Does back labor really happen?

Answers from Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, M.D.

"Back labor," a term used to describe labor in which the most discomfort is felt in the lower back, does happen. Back labor sometimes occurs when the baby enters the birth canal faceup instead of facedown. However, that isn't always the case. Some women simply feel more tension in their backs during labor and delivery than others do.

Although you can't prevent back labor, you can ease back pain during labor. Consider these suggestions:

  • Try a back rub. Ask your partner or labor coach to rub your lower back. Counter pressure against your lower back with a closed fist or tennis ball might help. Having one or two people provide pressure against your hips during contractions while you lean forward onto something might help, too. This is known as the double hip squeeze.
  • Change positions. Take a walk. Straddle a chair and lean forward or kneel against a pile of pillows or a birthing ball. Take the pressure off of your spine by getting on your hands and knees. To give your arms a break, lower your shoulders to the bed or a floor mat and place your head on a pillow. When you're lying down, lie on your side rather than on your back.
  • Apply heat. Soothe your lower back with a heating pad.
  • Consider medication. Epidural and spinal anesthesia can temporarily block pain in your lower body. Although not widely used, some research suggests that shallow injections of sterile water to the lower back can provide temporary — but potentially significant — relief from back pain during labor.

Work with your health care team to evaluate your options for pain relief during labor. Whether you experience back labor or feel labor pain elsewhere, being familiar with pain management techniques can give you a greater sense of control.


Shannon K. Laughlin-Tommaso, M.D.

March 14, 2015