Although it can be a time of significant emotional, physical, hormonal and social change as the body adapts to and recovers from childbirth, pregnancy need not be painful!
Normally a tough band of ligaments stabilise and hold your pelvic bones together, however, during pregnancy a number of hormones are released to allow the separation of the pelvis for delivery. As a result you may feel more flexible or prone to ‘putting something out’ due to hormones (relaxin, oestrogen and progesterone) responsible for ligament laxity; smooth muscle relaxation; and fluid retention. This hyper-mobility can continue for several months after childbirth, or more, if you breastfeed for longer.
So why is this natural adaptation painful?
It is the job of ligaments to limit joint movement and prevent us from ‘straining’ something. As these hormones make the ligaments looser, it becomes the job of our muscles to bear the load and protect our joints from injury. As a result, you may experience stiff, tender or tired muscles in your back, hips, neck and shoulders.
Tip: Muscular aches and pains respond well to heat. Try a warm bath, hot water bottle or gentle stretching to relax the muscles (Remember you are more flexible than usual, so take care not to over-stretch your joints and muscles).
Pregnancy pains commonly encountered due to these hormonal changes include:
- Back Pain
- Neck and Shoulder Pain
- Pelvic Ring Syndrome or Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD)
- Carpal Tunnel Syndrome (Wrist/Hand Pain) due to fluid retention
Tip: Sleeping posture is important. Sleep with a pillow between your knees if you sleep on your side, or with pillows under your knees if you sleep on your back. This will maintain good spine and pelvis alignment. Ask your osteopath for advice about taping to support the pelvis during the daytime.
You will undoubtedly change in size and shape over the next year, and this is usually a smooth transition providing the baby has enough space for development. As your organs rearrange, you may notice strange symptoms such as, itching as a result of the liver being restricted; constipation from the relaxation of the smooth muscle in the gut/lack of gut mobility; and gastro oesophageal reflux from the squeezing of the stomach.
Tip: Stretching the hip flexor muscles and diaphragm through abdominal breathing exercises and floor lunges, will increase the space within the abdomen and reduce symptoms of heartburn and constipation, caused by the baby pushing into the limited space. Ice can help to reduce itching.
Expectant mothers usually find they suffer from the following conditions as a result of gaining weight and change in posture:
- Morning sickness
- Heartburn and Chest Pain
- Stretch Marks
Tip: A ‘waddling’ gait can affect joints as high as the head and neck (contributing to headaches) and increase weight bearing through the sides of the feet. It is important to consider sensible footwear, which will improve the way forces are transferred from the ground up through your body. Trainers are best type of footwear to counteract these problems!
How can you reduce the likelihood of postural related pain?
All mothers carry differently and have diverse lifestyles, so it is important to consider what your body goes through on a daily basis and how can make improvements. For example, if you work at a desk, make sure the chair is properly set up or swap it for a medicine ball and take regular breaks. Make sure your bras fit properly and the strap is thick enough to provide sufficient support for your shoulders and upper back. Remember to keep your chest open and lifted. Good management of daily activity can greatly reduce your risk of pain and discomfort during pregnancy, so talk to your Osteopath for more advice.
Once the baby is born, good posture whilst breastfeeding is also essential – make sure you are sitting comfortably in an upright position and not slouching or curling your shoulders forward. Bring your baby to you and not the other way around. You can support yourself with pillows under your arms, in the small of your back and behind your neck.
Tip: It is also important that you regularly change the direction your baby is facing to prevent them favouring neck movements to one side more than the other.
If in doubt, always call your midwife, doctor or 111 immediately.
Symptoms that require urgent medical treatment include:
- Pre-Eclapmsia (Visual changes, severe headaches, high blood pressure, swelling)
- Severe Abdominal Pain
- Lack of Foetal Movement
- Symptoms of Deep Vein Thrombosis (pain, swelling and redness in the calf, possible shortness of breath)
- Fever or symptoms of sepsis.
Osteopaths use hands-on techniques similar to that of a Chiropractor or Physiotherapist. An Osteopath’s role is to support you and your body during and after pregnancy to promote a healthy and enjoyable experience!
Article written by Ms Holly Siddall an osteopath practising from the Chelsea Pharmacy Medical Clinic and the Hurlingham Club.