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Spinal Health During Pregnancy: What Mothers-to-Be Should Know

Spinal Health During Pregnancy: What Mothers-to-Be Should Know

It’s no secret that having a child (especially for the first time) means big changes in the lives of the new parents. But even before the baby arrives, big changes are already underway in the pregnant mother’s body—changes that usually make it possible for her to carry her developing child for nine months and to give birth safely when the time comes.

As a woman’s pregnancy progresses, the combined effects of these physical changes become clearer. Some may simply be awkward, inconvenient or uncomfortable while others can be very painful and even debilitating.

Since no two women experience pregnancy in quite the same way (and no two pregnancies are exactly alike), it’s impossible to create a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all guidebook. However, it is possible to describe in more general terms many of the physical changes that occur and to recommend ways that expectant mothers can help protect their health and maintain their quality of life. The remainder of this article will highlight some issues related specifically to spinal health during pregnancy and offer some useful suggestions.

Pregnancy is hard on a woman’s entire musculoskeletal system, but it’s particularly hard on her back. This is because of a combination of changes that adds to the stress placed on her muscles, bones, and joints while at the same time changing her posture and making her less stable on her feet.

  • WEIGHT GAIN is one of the most obvious changes associated with pregnancy. While the amount of weight a woman actually gains can vary substantially, a woman with a normal BMI prior to becoming pregnant can expect to be carrying 25 to 35 additional pounds by the time she gives birth. This means that a typical woman (her average weight in the U.S. is 156 pounds) will be about 20% heavier when she delivers her child. That’s 20% more weight for her back to support.
  • POSTURE also changes significantly as a woman’s pregnancy progresses. So not only is she carrying more weight over time, she’s also carrying it differently as her center of gravity moves forward. This shift places additional strain on the muscles and connective tissues of the woman’s lower back.
  • PELVIC STRESS increases along with the baby’s weight throughout a woman’s pregnancy and often becomes more intense during the third trimester as the baby drops in anticipation of labor. This can trigger sensations ranging from general heaviness and pressure to debilitating pain. It can also result in additional postural changes and reduced activity.
  • HORMONES that are released during pregnancy (including one appropriately called “relaxin”) make cartilage, ligaments and other soft tissues more flexible in preparation for childbirth. While this additional flexibility is critical when the big day comes, it can affect a woman’s stability when standing or walking and can also cause her joints—including those in her back—to feel “loose” or “wobbly”.

If you’re pregnant and experiencing pain in your back or pelvis, you should know that you’re far from alone. Between 57% and 69% of women complain of lower back pain during pregnancy and roughly 80% report pelvic pain of some sort. However, you should also know that there are some things you can do. Maintaining a healthy weight, paying attention to your posture and staying active can all contribute to a healthy, more comfortable pregnancy and an easier delivery. Consult your healthcare provider to find out which types of exercises might be most helpful to you in maintaining your strength and mobility at each stage of your pregnancy. A growing number of health clubs offer low-impact yoga and in-pool fitness programs designed especially for expectant mothers.

Managing the discomfort and aches and pains of pregnancy is important. However, many women (and too many healthcare providers) assume that these things are just part of the experience. Perhaps that’s why only about 32% of women report these types of symptoms to their primary doctor and only about 25% of primary doctors recommend seeking treatment for the pain.

The good news is that larger numbers of healthcare professionals are starting to recognize the value of chiropractic care and massage therapy in addressing pregnancy-related symptoms both before and after childbirth. Chiropractic treatments can be particularly effective for pregnancy-related back pain, with the majority of women reporting immediate relief or relief after just a few visits. In a small study of 17 women:

  • Sixteen of 17 (94%) saw clinically important improvements in low back pain with chiropractic care.
  • The average pain rating went down from 5.9 to 1.5 (on a scale of 0 to 10).
  • It took an average of 1.8 visits and 4.5 days to get clinically significant relief.
Chiropractic Care and Postpartum Depression

Chiropractic Care and Postpartum Depression

???????????????Many research studies have confirmed the benefits of chiropractic care during pregnancy. The postural and hormonal changes a woman goes through during pregnancy are potentially debilitating, and chiropractic adjustments have been shown to alleviate many of the most common problems. Studies have indicated that regular chiropractic care during pregnancy helps to prevent breech deliveries, permits more unobstructed fetal development, and reduces birth trauma in the infant. For the mother, chiropractic adjustments often relieve back pain during pregnancy, reduce labor time and make delivery easier.

But several of the important benefits of chiropractic care only become apparent after the birth. The hormonal and postural changes of pregnancy, combined with the stress of delivery itself, often cause severe symptoms of postpartum depression after the baby is born. Chiropractic adjustments during this recovery period can help to reduce the likelihood of postpartum depression, quicken recovery time, and help new mothers to re-normalize their pelvic and spinal structures.

At least one 1975 study published in the Journal of the American Osteopathic Association indicates that “post-partum depression is a rarity in patients receiving…manipulative [adjustment] therapy.” And the first-hand reports from the new mothers seem to reflect this same finding—many cite regular post-delivery chiropractic care as being as important to their overall mental health as it was to their physical health during the pregnancy itself. Intuitively, you can easily understand why this would be the case. Not only is the new mother’s body trying to return to some semblance of “normalcy” after nine months of pregnancy and the stress of delivery, it’s doing so during a period when they are “new mothers.” They aren’t getting enough sleep, they are so busy taking care of their new babies that they often don’t have the time to eat properly themselves or get enough exercise, and their hormones are still going crazy.

Doctors of chiropractic can offer a great deal of support during this critical period, ranging from “hands on” adjustments, relaxation therapies, and massage treatments to nutritional, exercise, and lifestyle advice that help new mothers’ bodies grow stronger. And, of course, chiropractic does this the same way it addresses other problems – in a holistic manner, without drugs and without surgery, aiming at helping the body heal itself.

From a biomechanical point of view, your “post-partum” period lasts for a full year after giving birth. It takes that long for the hormone relaxin– so essential in facilitating the bone and connective tissue changes necessary to give birth – to leave the body. During this time, the hormone continues to affect your ligaments, spine, and pelvis. It can produce pain and feelings of instability that make it difficult to stand and walk normally. These physical changes are magnified emotionally, as your hormone levels change and you deal with the pressures of being a new parent.

So even if you didn’t take advantage of chiropractic care during your pregnancy, consider using it during this period after the baby has been born. It can help in many ways, and anything that helps to re-establish your normal sense of health and well-being is good for your baby, too.