Back Tips For Expectant Mothers

  • Downhome Magazine
  • Posted: Aug 22, 2008 4:54 PM
Pregnancy is a wonderful experience for most women, filled with many hormonal and biomechanical changes that are fascinating to observe. I can attest to this firsthand; as I write this column I am eight months pregnant myself.

During the nine months of pregnancy, as these rapid changes take place, the body's pelvic joints and ligaments prepare themselves for labour and delivery by widening and relaxing. The spine must also adapt to these changes - not to mention supporting the sudden weight gain! As the abdomen enlarges the abdominal muscles stretch, shortening the back muscles. This increase in weight at the front of the body causes a shift in the centre of gravity and therefore an increase in what is called lumbar lordosis - a curvature in the lower back. In other words, pregnant women often have bad posture. This may lead to back pain as pregnancy progresses.

There are preventative measures that can be taken to reduce the likelihood of such back pain. Every pregnancy is unique and therefore the symptoms experienced are unique. Nonetheless, the following advice can be applied to all expectant mothers.

Practice perfect posture
Be conscious of your posture. The goal is to maintain as perfect a posture as possible by standing tall and lengthening your neck. Relax your shoulders but do not slump forward, and gently pull your shoulder blades together in the middle of your back. Tighten your stomach muscles and slightly tilt your pelvis upward, reversing the tendency to curve your lower back by sticking out your buttocks. This posture will help keep your muscles strong, and reduce the strain on your back as your body changes over the course of your pregnancy.

Sleeping, standing and sitting
Sleeping may become more difficult as your pregnancy progresses. It is best to lie on your left side so blood flows from your legs back to your heart more easily. Also, place a pillow between your knees to keep your spine and pelvis straight, helping avoid unnecessary strain or tension in the area.

Standing may also become more challenging. As my own pregnancy has progressed I've found it tremendously helpful to take occasional ten-minute breaks to elevate my feet. This can decrease swelling that may be occurring around your feet and it feels absolutely great! It is also important as your belly grows to wear proper footwear. Avoid wearing flip-flops (they offer little support) or high-heels, as you already have an increase in your anterior weight, which causes you to arch your back as described above. High-heels will accentuate this uncomfortable phenomenon, as I found out myself a few weeks ago!

Sitting too long - even in a decent chair - will also cause your back and feet to ache. Get up often and move around; stretch out your lower back, hips and legs, and rotate your ankles. Sit in a supportive chair without slouching.

Keep exercising
Another way to ensure ideal posture is to exercise regularly. This helps maintain muscle strength and suppleness. If you have not regularly exercised before, pregnancy is not the right time to begin a strenuous workout routine. However, if you have exercised regularly prior to becoming pregnant, you can continue your workouts as long as you avoid getting dehydrated, overheated or exhausted.

It is also advised to switch from higher impact activities to more gentle ones. For instance, this winter my husband and I bought snowshoes to go on hikes instead of skiing, which allowed us to exercise while reducing risk of falls. Swimming is another great exercise that can be done during pregnancy. It gives you a chance to get in the prone position (on your stomach), which promotes optimum blood flow to the uterus and is very comfortable! The pressure of the water promotes fluid loss and is therefore beneficial to women who tend to swell during pregnancy. Walking is also a great exercise choice, although you may want to avoid strenuous hiking late in pregnancy when you tire more easily and have a heavier frontal load to carry, making you clumsier. I discovered this a few weeks ago while hiking one our favorite East Coast Trail sections. We have stuck to more level ground since then to be safe!

For many expectant mothers, a chiropractor can also play a key role in making this as comfortable a time as possible. A chiropractic assessment will determine if there are any areas in your spine or pelvis that are not moving as well as they should be. If this is the case and subsequent treatment is deemed appropriate, soft tissue therapy and spinal manipulative therapy will follow to help restore normal motion again in these areas, thus making your back and pelvis more limber and relaxed in preparation for labour and delivery.

Dr. Krista Prowse, D.C., is a chiropractor at East End Chiropractic Clinic in St. John's.