Pregnancy is a unique and powerful experience. Enormous physical, hormonal and emotional changes take place over a relatively short period of time. The body has to adapt to carrying up to 20lb of baby, waters and placenta, which can impose physical strain on all the organs and tissues.
Osteopaths see three important stages in this process:
Pregnancy and its physical discomforts.
The demands of labour.
Recovery of the mother after birth.
Discomforts of Pregnancy
Aches and pains are common during pregnancy, as the body changes shape to accommodate the increasing size and weight of the uterus. This involves considerable changes to posture. If the mother has existing back problems, or strains in her body from past accidents or trauma, it may be more difficult for her to accommodate these changes, and she may suffer more discomfort as a result.
The ligaments of the whole body soften during pregnancy due to the action of hormones. This allows the bones of the pelvis to separate slightly during the delivery to facilitate the passage of the baby’s head through the pelvis. Unfortunately this softening affects the whole body and makes it more vulnerable to strain during the pregnancy.
Postural changes may cause backache, neckache, headaches, sciatica, aching legs and undue fatigue.
Nausea and vomiting can cause debilitating physical strains in the diaphragm and ribs.
As the uterus expands, it can stretch and squash the diaphragm contributing to heartburn.
Postural changes through the lower ribs and spine can impede the action of the diaphragm and make breathing difficult.
Tension within the pelvis or diaphragm area can increase resistance to the return of venous blood to the heart from the lower half of the body. This can cause or aggravate varicose veins in the legs, and haemorrhoids
Preparation for labour and position of the baby
As labour is likely to be more difficult if the baby is not lying correctly, it is worth trying to help them to move into a better position. The baby generally settles in a head downward position and facing backward with his spine curled in the same direction as his mother’s spine. This puts the baby in the most advantageous position for passing through the birth canal during labour.
Self-Help tips to encourage the baby to lie correctly
Try to keep as active as possible throughout the pregnancy.
‘Walk tall’, pushing your head upwards as if suspended by a string. Do not allow your lower back to slump into a very hollow position.
Sitting slouched in soft chairs encourages the baby to turn into the back to back position. Where possible, sit with your bottom well back in the chair and the lower back supported. Better still, sitting on a foam wedge, or on a chair that has a seat that tilts forward, actively encourages the baby to lie correctly.
If your baby is lying in either a breech or back to back position, then spending some time each day in an ‘all fours’ position can help it to turn.
As the baby grows and takes up more space within the abdomen there is less space for them to move about, and they will find their own preferred position. The mother’s posture has to adapt to accommodate the position of the baby, and if this conflicts with her own postural needs it may cause undue aches and pains. This is the reason that one pregnancy may be much more uncomfortable to carry than another.
An important part of preparation for childbirth is to ensure that the mother’s pelvis is structurally balanced and able to allow the passage of the baby down the birth canal.
Trauma to the pelvic bones, coccyx or sacrum at any time in a mother’s life can leave increased tension in muscles, and strains within the ligaments and bones of the pelvis. This can limit the ability of these bones to separate and move out of the way during labour, and thus limit the size of the pelvic outlet. Osteopathic treatment aims to release old strains within the pelvis, thus giving the best chance of an easy and uncomplicated labour.