What is Back Labor Pain? Back Labor vs Back Pain

What is Back Labor Pain? Back Labor vs Back Pain

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.

Sometimes, back labor happens when your babe 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 this position may occasionally lower the 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 the hospital?

Well, we’re sorry to say that back pain in late pregnancy may not mean labor’s kicked in just yet.

As Dr. Kiarra King says, “Generally, when one feels back labor, it’s the perception of pain in the back due to contractions. But all contractions don’t necessarily lead to cervical change, which is the definition of labor.”.

So how can you tell that there are the necessary cervical changes happening that mean it’s labor?

Well, that’ll be a job for your healthcare provider, so it’s worth grabbing your hospital bag before you see them, just in case it’s time to meet baby for the first time!

Does back pain mean labor is starting?

Not necessarily.

Dr. Kiarra King makes it clear: “Labor is defined as contractions leading to cervical change or dilation.”.

Some other signs labor is near?

Your waters may have broken or your mucus plug might have come out — although those things don’t have to happen for labor to start.

But back labor pain can be referred pain from your contractions or a precursor to labor, so make sure you have your hospital bag packed, because it could be time for baby to make their grand arrival — days, or even hours, from now.

Can you have back labor and not feel contractions?

Technically, no.

If you’re in labor, the back pain you’re feeling is contractions.

If you’re not, it’s not actually back “labor”, more like back pain in late pregnancy.

Among the back labor stories of our Peanut mamas, a lot of them said they had back pain without contractions before labor officially started.

According to Dr. Kiarra King, “Back pain can occur in pregnancy. However, the rhythmic pattern of pain is typically associated with contractions.”

So if it’s more of a regular come-and-go back pain, it’s probably contractions.

But it’s also an individual experience, too: “There are some people who have contractions, but they don’t really perceive them intensely, or at all. So it is possible to have contractions and not perceive them. I’ve seen people connected to the tocometer, which showed contractions, and they didn’t even realize what they were!”

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 ‒ these could be your 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 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?

Sometimes, yes — if you feel like you have to poop, that could be due to early contractions.

And the reason for back labor pain is contractions — it’s referred pain, so you’re feeling your contractions in your back.

Will back labor show up on a monitor?

Sort of, yes — since back labor is technically your contractions, those will show up on a monitor.

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’s 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:

Pregnant woman kneeling on birthing ball to ease lower back labor pain

1. Switch up your position

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.
  • Stand up. Even something as simple as switching from lying down to standing up could help, according to this small study. As for walking during labor to help with back pain? Well, the jury’s still out on that one, with a few studies showing that it could help progress labor and others suggesting the impact is minimal.

Pregnant woman having a lower back massage by healthcare professional for back labor pain

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.

But if you’re in labor, don’t go booking a pregnancy massage with your local massage therapist — we’re talking about an at-home massage, or your birthing partner or a healthcare professional giving you a lower back massage at the hospital.

Now’s not really the time for a full-on pampering sesh!

Tylenol (acetaminophen or paracetamol) for back labor pain during pregnancy

3. Get meds

If you’re at hospital, ask your healthcare provider if there’s any medication that can help ease your back labor pains — there’s usually something they can do.

If not, call your OBGYN — they’ll likely recommend an OTC (over-the-counter) pain relief medication like Tylenol (AKA acetaminophen or paracetamol) reduce your back pain.

But that doesn’t mean that if you think you’re in labor, you should take Tylenol — just that Tylenol can be good for easing some of your back pain in pregnancy, and safe to use (in the recommended dosage, of course).

Pregnant woman having warm bath for back labor pain

4. Get wet

There’s nothing like a warm bath or shower to soothe a painful situation.

Hydrotherapy could help relax your body, decrease anxiety, and make your labor back pain subside a bit (temporarily).

Pregnant woman using hot or cold compress for lower back labor pain

5. Get hot or cold, or both

Ice packs or hot compresses? Both work.

It can be soothing to alternate between them, particularly in the first and second phases of labor.

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.

If your back pain is pulsing — coming and going, like contractions — then it’s contractions.

And if those contractions are paired with cervical changes, like dilation, then it’s back labor pain.

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?

Back labor pain can feel similar (if not the same) as normal back pain — only more painful, and usually a precursor to labor.

The only real way to tell is whether your back pain is at the same time as your contractions, or if it’s rhythmic, coming and going every 3-5 minutes (yep those are contractions!).

If yes, it’s back labor pain.

If no, it’s regular back pain.

Other back labor stories

It can help to know you’re not alone with the whole back labor thing.

According to this (admittedly small) study, over 75% of pregnancies may have back labor toward the end.

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.

And 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.


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