Does back labor really happen?
Answer From Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.
"Back labor," a term used to describe intense lower back pain during and sometimes between labor contractions, does happen. It occurs when the baby's head puts pressure on your lower back.
To ease back pain during labor:
- Try massage. 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. Straddle a chair and lean forward or kneel against a pile of pillows or a birthing ball. Take the pressure off 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.
- 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.
- Hydrotherapy. Soaking in a tub or aiming the shower head at your lower back might provide relief.
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.
Yvonne Butler Tobah, M.D.
March 10, 2020
- Frequently asked questions. Labor, delivery and postpartum care FAQ086. Medications for pain relief during labor and delivery. American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. https://www.acog.org/-/media/For-Patients/faq086.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20180206T1830329958. Accessed Feb. 6, 2018.
- American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists. Month 6. In: Your Pregnancy and Childbirth Month to Month. 6th ed. Washington, D.C.: American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists; 2015.
- Martensson LB, et al. Sterile water injections for childbirth pain: An evidence based guide to practice. Women and Birth. In press. Accessed Feb. 6, 2018.
- Butler Tobah YS (expert opinion). Mayo Clinic, Rochester, Minn. Feb. 7, 2018.