Labor and Delivery
My back labor was horrendous,” says Lynne Anderson of Salt Lake City, Utah. “I felt excruciating lower back pain, originating in my lumbar area and radiating around to my abdomen. It felt like my back was literally breaking in two, and I was arching off the bed in response to the pain.”
Most women have heard of back labor. But what exactly is it and how can the pain be eased?
Dr. Glade B. Curtis, OB/GYN and author of Your Pregnancy Week by Week defines back labor as pain during the last few weeks of pregnancy or during labor that is experienced in the lower back or on the back of the hips. “Back labor is caused by the baby being in the posterior position,” he says. “A baby in this position moves through the birth canal with his or her face towards the ceiling instead of pointed down at the ground. Delivery works better with the baby looking down and extending the head as it comes out.”
In general, labor pains involve the abdomen (uterus) and the pain is caused by the contraction or tightening of the uterus. “It’s possible to have back labor come and go as the baby negotiates the birth canal changing position and pressing on different areas of the pelvis and birth canal,” Dr. Curtis says. “Back labor can seem alarming to some women because the pain is in a different location then expected.”
Sandra Rees-Bowen of Ferndale, Wash. knows what back labor feels like. “During delivery I couldn’t move without vomiting and I was in extreme pain,” she says. “The pain seemed to radiate from my back around to my belly.”
Rees-Bowen had decided on natural birth and she tried Lamaze breathing, but that didn’t ease her pain. She credits her doula
Doctors sometimes try to turn babies in the posterior position around, but it isn’t always necessary. “Some babies will deliver in the posterior position (face up) or turn on their own,” Dr. Curtis says.
When it’s necessary to turn the baby, doctors use a vacuum cup, forceps or their hand. Turning babies can be very successful, but when a baby can’t be turned and labor fails to progress, a Cesarean is necessary.
It’s difficult to tell in advance if a woman will experience back labor. “Some patients experience back labor every time they are in labor … but I don’t think you can predict it in a patient having their first child,” Dr. Curtis says. “Pregnant women who have experienced back labor should prepare for it, and if something helped in a pervious labor, they should try it again.”
Finally, women should be aware that not all back pain indicates true back labor. “Lower back pain and pressure is very normal in the later weeks of pregnancy and in labor,” Dr. Curtis says. “Many patients will interpret this to be back labor and perhaps become concerned about it unnecessarily.”
It is possible to minimize back labor pain. Women should think about using massage, heat or another method listed above to ease back labor pain just in case they experience it. Luckily, labor is temporary, soon replaced by the pleasure of cradling an infant