.
  3. Deal with your back pain during pregnancy. If exercise doesn’t help, work with a pregnancy massage therapist, a physical therapist, chiropractor or acupuncturist. It’s best if they have experience with pregnant women. Insurance may cover this if you get a midwife or doctor’s referral.
  4. Plan your labor support. It’s especially helpful to have someone who is experienced with birth and knows techniques for back labor. If your partner is the only person available, he/she may need assistance (even if you don’t have back labor). A doula (professional labor support) can be a very good investment for you and your partner.

The best remedy is to help the baby change position, and then you should feel some relief. If you feel back pressure during labor:

  1. Get into positions that take pressure off your back. Lying flat on your back is probably the worst position.
  2. Keep walking and swaying your hips.
  3. Keep drinking fluids. You should also continue to snack as long as you feel like it. You need to keep your energy sustained.
  4. Go up and down stairs two at a time. Raise one leg on a chair and lean into it. These wider stances open your pelvis more and can help the baby shift. If it is uncomfortable, don’t do it.
  5. Counter pressure is great. Someone pressing against your lower back can help alot. Having your partner or doula squeeze both hips during a contraction can make a huge difference, too.
  6. Sit on a large physical therapy ball and do pelvic tilts.
  7. Massage your belly, encouraging your baby to move. This definitely can’t hurt and it reminds you of why you are doing this good, hard work.
  8. Sometimes medication helps, sometimes it doesn’t. It’s important to sustain your energy and work actively with your body as much as possible.

If your baby doesn’t change position, she/he can still be born vaginally. Your O.P. baby will emerge with his/her face looking up towards the sky. This is also known as “sunny side up”. That’s a great way to describe your challenging, and yet triumphant, labor and birth.

Robin Snyder-Drummond, CCE CD(DONA), CLC


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