Being a new mother is tough enough and throwing postpartum pains into the mix makes it even tougher. New mothers spend very little time in the hospital after giving birth, so postpartum pains have not been given much attention by healthcare providers.
This leaves many new moms wondering how to treat postpartum pains, in addition to pelvic pain, etc. Instead, postpartum pains in the back, pelvis, and elsewhere around the body should be treated like any other pain.
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The reality of postpartum pain
According to a study published in The Journal of Perinatal Education, researchers found that women expected that once they gave birth, the pain would stop. Unfortunately, women and their partners were in for quite a surprise as they soon discovered that pain due to childbirth continued after the baby was delivered.
The study also found very little research has been conducted on postpartum pain, which the researchers attributed to the shift in care from mother to infant. The most frequently studied postpartum pains were pains from incisions with episiotomies and Caesarean sections as well as nipple pain from breastfeeding.
Otherwise, there is very little research about general pains from labor and delivery.
In this study, researchers found that there was no one location for pain after childbirth and that there were no recurring patterns. Pains could be minimal one day, then reach levels described as excruciating a few days later.
The study did not look at how to treat pain, just that pain is a real thing that women experience all over their bodies after giving birth.
At our clinic—Better Health Chiropractic in Alaska—we see women who are suffering from postpartum pains in their low backs and pelvic area. Considering that female bodies are stretched to the limit, it is not surprising that significant pain can occur after giving birth.
Sadly, according to the study in The Journal of Perinatal Education, women are so busy with their new babies that they do not take care of themselves and address the pain they are feeling.
Fortunately, there are natural ways to treat postpartum pain.
According to The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, women do not take care of themselves or they choose addictive pain relievers, like opioids or codeine to deal with pain and discomfort. But, with women who are breastfeeding, natural treatment options are better choices.
Mothers who give birth vaginally can often find relief with warm packs and cold packs. When women feel pain in their abdomens shortly after giving birth, warm packs placed on the abdomen can provide relief.
Women who have perineal pain can find relief with cold packs placed in localized areas. Warm pads and cold packs work well for the first few postpartum days, but after that, women who continue to experience pain will need more powerful natural treatment options.
Treatment methods for continued pain
In the Acta Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, researchers reported that 50% of women who have given birth report experiencing back pain and pelvic pain. But, researchers are unclear as to the actual reason why so many women experience pain.
In this study, researchers looked at different types of natural treatments including pelvic stabilization exercises, pelvic support belts, massage, and physical therapy.
While many of the methods did not have control groups, there were benefits found from several of the treatment methods. For example, postpartum women who did water exercises to treat their low back pain missed less work than women who did not do the same exercises.
Women who attended individualized physical therapy sessions reported decreased pain and many took fewer sick days than women who did not have the same treatments.
Women who used acupuncture to treat postpartum pain also found relief, as did women who used massage therapy. However, the study did not look at any statistical correlations between the different therapies; researchers were only able to use anecdotal information from women who participated in the study.
On a positive note for these natural remedies, women who did not receive any treatment reported both “troublesome and severe” back pain. So, these natural postpartum treatment methods were better choices than doing nothing at all.
Pelvic girdle stabilization exercises
A study in the journal Spine showed the effectiveness of pelvic girdle stabilization exercises. In this study, women were given physical therapy with or without the specific stabilization exercises.
All women finished the study and those who had the stabilization exercises saw the best results – which was lower pain and a better quality of life than those who did not receive the stabilization exercises in their individualized physical therapy sessions.
Pelvic stabilization exercises can be done with or without exercise bands (which you can find here) for added resistance. But, before you choose to do any exercises, be sure your healthcare provider has cleared you for them.
Kegel exercises that engage the pelvic floor are good for strengthening it. Other good stabilization exercises include fire hydrants, which are done on the hands and knees, and bridge pose while lying on your back with the knees back and the hips raised.
Strengthening the core can also help strengthen the pelvic floor.
Cupping and acupuncture
Cupping is another commonly used natural method for treating pain both during and after childbirth. In a study published in the International Journal of Community Based Nursing and Midwifery, cupping proved to be a positive natural treatment option for postpartum women.
In this study, women with postpartum low back pain were treated with dry cupping at the BL23 acupressure point.
The women who were treated with cupping found relief from pain immediately after treatment, but the relief was not always lasting.
In a follow-up study that includes acupuncture published in the Journal of Family and Reproductive Health, women found even more benefits and less pain when cupping and acupuncture was paired at the BL23 and BL25 points.
The relief was long-lasting, especially when compared to women who just received cupping treatments.
Chiropractic care for postpartum pain
Chiropractic care is another natural method for treating back pain and pelvic pain in postpartum women.
Most chiropractic research studies are case studies and one such study published in The Journal of the Canadian Chiropractic Association involved a 30-year-old woman who had postpartum pelvic pain secondary to pubic symphysis diastasis.
Her chiropractor used several methods to relieve her pain and reduce the diastasis of her pubic bones. She reported immediate pain relief and after 14 weeks, her diastasis reduced by a significant amount.
The chiropractor used adjustments, electrical stimulation using a TENS machine, a sacroiliac belt, and stabilizing exercises. Massage therapy with trigger point release was also used.
Even though chiropractors are holistic healthcare providers, postpartum women can work with their obstetricians and gynecologists along with their chiropractor.
A sacroiliac belt (like this one) is a tool often prescribed by chiropractors for people who need extra support in their low backs or pelvises. There are also belts available for use by pregnant women to give them extra support during pregnancy.
According to a study published in the Journal of Clinical Nursing, the belts did not reduce pain or discomfort. They did cause occasional adverse reactions, especially with skin irritation and discomfort. Some pregnant mothers also saw changes in fetal heart rates with maternity support belts.
While there are not any studies that show the sole benefits of pelvic support belts for postpartum women, those who used them with other treatment methods saw reduced pain. Since studies have yet to be conducted, if you choose to wear a support belt, work closely with your chiropractor or other health care provider.
Pain and possible complications
While some low back and pelvic pain are common for postpartum women, not improving is not common. In a case study published in ClinMed International Journal, a postpartum woman with low back pain sought out natural treatment methods to find relief.
She tried everything from acupuncture and massage therapy to chiropractic care and self-care with hot and cold packs. But, her pain did not subside.
Approximately six weeks postpartum, she was continuing to feel pain and visited her healthcare provider for a postpartum follow-up visit. The healthcare provider found complications at the site of her epidural and required a round of antibiotics for infection at the site.
The continual pain she experienced from the trouble at the site of her epidural caused her pain and stiffness that could have been prevented. She was fortunate that the infection did not cause problems with her spine. Other women have not been as lucky.
Yes, there are several methods for treating discomfort and pain in postpartum women. But, if the pain persists or seems at all not to be responding to the natural treatments, postpartum women should take care of themselves and see their primary healthcare providers.
About Dr. Brent Wells
Dr. Brent Wells, D.C. founded Better Health Chiropractic & Physical Rehab in Alaska in 1998 and has been a chiropractor for over 20 years. His practice has treated thousands of patients from different health problems using various services designed to help give you long-lasting relief.
Dr. Wells is also the author of over 700 online health articles that have been featured on sites such as Dr. Axe and Lifehack. He is a proud member of the American Chiropractic Association and the American Academy of Spine Physicians. And he continues his education to remain active and updated in all studies related to neurology, physical rehab, biomechanics, spine conditions, brain injury trauma, and more.