I carried my sleeping infant in my arms from one room to the other. I had just rocked her to sleep and was going to lay her in her plush “nest” that was sitting on the couch. I held her neck and bent down to make the gentle transfer…
And then I dropped her.
I hit the ground in seizing pain and cried out, screaming involuntarily. I wasn’t even sure what had just happened.
I looked up and was grateful to see that my baby had landed softly on the couch (we missed the “nest” completely, and she somehow managed to soothe herself back to sleep on the couch cushions).
Meanwhile, I lay paralyzed by excruciating back pain on the floor. My phone was on me, so I texted my husband to COME HOME IMMEDIATELY from work. I explained my current situation and laid on the floor crying until he got home. As I lay there, I remembered a conversation I had with a masseuse just one week prior:
“Have you seen a chiropractor since giving birth?”
“Oh my gosh. You really need to see one. Like, NOW. Everything feels out-of-whack. You know pregnancy and birth can really knock everything out of place. You just had a HUMAN leave your body! It’s why your muscles are so messed up. I’m no chiropractor, but just massaging you I can feel that everything is not where it’s supposed to be.”
“Oh. That makes sense. Okay…I’ll do that.” (Spoiler alert: I didn’t.)
The 90-minute Swedish Massage was the only thing I asked for as a Christmas gift from my husband. Since giving birth, my mid-lower back had been hurting and pain relief was the only gift I wanted. I didn’t cash-in on my great gift until Valentine’s Day. I waited so long—despite the nagging pain—because I didn’t want to leave my baby. I put her needs before my own. That massage, four months postpartum, was the first time I had taken to “treat myself” since giving birth. It felt great, but it wasn’t a cure for the lingering back pain I had.
Now, as I lay on the floor, it became clear that I had waited too long to take care of myself. It shouldn’t be a “treat.” It shouldn’t be a “luxury” to take a moment to get my body taken care of. It should have been mandatory care and it should have been done long before my back decided to have muscle spasms. I should have done something well before I put my child’s safety in jeopardy. Dropping my child really shook me up. I was so lucky she landed on the couch, but what if she didn’t kept running through my mind. This was my wake-up call.
I called a chiropractor from the floor and was in tears. She could hear the pain in my sobs and said she would take me in right away. My husband had to get me off the floor and drive me.
Every single rib was popped out of place—apparently a common thing after pregnancy and birth. My ribcage needed to make room for the human I housed inside my body. She had to work really hard to get them all to snap back in. I was completely out of alignment, and because of that, one side was working harder than the other. Apparently, I sprained a muscle in my back and the muscles around it were seizing up in order to protect it from further damage. My husband and the chiropractor carried me out with a back brace on. I couldn’t even hold myself up and I was screaming and cursing while apologizing profusely.
I was told I could not lift anything—including my child—until this injury healed. So for two days, my infant had to just lay around in bed with me and we did side-lying nursing. Eventually, I could lift her for only very short amounts of time if I had the back brace on. A week later, I was back to myself again.
You can bet your bottom dollar that I go to the chiropractor routinely now. No momma can afford to be out-of-commission for a week.
What Causes the Back Pain?
Afterward, I found out just how common postpartum back and neck pain is from my chiropractor and nearly all of my mommy-friends.
“Motherhood just takes a toll on your body,” my chiropractor, Brenda Mondragon, said to me. “A lot of women come in with their neck a mess from breastfeeding. They are looking at their sweet baby; they are making sure they’re latched; their breast-size is increasing.”
Add to that we are hunched over for months, helping our baby learn to stand up or hovering over them as they learn to sit up and threaten to fall backward at any moment. We “babywear” them on our stomachs and backs or carry them on one hip for hours of the day—all while doing things like bending over repeatedly to pick up laundry and toys, or to load the dryer and dishwasher.
However, most postpartum back pain originates before our baby arrives. Pregnancy is actually the main culprit and so we start off motherhood completely out-of-whack.
Mondragron explained to me that during pregnancy “every day is a new center of gravity, as you gain more and more weight. Then, the hormone relaxin happens and everything loosens up and exaggerates any existing spinal or pelvic problems.” As you gain weight in the abdomen, a downward, forward pull is exerted on the lower spine. The extra weight combined with the change in your gait and center of gravity sets the stage for backaches and neck pain.
What I was most surprised to learn was that your bones and ligaments stay in that relaxed position after giving birth—they are still in the same position as when you were pregnant. “It won’t go back to the way it was before you were pregnant,” Mondragon said. “You need help.”
She was clear to explain that chiropractors do not “treat” different ailments. Technically, the only thing they treat is “subluxation”, which is chiro-talk for “misalignment.” When they fix an alignment, it is then the body’s job to “self-treat” the injuries that may have arisen from the misalignment. She did not treat my sprained back muscle, for example, but she did pop all of my ribs back into place and align my back, which let my body heal itself in the correct alignment.
Before adjusting me, Mondragon asked me what position I gave birth in. What a strange question, I thought. I learned that this can greatly affect your alignment postpartum. The ICPA (International Chiropractic Pediatric Association) says on their site “Body position during delivery is also critical. Any late second stage labor position that denies postural sacral rotation denies the mother and the baby critical pelvic outlet diameter and moves the tip of the sacrum up to four centimeters into the pelvic outlet.” In other words, the popular position of laying on your back to give birth is really bad for your back (and for ejecting a human) and squatting is preferred to minimize damage to your back and pelvis.
In layman’s terms, pregnancy misaligns everything (but seeing a prenatal chiropractor can help this), and birth misaligns it even more, and your body does not “snap back” on its own. Sure, breastfeeding may help you lose the baby weight, but it doesn’t pop bones and ligaments back into place.
“It’s important to be balanced,” said Mondragon. “You can’t just give, give give. You have to sometimes work on you—or you can’t take care of your child.”