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Oh, My Aching Joints!

Q. Since the birth of my daughter two months ago, all of my joints have been stiff and achy. Is this normal? Is there anything I can do to relieve the pain?

A. An increase in certain hormones during pregnancy loosened your joints in preparation for delivery. Unfortunately, this looseness can allow your bones to rub together and cause lingering pain. "Even after delivery, the irritation caused by this friction can persist for as long as eight weeks," says John Gianopoulos, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Loyola University Medical Center, in Maywood, IL.

Pinched nerves in the lower back are another cause of postpartum pain. "During pregnancy, a woman tends to arch her back more," says John Larsen, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at George Washington State University. This extra pressure on the spine can result in a herniated disc that uncomfortably squeezes a nerve.

To reduce pain, Dr. Larsen recommends bending at the knees to lift your new baby and handling diaper changes at a waist-high changing table rather than bending down. Ask your doctor if he can suggest any stretches that might help. You might not feel like being active, but gently stepping up your stretching and exercise routine (such as adding a short walk to your day) can make a difference. Non-nursing moms also have the option of trying ibuprofen to ease the pain. Unfortunately, there's no magic cure for your achiness, but the more carefully you use your body, the better you'll eventually feel.

If the pain persists for three months or you have a headache, rash, or leg weakness, call your doctor. Those symptoms could signal an arthritic condition or nerve impairment. "However, if the discomfort first began toward the end of pregnancy, it will likely disappear with time," says Dr. Gianopoulos.

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