Cross-Training

4 Moves to Help If You’re a New Mom with Back Pain

Strengthening your core, which includes your back, is key to feeling your best postpartum.

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There are many reasons why new moms continue to feel back and abdominal pain after the baby is born and the rest of the body has healed. For one thing, when pregnancy relaxed your ligaments, it affected the ligaments in your back, too, causing them to loosen. Your core muscles also put stress on your back when your posture adjusted to accommodate shifting abs and a baby as well as when they worked overtime to push out an infant. Simply put, postpartum back pain may linger as a result of strain and the need to regain its strength. Your abdominal muscles may feel sore, too, from the strain they underwent during pregnancy and delivery.

When strengthening your back with targeted exercises, start slowly, and emphasize quality over quantity. That means one set of just a few slow reps is more valuable to your back than several sets of many quick repeats. You can begin to do these exercises 2 weeks after a vaginal delivery or 6 weeks after a C-section.

To restore your back to a strong state, try to keep habits that protect your muscles and ligaments from further strains. You don’t want to stress your back further by overdoing a strength building routine when you get back to working out or by the repeated motion of picking up your baby. While many baby slings are designed to protect your back, if you wear one much of the day, a sling can be exacerbate back pain by pulling down hard on your shoulders and straining your back. Choose a sling carefully and consider keeping a few different options for carrying your baby so you can distribute the weight differently every day. Always bend from the knees to pick up your infant or the heavy car seat, and try to avoid hunching your back when nursing or holding your baby.

You can treat back pain by applying a cold compress to the area for 10 to 15 minutes, followed by a warm compress for another 10 to 15 minutes. The cold will reduce the inflammation (and the pain), and the warmth will relax tight, sore muscles. In addition, don’t be shy about asking your partner for a massage at the end of the day or investing in a massage therapist. All action comes from your core, so as a busy new mom balancing the components of an active lifestyle, you need your back to be strong and pain-free.

Heel Scoop

Illustration of a woman doing a heel scoop for back pain
Illustration: Nicole Kaufman

Lie on your back with your legs bent and feet planted on the floor. Slowly straighten your right leg by pressing your heel along the ground until your leg is lying flat on the floor. Then slowly lift your right leg while bending it so that you’re pulling it back toward your pelvis into its original position. Perform this entire scooping motion to a count of 6, being careful to keep your lower back on the floor while you straighten and then lift and pull your leg back to the starting position. Repeat on the left side. 8–10 reps per side.

Cobra Lifts

Illustration of a woman doing a cobra lift, which may help with postpartum back pain
Illustration: Nicole Kaufman

Lie on your stomach with your legs straight behind you and your hands planted palms down next to your shoulders. Slowly lift your torso off the ground to a count of 4, using your lower back to lift rather than your hands to push you up. Hold for 2 to 3 seconds, then lower to the original prone position, taking another count of 4 to get there. 10 reps.

Rear Leg Lifts

Woman performing rear leg lifts
Illustration: Nicole Kaufman

From the same starting position as Cobra, slowly lift your right leg to a count of 3, then lower to the floor and lift the left leg in the same fashion. You should stay flat on the floor, with the only motion occurring in your legs. 10–20 reps per side.

Arm/Leg Extensions

Woman performing arm/leg extension
Illustration: Nicole Kaufman

Position yourself on all fours, with a flat spine and your gaze at the ground (but not tucking your chin). Extend your right arm and left leg simultaneously so that both are straight and parallel to the ground. Hold for 3 to 4 seconds, then return to the starting position. Repeat on the other side, extending the left arm and right leg at the same time. Keep the extension and retraction movements slow, about 3 to 4 seconds. 10–15 reps per side.


Adapted from Fit & Healthy Pregnancy by Dr. Kristina Pinto and Rachel Kramer, MD, with permission of VeloPress.

Fit & Healthy Pregnancy