Your little bundle of joy is on the way and you can’t get your mind off one thing: that aching feeling in your lower back that seems to just be getting worse by the day.
You’re not alone.
In fact, at least 50 per cent of pregnant women will experience pain in the lower back and if not adequately dealt with, that pain could even persist after giving birth. Ouch!
What’s to blame?
Weight gain, for one. The average healthy weight gain for pregnant women is more than 30 pounds. If that sounds like a lot, it’s because it is. With the extra weight comes additional stress on the back, hips, feet, ankles and knees (as if being an expectant mother wasn’t hard enough).
Secondly, as the baby grows, your core abdominal muscles stretch and thus, can’t stabilize the spine and your posture as well as they did before.
What’s more, during the third trimester the hormone “relaxin” is increased tenfold. Despite the name, relaxin is anything but. The hormone loosens the joints, allowing the pelvis to accommodate the enlarging uterus. Consequently, the loose joints force the back and pelvis muscles to work extra hard to keep the body upright and biomechanically balanced.
All of this might seem like too much for a soon-to-be mother. But fret not - there are many ways to minimize the risk of back pain during pregnancy.
Exercise is a surefire way to help increase muscle support for an aching back. Try these two simple core exercises to help reduce stress on your back.
Abdominal bracing is a simple yet effective exercise to help engage the core abdominal muscles and support the spine during pregnancy. Start by lying on your back with your spine in neutral position (neutral means maintaining the natural curve in your spine). Keeping this position, concentrate on contracting your abdominal muscles without “drawing in” or “sucking in.” This involves hardening or tightening the muscles, instead of hollowing the abdominal area. Be careful not to hold your breath. Try to hold this position for 5-10 seconds and repeat 3-5 times.
Another great exercise that helps keep the core muscles strong is the pelvic tilt. This exercise can be done sitting, standing, lying on your back, on all fours or my favourite: on a stability ball. To begin, start with your spine in neutral position. Using the abdominal muscles, bring your pubic bone forward by tucking the buttocks in with a “scooping” motion and hold for a few seconds. Then rock the pelvis in the opposite direction, arching the lower back and pushing the buttocks out. Repeat 3-10 times.
Other than abdominal bracing and the pelvic tilt, classic low impact cardiovascular activities such as swimming, walking or stationary cycling can help relieve back pain and maintain fitness. Remember, if you’re going to start a new exercise regimen, be sure to always consult a health care practitioner first.
Sleep on it
You can actually take steps to reduce back pain while you sleep.
Sleeping on your left side will help reduce the pressure of the uterus on the large blood vessels in the abdomen. This also optimizes blood flow to both mother and baby. At the same time, place a pillow between the knees and ankles to take pressure off your lower back. If you must sleep on your back, place a pillow under your knees for the same benefit.
Sleeping doesn’t need to be limited to night time either – take frequent, short naps throughout the day and keep your feet elevated to take the pressure off.
Support, support, support
I can’t emphasize it enough. Support, whether sitting, standing or walking, makes a world of difference when you’re pregnant.
Using a lumbar support at your office chair can help stabilize your posture when sitting down. If you’re out and about, flat and comfortable shoes will do wonders to support your lower back. Take note, ladies: those fashionable heels can take a back seat for nine months.
Pregnancy and back pain don’t have to be part and parcel. With a combination of the right exercise, sleeping habits and proper support, women can minimize the risk of back pain and instead focus on installing the car seat, painting the nursery and finding that perfect stroller.
For more tips please visit the Ontario Chiropractic Association (OCA) website, www.chiropractic.on.ca. Dr. Aliya Visram is a Toronto-based chiropractor with the OCA.