Back labor can be a painful part of your childbirth experience. But what does back labor feel like? Are there back labor signs? Does it mean labor is near?
You may have heard the horror stories whispered on Peanut by weary mamas.
Back labor: a pain so excruciating it rivals a co-occurrence of shingles, a slipped disc, and the worst toothache ever.
(File it under ‘Fun Things to be Concerned about During Childbirth’.)
Yes, back labor is real and it can be pretty damn sore.
But you’ll be pleased to know that back labor doesn’t last forever and there are measures you can take to relieve the pain.
In this article 📝
- What is back labor?
- Is back labor actual labor?
- What does back labor pain feel like?
- How do I deal with back labor?
- How do you know if it’s back labor?
- Other back labor stories
What is back labor?
Back labor is really back labor pain.
It’s experienced in the lower back and can feel rather excruciating while you’re in the throes of contractions.
In most cases, back labor happens when your little peanut has decided to face your belly button rather than your back.
What causes back labor?
Why is this a source of pain?
Well, in this front-facing position (known as the occiput posterior position, if you must know) your baby’s hard head is pushing down on your lower back, invading the nerves down there and causing some serious discomfort.
While there are some minor risk factors ‒ such as a lower chance of having a vaginal birth, if that’s important to you ‒ babies tend to figure out that they’re doing it all backward and correct their position before it’s time to exit through the birth canal.
But it’s not always your baby’s position that causes back labor.
Sometimes it just happens, regardless of what position your baby has decided to face.
If you have lower back pain during your periods or have experienced back labor pain before, you might be a little more prone to it.
There’s also some debate as to whether being past your due date can increase your chances of back labor.
And then, there’s good ol’ chance, too.
Some mamas get back labor pain, and some mamas don’t.
All bodies have their own ways of doing things.
Is back labor actual labor?
Let’s set the scene: you’re at home, experiencing back labor ‒ when to go to hospital?
Well, we’re sorry to say that back labor pain may not mean it’s time to grab your hospital bag just yet.
If contractions haven’t begun, you could have a while left of back labor pains before you set off to the hospital.
But if the pain is bad, call your OB and see what they say ‒ they may be able to do something about your back labor pain at a hospital before your contractions start.
But if you can cope with the back labor pain (you’re a superhero), set off for the hospital when your contractions are every 4 minutes lasting for about 1 minute each.
Dig deeper: How to Time Contractions
Does back pain mean labor is starting?
Unless your waters have broken, your mucus plug has come out, and/or contractions have started, unfortunately, you’re not in labor just yet.
But back labor pain can be a precursor to these things happening, which kick-start labor, so make sure you have your hospital bag packed, because it could be starting days or even hours from now.
Can you have back labor and not feel contractions?
Yes. Back labor without contractions is pretty common, actually.
Among the back labor stories of our Peanut mamas, a lot of them had back labor pain before contractions ‒ before labor officially started.
Can you get Braxton Hicks in your back?
Yes, you can.
While Braxton Hicks contractions (or prodromal labor, as it’s technically called) can happen around your abdomen, they can also happen in your lower back ‒ similar to back labor pains.
How long after back pain does labor start?
We can’t say.
It could be minutes, hours, or even days before labor starts, but a few of our Peanut moms-to-be said that back labor pain started about 24-48 hours before labor.
What does back labor pain feel like?
So, what does back labor feel like?
Well, not pleasant.
The most common back labor symptoms are just that ‒ intense back pain, usually in your lower back.
Some of our Peanut moms say that the back labor pain is on a par with contractions ‒ for some, it’s even more painful.
So if you’re experiencing back labor pain, we feel you, mama.
Hang in there.
Does back labor feel like you have to poop?
Not often, no ‒ if you feel like you have to poop, that could be early contractions.
If you have back labor pain at the same time as contractions, sometimes it can be hard to tell the difference, particularly if you’re in the early stages of labor.
Will back labor show up on monitor?
No, back labor won’t show up on monitors, but real contractions will.
It’s one of the ways you can tell that you’re experiencing back labor pain rather than ‘actual’ labor pain.
Not that we’re minimizing your pain here, mama ‒ we know just how painful back labor can be.
How do I deal with back labor?
Because the most common cause of back labor is the position of your baby, there are no fool-proof methods to prevent it entirely.
During your pregnancy, however, there are certain exercises you can do to help your baby get into a position that is less strenuous for you when the time comes.
Pelvic tilts (or what yogis call the “cat-cow”) can be useful.
But, ultimately, if your baby wants to look toward your belly button, well, sometimes there’s no persuading them otherwise.
Don’t fret though.
There’s a lot you can do to alleviate the discomfort of back labor pain.
Keep this list of tips handy for if it strikes:
1. Get moving
Sometimes it’s just about mixing things up a little.
With some trial and error, you may find your back labor pain lifting simply by changing how you position your body.
Some positions for back labor include:
- Lean, lean, lean. That might mean leaning against a surface while standing or while on your knees, depending on what feels good to you. The point is to give your body a break from doing all the work.
- Kneel against the support of a birthing ball or birthing pillow (or just a regular old pile of pillows also works).
- Sit backward on a chair. Like a cool kid from the 90s.
- Get on all fours. Okay, fair enough. Not one of your more elegant poses, but it can seriously help to get the pressure off your back. Then rock your pelvis back and forth.
- Try the spider position. This helps to round your back and, in doing so, get rid of some of the pressure. It involves lying on your side with your top leg bent and your bottom leg extended, with some sort of support between them.
2. Get a massage
Whether it’s from your healthcare practitioner or a loved one, getting a lower back massage can go a long way to relieve the symptoms of back labor.
You may want to couple this with some good leaning.
Pro tip? Use a tennis ball for the massaging process.
After more on massage during pregnancy? Check out Can You Use a Massage Chair During Pregnancy?
3. Get meds
If this is something you want to consider, an epidural will seriously help relieve back labor pain.
There are also some other pain medication options, like injecting sterile water into the pain points.
4. Get wet
There’s nothing like a warm bath or shower to soothe a painful situation.
Hydrotherapy can help relax your body and make the labor back pain subside a bit.
5. Get hot or cold, or both
Ice packs or hot compresses? Both work.
It can be soothing to alternate between them.
How do you know if it’s back labor?
What are the back labor signs?
How can you tell the difference between back labor and normal back pain?
The main differentiator between regular pregnancy backache and back labor is the labor part.
Essentially, the back pain that comes from pregnancy harmonizes with your contractions ‒ back labor, however, can make a far louder noise.
While your contractions will give you some moments of rest, back labor can be unrelenting.
The pain is often at its most intense when your contractions are at their crescendo ‒ so, yes, it can feel like it’s all just happening at once.
You may also experience back spasms that coincide with your contractions.
Of course, this can seriously up the ante of your labor experience.
If your contractions are starting to come closer together (as in about 4 minutes apart), it’s time to get to the place where you want to have your baby.
Having said that, if your contractions are still far apart but your back pain is excruciating, it can’t hurt (more than it does already) to get in touch with your healthcare provider.
Can labor be just back pain?
So, back labor vs back pain ‒ how can you tell the difference?
Well, in most cases, you can’t.
Back labor pain is pretty much the same as normal back pain ‒ only more painful, and usually a precursor to labor.
Other back labor stories
It can help to know you’re not alone with the whole back labor thing.
According to the Cleveland Clinic, somewhere between 15-32% of pregnancies may have back labor toward the end ‒ although this is working on the assumption that back labor is caused by baby’s position.
If you’re worried about baby being in a less-than-ideal position when it comes time to push, rest assured that this only tends to happen in about 5-8% of births.
If you want to swap back labor stories or hear about other moms’ experiences and how they got through it, you’re always welcome to join us on Peanut.
We know this whole ‘giving birth’ thing can be a lot to deal with ‒ and adding back labor pains to the list doesn’t help.
Surround yourself with the people and comforts that you need to make it as easy on yourself as possible.
💡 More from The 411:
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What is Precipitous Labor?
How to Induce Labor (Yourself)
Preparing for Childbirth: Helpful Things to Know
What To Expect from Induction of Labor
What are the Ways to Induce Labor?
How to Prepare for a Baby: 11 Tips
Safe Ways to Go into Labor Tonight
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Late Decelerations: All You Need to Know About
What to Know About Hip Pain During Pregnancy
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