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, neck ache, 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
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.
Recovering after birth for mother and baby
The mother’s pelvis is vulnerable to lasting strains from the forces involved, particularly after a difficult delivery. Some of these strains can have a profound effect on the nervous system, and contribute to postnatal depression.
After giving birth, the body not only has to recover from the changes it made during pregnancy but also from the effects of delivery. All this whilst doing the very physically and mentally demanding job of caring for the new baby. Caring for a baby can place enormous strain on the back, during such activities as nursing in poor positions, lifting car seats especially in and out of the car, reaching over the cot, or carrying a child on one hip.
Unresolved childbirth stresses in the mother can contribute to ongoing back problems, period problems, stress incontinence, constipation, headache and more.
Osteopathic treatment aims to help the mother to return to normal, physically and emotionally, after birth by releasing strains from both pregnancy and labour. This allows her to relax and enjoy her new baby.
The baby can suffer long-lasting effects from the moulding process during birth, and an osteopathic check up is recommended. See our page on osteopathy for babies and children.
Is Osteopathy safe during Pregnancy?
Osteopaths are highly skilled and undergo a minimum of 4 years training. Gentle osteopathic techniques are perfectly safe at all stages of pregnancy. The cranial osteopathic approach is a particularly gentle way of working with the body’s own natural mechanism for releasing and re-balancing tensions, without force.
Osteopaths will always ensure that patients and their babies and children seek appropriate medical advice and treatment alongside any osteopathic treatment, and will refer patients back to their GP if a problem is not suitable for osteopathic treatment.