An Overview of Sciatica During Pregnancy

Causes, Diagnosis, and Coping Tips

In This Article

You don’t have to be pregnant to experience sciatica, but when you are pregnant, sciatica is a particularly unwelcome addition to the experience of growing a baby. Fortunately, there are things you can do to relieve the pain or discomfort of sciatica during pregnancy.

What is Sciatica?

When people talk about sciatica, they’re referring to pain that is felt along the sciatic nerve. This nerve travels from the lower back, past the hips and buttocks, and down each leg. Although the nerve is in both legs, when you get sciatic pain, it usually only affects one side.

The pain can be sharp or burning, or it may just be a persistent ache. You might also have some muscle weakness or numbness. It can happen continuously or periodically come and go with varying intensity.

Causes During Pregnancy

Sciatica usually occurs when the sciatic nerve is pinched by a herniated disk or a vertebral bone spur. Obesity or weight gain (such as from the pounds added during pregnancy) and prolonged sitting can also increase risk.

During pregnancy, weight gain and fluid retention can exacerbate sciatica, as can the increased size of your uterus. Your altered center of gravity can also be a factor. Especially during the third trimester, as your baby starts dropping and getting into the position needed for birth, your baby's head might land on the sciatic nerve, causing classic sciatica symptoms.

Another contributing factor is the hormone relaxin, which is produced in higher amounts during pregnancy. This hormone helps get the pelvis ready for childbirth by relaxing your ligaments. As ligaments become looser, the sciatic nerve can shift and become pinched.

Diagnosis

If you’re experiencing any possible sciatica symptoms, call your obstetrician. Your doctor may want to examine you or suggest you consult your general practitioner. Typical symptoms that might be sciatica include pain in the hips, buttocks, or legs, loss of feeling or muscle weakness on the affected side, or losing bowel or bladder function. Note that while sciatica might initially feel better with rest, sciatica symptoms tend to worsen with inactivity.

Your doctor may do a physical exam that will help discern whether the discomfort you feel is due to sciatica. Additionally, they can provide suggestions for finding relief.

Coping Tips

Relieving sciatica during pregnancy
Verywell / Brianna Gilmartin

Although sciatica can occur at any time, it is most likely to present in the second or third trimesters of your pregnancy as you (and your baby) gain more weight and your baby shifts to get into position for birth.

The good news is that sciatica does tend to respond to home remedies. Typically, sciatica goes away on its own, although it can take some time—and may take the birth of your baby to fully resolve. Here are some steps you can take to actively manage sciatica or sciatic pain during pregnancy:

  • Sleep on the side of your body that is not affected, even if it’s your right side (the left is often recommended the “better” side for pregnant women due to enhanced blood flow).
  • Take warm (but not hot) showers.
  • Use a warm (not hot) heating pad on the affected area.
  • Use a pillow (a regular one or a specially designed pregnancy pillow) for more comfort while sleeping. Place the pillow between your legs and under your belly to better align the pelvis and reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Consider getting a prenatal massage or trying acupuncture to help relieve pain. Check with your obstetrician before doing either of these, just to make sure it’s OK in your case.
  • Swimming can help relieve some pain because of the buoyant properties of the water, which can reduce pressure on the sciatic nerve.
  • Manage your weight gain appropriately and try to gain weight gradually rather than in bursts to minimize any sudden pressure on your nerves and bones. Seek advice from your obstetrician if you’re having difficulty with this.

If your sciatica pain is severe, ask your obstetrician about other avenues for relief, such as pregnancy-safe medications, physical therapy, or, in extreme cases, using a walker.

A Word From Verywell

Most of the time, having your baby eliminates pregnancy-related sciatica, although sometimes it may last even after you’ve given birth. In those cases, it will usually resolve as excess fluid and pounds gained in pregnancy are shed, which will alleviate pressure and compression on the sciatic nerve. If you're experiencing sciatica, make sure to talk about any remaining symptoms during your postpartum care. Your doctor will refer you to the care of a specialist if needed.

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