Back Labor

Back Labor

Symptoms and Causes of Back Pain in Labor

Mothers who have experienced back labor generally use expressions like “horrible” or “no break” from the pain when thinking back to the memory of their birth. Back labor is often the kind of labor that no one wants, not only due to the increased pain in the mother’s back, but because it can cause labor to be long and grueling.

In many cases, the back labor is caused by the position of the baby’s head on the mother’s back. However, in some cases, the mother can feel back pain and the baby’s position is actually favorable, known as anterior. In other cases, the baby may be positioned “sunny side up”, which is known as posterior, yet the mother does not experience back pain. What do we know about back labor?

What is Back Labor?

Back labor is a type of labor in which the mother feels most if not all of her contraction pain in her lower back. Often the back pain not only occurs during the labor contractions but also in between contractions so that the mother often feel continuous pain in her back throughout labor.

What causes Back Labor?

The size of the baby can cause the mother to feel discomfort in her back. If the labor progress and the baby’s head moves down, even a baby in an anterior position can cause back pain. It is likely however that the biggest cause of back labor comes from the baby being in a posterior position, where the back of the baby’s head is toward the mother’s back. This position forces the heaviest part of the baby’s head to rest more heavily on the mother’s lower back.

The exact medical term for a baby in this position is called occiput posterior since the occipital bone in the back of the baby’s skull aligns itself with the posterior section of the mother’s pelvis. A baby who has rotated around to face the mother’s back (which is typically a much more favorable position) is said to be in the occiput anterior position.

What are other symptoms of Back Labor?

In addition to back pain, mothers who experience back labor (especially when related to a baby in the occuput posterior position) often have the following signs and symptoms that occur with back labor:

  • Slowed progress of labor – it is not unusual to have slowed progress or even a long break in progress during labor with back labor.
  • Going into labor after your due date – it is not uncommon to be “late” with a posterior baby.
  • No contractions after your water breaks – sometimes posterior babies/back labor causes your labor to start with water breaking but labor contractions do not begin on their own for quite awhile.
  • Irregular labor contraction pattern – another symptom of a posterior baby/back labor is a contraction pattern that is not regular, for example labor contractions that “couple” with two together and longer spaces between them.
  • Longer time pushing – it is not unusual for a posterior baby to take longer to push out since the diameter of the baby’s head in the posterior postiion is larger as it descends.

Keep in mind that you may not have any of these symptoms if your baby is posterior. Every woman’s body acts differently and there is no reason to assume that you will definitely have a longer labor just because your baby is posterior.

What are Ways to Prevent Back Labor?

While there are no guarantees to prevent back labor or a posterior baby with every mother, there are some ways to learn about your baby’s position during pregnancy as well as techniques to rotate an occiput posterior baby to occiput anterior.

Stay tuned for Part 2 of


Techniques to Turn Your Posterior Baby During Pregnancy or Labor

The truth is that very few people realize that there are some techniques that can help your baby seek a more favorable position during both your pregnancy and labor. However, these are not likely to be positions or techniques that you will learn from either reading a book, talking to your primary provider or taking a class.

Although there is no hard evidence that shows us we can prevent back labor from happening by using these techniques, a good knowledge of labor physiology, the use of gravity and watching to see how babies respond often tells us that these techniques are helpful and effective. Some of the methods can take a few minutes or up to a few hours in labor to turn your baby if she is posterior. Many birth experts such as midwives and doulas have safely used these positions and techniques effectively hundreds of times over the last few years.

Here are a list of some of the most useful techniques to turn your baby or you can review the complete list of techniques.

  1. Watch for body posture to encourage positions where your knees are lower than your hips (such as kneeling, hands and knees, straddling a birth ball or straddling a chair backwards.)
  2. If you notice that your baby is lying on either your left or right nearly all the time, try to encourage the baby to rotate toward the front of your abdomen in a left-side lean over position. This position can be used while you rest or during labor if you have an epidural and need to rotate your baby while remaining in bed.
  3. If your provider can tell which side of your pelvis the baby’s occiput is on, lie on your opposite side to turn the baby.
  4. If you have had a history of back labor, use a pregnancy belt to lift your abdomen to encourage your baby to move down and into your pelvis.
  5. Use an inversion position if your baby is already in your pelvis and needs to be completely repositioned. The inversion can be done in pregnancy or during labor with support.
  6. Get the basics of your pregnancy in order – good nutrition (for healthy tissues), stay hydrated in pregnancy and labor, practice good toning exercises and get good chiropractic care whether you have back pain or not during pregnancy.

Remember that not all babies will have to turn. Some may in fact be born in a posterior position just because that is the way they were meant to come into the world!

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