Does back labor really happen?

Answers from Roger W. Harms, M.D.

The term "back labor" is sometimes used to describe labor in which the most discomfort is felt in the lower back, just above the tailbone — and yes, it really happens. Back labor sometimes occurs when the baby enters the birth canal faceup instead of facedown. That isn't always the case, however. 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 physical activity. Take a walk, if you can.
  • Change positions. Straddle a chair and lean forward or kneel against a pile of pillows or birthing ball. It might also help to get on your hands and knees, which takes the pressure off your spine. 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.
  • Try a firm back rub. You might ask your partner or labor coach to rub a tennis ball or other round object against your lower back.
  • Use water massage. Stand under the spray of a warm shower, or ask your partner or labor coach to aim the water directly onto your lower back.
  • Apply heat or cold. Soothe your lower back with ice packs or 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 an injection 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.

Mar. 14, 2012