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Pregnant & Have Back Pain? It May Be Your Bra

Denise Jagroo, DPT, WCS
December 17, 2014
December 17, 2014

We know it is difficult to scold a woman to stand straight when her belly and breasts may be pulling her forward. But we'll do it anyway because we want to help you!

Women often experience shoulder and upper back pain from engorged breasts, changes in posture, different sleep positions, and poor body mechanics during their pregnancy. (According to the March of Dimes, women can gain two pounds in their breasts alone!) As your pregnancy progresses, there is more stress on your upper back muscles. Your center of gravity shifts forward and your muscles are working hard to maintain your posture.

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Feel the muscles between your breasts and your armpits. Are they sore? These muscles are your pectoralis minor muscles. If you're sitting or standing with hunched shoulders, they will tighten up. Ideally, your shoulders should be situated under your ears, not in front of them. But most things in life are in front of you — your desk, dinner table, baby(ies), steering wheel ... So it is common for these muscles to be tight and sore.

What can you do? Wear the right size bra!

It's important to wear the right size bra, as an incorrect fit can put too much pressure on the girls and can cause mastitis (inflammation of the mammary glands) and plugged milk ducts. Additionally, supportive bras will help prevent unnecessary strain on your neck and shoulders.

We know pregnancy comes with a lot of expenses. But skimping on good bras will contribute to upper body pain and discomfort. This pain will be worse than that on your wallet. While we recommend you visit a department store or lingerie shop to have a bra expert help you select the best bra, here are some tips if you're shopping solo.

A bra fits well if:

  • It's not too tight or too loose.
  • Your breasts fill the cup of the bra leaving no loose fabric and contain the whole breast without any bulging at the top, bottom, or sides.
  • The strap at the back doesn't cut in.
  • The shoulder straps don't carry the full weight of your breasts, stay in place when you lift your arms above your head, and fit closely to your body without digging in.
  • The strap round the back and the front underband lie close to your body and are at the same level at the front and back.
  • With an underwire bra, the underwire lies flat against your body and supports the underneath and sides of your breast without digging in or gaping.

It is sometimes suggested that pregnant women shouldn't wear underwire bras as the wiring can sometimes cause blockages in the milk ducts. However, there is no evidence to support this. As long as the bra fits you well and the wires of the bra aren't digging in, there is no reason to stop wearing an underwired bra.

However, you may find it more comfortable to wear a maternity or soft cup bra. These types of bras can also be worn in bed if you feel you need extra support while sleeping.

This excerpt has been reprinted with the permission of Demos Health Publishers from Jill Hoefs' and Denise Jagroo's new book, Your Best Pregnancy: The Ultimate Guide to Easing the Aches, Pains, and Uncomfortable Side Effects During Each Stage of Your Pregnancy (Demos Health, November 2014).

Jill Hoefs, MPT, is a certified physical therapist and owner of Body Align Physical Therapy with locations in New York City and Summit, NJ. She is a licensed instructor in the Tupler Technique and specializes in treating diastasis recti. In addition to treating patients, Hoefs teaches classes on child birth preparation and postpartum recovery.

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Denise Jagroo, DPT, WCS author page.
Denise Jagroo, DPT, WCS

Denise Jagroo, DPT, WCS, treats pelvic, obstetric, and orthopedic dysfunctions at her practice in New York City. Jagroo lectures nationally and offers workshops on pregnancy, postpartum, and pelvic health.