Osteopathy for Mums & Babies
Osteopathy for mums & babies – Pregnancy can put a huge physical strain on your body as you carry up to an extra 20lbs of baby, water and placenta around with you. As your body changes in pregnancy, so does your posture – your muscles are forced to work harder and the lumbar spine can become arched.
Mums-to-be often have pain in their lower back and legs as well as their neck and shoulders.
Pregnancy and the changes to your body
The extra weight a mum has to carry while she’s pregnant can put a huge strain on the organs and skeleton. If you’re healthy, with no existing back, neck or shoulder problems, these added strains can usually be accommodated easily with little adverse effect. But if you already have some problems, being pregnant can exacerbate them and cause aches and pains.
During pregnancy, major physical changes occur that are designed to benefit the growing baby; the mother’s body just has to cope – baby comes first!
Osteopathy can relieve many of the symptoms caused by these physical changes.
How your body changes
Weeks 1–12: The increase in uterine blood flow causes bloating and puts pressure on the bladder.
Weeks 12–16: The fundus spreads up into the abdomen and can cause back pain by pulling on the uterine ligaments.
Weeks 12–24: The uterus increases in size, dragging on the abdominal membranes as it displaces internal organs.
Week 30 onwards: The baby grows up to the diaphragm and lower ribs, which in turn have to flare to accommodate the baby. The pressure this puts on the diaphragm can affect breathing and the stomach.
During the final weeks: The uterus has taken up all the available space in the abdomen and has to bulge forwards. This changes the mother’s centre of gravity, putting strain through the thoracic spine and the shoulders. As a result, the lumbar spine becomes arched and causes low backache and leg ache.
How big is your ‘bump’ and what effect can it have?
Shorter women have a smaller abdominal space, so a growing baby has to spread outwards. Taller women have longer torsos and can accommodate the baby more easily.
The size of your bump depends on a number of factors, but particularly:
- How tall you are
- How good your abdominal tone is.
Abdominal muscle tone is a major factor in controlling and supporting the uterus and baby. Pregnancy stretches these muscles, producing a smaller bump in a first pregnancy, but a much larger one for a second or third child.
If your bump is large and your abdominal tone poor, you can develop a ‘sway back’ posture.
If the diaphragm is tight and the lower ribs are unable to spread, you could develop pain in the lumbar spine, the neck and the shoulders.
The position of the baby
The baby’s position can make a huge difference to your posture and how you carry the extra weight.
Normal presentation: The baby faces backwards and can settle into the pelvis; this is the best position for delivery.
‘Back to back’: The baby faces forwards which can cause back pain as the baby’s spine presses against yours.
Breech: The baby’s head may be wedged under the mother’s ribcage, causing discomfort to both mother and baby. It can also cause moulding distortions in the baby’s head.
Sideways: Some babies can lie across the pelvis, causing pressure on the pelvis and lateral abdominal walls. It can also cause distortions in the skull because of pressure against the pelvic brim.
What can cause back pain during pregnancy?
Existing back problems: If you already have a back problem, or you’ve suffered a trauma like a whiplash injury, it can be hard for your body to adjust properly to the changes pregnancy brings. As your uterus gets bigger, the muscles have to work harder and greater strain is placed on the lumbar, pelvic, visceral and thoracic ligaments and fascia.
Flat Feet: Relaxin is produced by the body during pregnancy to soften the pelvic ligaments. But it can also cause joints to become unstable and it can be particularly noticeable in the ligaments of the feet. When this is combined with an increase in weight, the arches of the feet can drop causing Flat Feet or pes planus. Flat Feet alters your gait and puts strain on your knees, hips and lower back – and unfortunately, it’s not a condition that recovers after birth.
You can also have referred pain into the groin and lower abdomen as the ligaments that support the uterus increase in thickness and length.
Other common problems during pregnancy:
Headaches: The dragging through the visceral fascia can pull up into the thorax, throat, neck and skull, causing a variety of symptoms such as headaches and even facial or sinus pain.
Breathing difficulties: The increase in the size of the uterus and the pressure it exerts under the diaphragm and ribcage can cause breathing difficulties and heartburn, particularly when lying down.
Pins and needles: This can be caused by nerves being dragged, stretched or kinked as they pass through the taut fascial connective tissue.
Pelvic girdle pain: The pubic symphysis can become overstretched through hormonal softening and the pressure of the baby’s head, or by a traumatic birth. Walking can become acutely painful, and if it does occur, it’s likely to happen again with subsequent pregnancies.
How can osteopathy relieve your symptoms?
Osteopathic treatment during pregnancy is focused on reducing and relieving symptoms rather than trying to make great corrections to posture or mobility. It’s really effective in helping your body adapt to being pregnant and prepare for the birth.
Here’s how it helps:
- It eases out muscles, ligaments and fascia to prepare them for the stretching and the extra weight they will have to carry.
- It eases out the diaphragm and lower ribs which allows natural flaring as the uterus emerges into the thorax.
- Osteopathy improves rib function – this allows for proper respiration and full use of available lung capacity.
- It reduces strain in the buttock muscles which happens because of the change in gait caused by fallen arches in the feet.
- It improves the mobility of any fixed or restricted areas of the spine, and allows for the fluid transfer of stresses from the lumbar up through the thoracic spine.
- Osteopathy encourages the return of normal posture, muscular and ligamentous control following the birth. It also improves and encourages general good posture which is really important when you’re lifting, carrying and feeding your newborn baby.
We can provide maternity belts or supports where needed, for symphysis pubis dysfunction (pelvic girdle pain) or if we diagnose any kind of spinal instability.
You can help to prevent aches and pains during pregnancy by keeping yourself active and making small changes to your lifestyle. Some self-help tips >>
Self-help tips for mums-to-be
Keep active: Swimming and walking are great exercise and easily accessible. Yoga and Pilates are also good for mums-to-be – find a specialist class for pregnant mothers.
Stand tall: Lift your head upwards as if it’s suspended from the ceiling by a string and don’t stick your chin out. If you have a ‘sway back’ posture, try tucking the pelvis under a little as you stand or walk.
Try not to slouch: Slouching can encourage the baby to turn into the breech or ‘back to back’ position. Sit with your bottom well back in a chair with the lower back supported. Or use a foam wedge that tips the pelvis forward a little – it’ll help your posture and encourage the baby to lie correctly.
Get on all fours: If the baby is in a breech position, spend some time each day on all fours (or crawling) to encourage the baby to turn.
Reduce varicose veins by … … walking regularly and avoiding standing still for too long. If you do have to stand, stand on tiptoes then back down again. It contracts the calf muscles and helps the veins.
… avoiding sitting cross-legged.
… sitting with your legs up on a footstool wherever possible.
If your legs start to ache: Use a rocking chair to activate the calf muscles and gently rock the baby, the viscera and the spinal muscles. You can also wear support tights and orthotics to support your feet arches and help prevent Flat Feet.
(This information is taken from ‘Osteopathy For Children’ by Elizabeth Hayden DO, normal retail price £6.00. This book is available for free when you book an appointment at The Osteopathic Practice for cranial osteopathy for pregnant mothers or infants).
Cranial Osteopathy (craniosacral)
Cranial Osteopathy is an extremely gentle treatment that’s perfect for small children and babies. It encourages the release of stresses and tensions throughout the body, including the head.
The Sutherland Society – website is a good source of information about Cranial Osteopathy.
The book ‘Osteopathy For Children’by Elizabeth Hayden DO, is available for free when you book an appointment at The Osteopathic Practice for Cranial Osteopathy for pregnant mothers or infants. The normal retail price is £6.00.