By Jaclyn Borza Maher, D.C.
“There is no other organ quite like the uterus. If men had such an organ they would brag about it. So should we.” – Ina May Gaskin
My husband took profile pictures of my belly every week while I was pregnant. Looking back, it is amazing to see how my body methodically grew week after week. These physical changes, not to mention the hormonal changes that occur in your body during pregnancy, are nothing short of extraordinary. As your body works to support your growing baby, pregnancy also adds significant physical stress. Muscles are stretched, joints become looser, aches and pains develop, and fatigue persists. Not surprisingly, about 70% of pregnant women experience low back pain during pregnancy. Many expectant moms have come to chiropractors for help. An even greater percentage (84%) of pregnant women who have received chiropractic care during pregnancy have found relief from low back pain. What most people don’t know is that prenatal chiropractic care can help you maintain whole body health at every stage of pregnancy.
How can chiropractic help during pregnancy and beyond?
My goal when treating an expectant mom is to ease the physical and hormonal challenges faced throughout pregnancy and help facilitate an uncomplicated labor and delivery. Specific concerns can be addressed through treatments that include gentle chiropractic adjustments, cranial release therapy, myofascial release, guided chiropractic exercise and nutritional counseling. This holistic chiropractic approach addresses the health story of each mom-to-be to help you maintain a healthy and comfortable pregnancy.
How does a chiropractic adjustment work?
Chiropractic techniques adjust misaligned bones using a controlled force to improve joint movement and decrease pain. But adjustments don’t just move joints, they improve the body’s ability to function properly. They stimulate the nervous system to optimize the communication between your brain and body. Adjustments also release muscle tension. In pregnancy, I stress the importance of pelvic joint health and muscle balance but not just to improve your daily quality of life. Pelvic alignment can impact the way your nervous system integrates vital aspects of your body to achieve a healthy pregnancy.
How do treatments help during each stage of pregnancy?
1st trimester: Old injuries
When working with pregnant moms during the 1st trimester I have one main goal in mind: address misalignments and muscular tension that were issues before becoming pregnant. Whether you have a tendency towards tense shoulders that “flare-up” during times of stress, headaches from sitting at a computer for too long or knee pain after too much activity, the postural stress of a growing baby can exacerbate these pre-existing conditions. Treatments are focused on improving overall alignment and muscular balance to give you a solid foundation on your journey through pregnancy.
2nd trimester: Postural and hormonal changes
Postural changes become more noticeable in the 2nd trimester. During pregnancy, your center of gravity shifts forward to the front of your pelvis. As your baby grows, your sacrum and hips tilt forward and more stress is put on your low back. With these changes, your body no longer absorbs forces in the same way. Day to day activities like walking, running and using the stairs are felt more acutely and your muscles easily fatigue.
Physical changes are accompanied by hormonal changes. The body releases increased amounts of relaxin, a hormone that “relaxes” ligaments and joints to allow for the expansion of the pelvis during labor and delivery. Relaxin also results in joint hypermobility. Spinal and pelvic misalignments become more common with “loose” joints. With the effects of relaxin, your ligaments, which are typically strong support structures for your joints, are not as resilient to chasing after toddlers at home, gardening, or strenuous exercise.
Between the postural shifts and the hormonal flux, it is common for moms to experience aching hips, pain into the buttocks or legs, tense shoulders and fatigue. Treatments in the 2nd trimester focus on identifying your “weak areas” and finding ways to support and strengthen them. Moms with persisting complaints usually require an adjustment to align the pelvis and hips, but may also need additional supports or lifestyle modifications to maintain the alignment and comfort. Some need to be fitted for a sacroiliac belt after I ensure proper alignment, while others need recommendations on alternate sleeping positions, ergonomics at work or guided exercise and stretching.
3rd trimester: Pelvic balancing and the Webster Technique
Proper pelvic motion becomes increasingly important as pregnancy progresses and your baby gains weight. In the 3rd trimester I use the Webster Technique to ensure sacral alignment and optimal pelvic movement in preparation for labor and delivery. The Webster Technique involves a specific analysis of sacral alignment, a gentle chiropractic adjustment and myofascial release of some key ligaments. The alignment of your sacrum, the triangular bone at the bottom of your spine, can affect the alignment of your entire pelvis. Your pelvis has ligaments attached to it that support the uterus. Thus sacral alignment can facilitate symmetrical support for the uterus and optimize space for your baby to move freely. A prenatal chiropractor’s role in the 3rd trimester lies in restoring balance to the muscles and ligaments that support the uterus and thus allowing your baby to assume the best position for birth.
How can chiropractic care help postpartum?
Chiropractic care is helpful after childbirth as well. In the eight weeks following labor and delivery, the ligaments that loosened during pregnancy begin to tighten up again. This is the ideal time to address your postpartum complaints. Women with issues brought on by pregnancy, such as related pelvic pain, sacroiliac/SI joint sprain, tailbone pain, pelvic floor weakness (leakage), and persisting low back pain often find lasting relief from postpartum chiropractic care.
Other complaints arise during the postpartum period due to the daily demands of newborn care and/or breastfeeding. Upper back tension and headaches are common among new moms as the demands of holding and feeding a newborn put significant stress on the upper body. Gentle manipulation, site-specific muscle work and guided stretching and exercise are used to restore muscle balance, strength and coordination to your body.
How can newborns benefit from chiropractic care?
The birth of a baby always brings an overwhelming sense of wonder to anyone that witnesses it. This is especially true when you think about the path in which every baby takes to enter the world. The birthing process, as beautiful and miraculous as it is, can be traumatic to a baby’s nervous system. If a delivery is fast, less than 3 hours, or the use of forceps, cesarean section or suction is used, it is common to see more misalignments and injury to an infant’s spine. Misalignments can put pressure on their nerves that can cause symptoms elsewhere. Numerous clinical reports have shown that infants who experience torticollis, feeding difficulties and poor latch, colic, ear infections, and constipation can be helped from a chiropractic adjustment. Only a fingertips touch and gentle pressure is used in chiropractic adjustments for infants, and often infants even sleep through their first adjustment in my office. Early detection and correction of spinal misalignments are a safe way to improve your child’s overall health and wellbeing.
It was during my own pregnancy when I gained an even greater appreciation for chiropractic care throughout pregnancy. I was able to find relief from symptoms that most regarded as “just a part of being pregnant.” My changing body was nurtured and supported which allowed me to be mindfully present at each stage of my pregnancy without distraction. My chiropractic visits provided relief from the ache in my hips and the swelling in my legs and I felt rejuvenated. I was free to focus on the joys of being pregnant and my growing family, and so can you.
Dr. Jaclyn Borza Maher has a passion for working with pregnant women and their families to help them achieve whole body health in a natural way. She is a member of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) and is certified in the Webster Technique. Visit www.jmaherchiropractic.com to learn more.