Pregnancy exerts a significant toll on the body, and muscle strains are commonly reported. With an average weight gain during pregnancy of 25 to 35 pounds, coupled with the internal shifting caused by a growing baby, it is no surprise that pregnant women may end up in severe discomfort. Figures reveal that around 50% of expectant mothers suffer lower back pain at some point, which obviously worsens as the pregnancy progresses and the baby’s head exerts more pressure on the woman’s back, legs, and buttocks, affecting the sciatic nerve. Where lower back pain was pre-existing, these issues are even worse.
Pregnancy causes an almost immediate shift in a woman’s center of gravity, taking it forward to the front of the pelvis. Despite being designed to carry a baby, this displacement will still cause extra pressure on the joints. As the baby develops, this weight-shift forward continues, increasing the curvature of the lower back and placing an extra burden on the spinal disks.
Hormones released during pregnancy serve to counteract these changes to some degree, helping to loosen the ligaments attached to the pelvic bones, but they cannot fully compensate for the postural shifts taking place. Trips and falls at this time are quite a common hazard.
How To Help Yourself During Pregnancy
- Safe exercise at least three times a week will help strengthen muscles and ease discomfort. A warm-up and stretching beforehand is very important, and medical advice should be sought if you did not exercise prior to pregnancy.
- Cardiovascular exercises considered relatively safe for pregnant women include walking, swimming, and stationary cycling, as they are fairly low-impact. Jogging is advisable only for women who ran frequently before pregnancy, and then only in gentle form and after consulting your doctor.
- Exercise should only be carried out in an safe area where trips and falls can best be avoided. Heart rate should be kept below 140 beats per minute, and each period of strenuous activity should not exceed 15 minutes.
- If you notice any unusual symptoms, such as bleeding, dizziness, nausea, weakness, blurred vision, swelling, or heart palpitations, stop exercising straight away and consider seeking medical advice.
The Basics for Your Health & Safety
- Flat, sensible shoes are the order of the day. Heels worsen any postural imbalance and make a fall more likely.
- Bend at the knees, not from the waist, when picking things up, especially small children. If possible, avoid heavy lifting entirely and never turn your head when you lift.
- Rest up! Sleep when you need to, or sit down and elevate your feet for a while, and don’t be afraid to ask for help to ease your workload.
The Ergonomics of Pregnancy
- Take pressure off your lower back by sleeping on your side with a pillow between your knees. There are specially designed full-length pillows for this purpose. Lying on the left side improves blood flow and helps the kidneys flush out toxins.
- If your work involves lots of computer time, ensure your workstation is ergonomically designed. The top of the monitor screen should be below eye level, and placing your feet on a small stool will take some pressure away from your legs and feet. Get up and walk around every 30 minutes.
- As a way to reduce nausea and keep hunger at bay, small meals every four to five hours is preferable to three large meals a day. Foods high in carbohydrates and protein are good for snacking, and a handy supply of saltines can help ward off morning sickness.
- In order to reduce the chances of neural tube birth defects, such as spina bifida, it is recommended that you supplement with at least 400 micrograms of folic acid every day, both before and during pregnancy. However, always check with your doctor before supplementing to verify the safety of the products you intend taking.
How Your Doctor of Chiropractic Can Help
- Discomfort in pregnancy is made worse if there are any pre-existing imbalances in the pelvis or elsewhere. A doctor of chiropractic has the skills to detect these issues prior to pregnancy and minimize the problems for you. Their help and advice will also ensure you take all possible steps to prevent neuromusculoskeletal problems after childbirth.
- It is the experience of many pregnant women that chiropractic adjustments reduce the severity of lower back pain. These adjustments are safe for both mother and baby and are an especial boon to those women who are keen to avoid pain medications while pregnant. A doctor of chiropractic can also provide advice on other important areas, such as nutrition, ergonomics, and exercise.
- Moving beyond childbirth, help from a chiropractor is still important to tend to any joint problems that may arise as the ligaments loosened during pregnancy tighten up again over a period of around eight weeks. Joints left untreated as the ligaments readjust can lead to problems with muscular tension, headaches, rib pain and shoulder pain.
For Your Health,
Dr. Joseph Gambardella, Dr. Todd Brown and Dr. Benjamin Erb