Many discomforts of pregnancy are related to poor posture: an aching lower back, rounded shoulders, sciatic nerve pain through the legs and buttocks. Good posture becomes imperative as the growing baby’s weight puts extra load on your spine.
Since the weight of the baby is not centred over the mother’s centre of gravity, then it can affect the mother’s postural alignment (particularly in the lower back). Ligaments, loosened from the effect of the relaxin hormone, exacerbate the impact on posture. If you think that you don’t have the time or energy to consider your posture then think again!
Lower back pain occurs during pregnancy when the spine has an exaggerated curve. The abdominal muscles become stretched as the baby grows and they are less able to keep the lower back in good alignment. The weight of the baby pulls the lower part of the spine forward resulting in pressure and irritation in the joints, discs and soft tissue. To compensate for the load, many mothers-to-be tilt their upper body back, which can create even more distortion in the lower back.
However slumping forward because of fatigue has it’s own problem as it can be more difficult to breathe and slumping pushes the rib cage down onto the stomach. The compression reduces the space available for the stomach and stomach acid may be forced into the esophagus resulting in heartburn.
Some of the common discomforts of pregnancy can be avoided by standing and sitting properly. Stretching and exercise can also play a significant role. However a word of caution needs to be added that it is important to stretch gently and not do any exercises that might put excessive strain on the joints. Check with your doctor or health care practitioner before doing any exercise program.
Tips for Maintenance of Good Pregnancy Posture:
1. Ensure you stand straight by imagining a string attached to the top of your head that someone is pulling on.
2. Try to keep your abdomen pulled in to reduce the curvature in your lower back and try to maintain a pelvic tilt.
3. Try to pull in your buttocks to ensure that your centre of gravity is over your hips (along with the abdominal muscles, this acts as a natural corset for the lower back).
4. Remember to keep your knees soft when standing as locking the knees can increase the amount of curvature on your lower back.
5. Choose a good straight-backed chair when sitting. Maintain a pelvic tilt and avoid slouching with your knees level with your hips. If necessary place a small pillow or towel in the small of your back if you feel that you need extra support. (NB never sit with your legs crossed as this can reduce circulation and is a factor in the development of varicose veins).
6. When sleeping, side lying is generally the recommended position as it is a good position to take the stress off your lower back without reducing blood flow to the placenta. By placing a pillow between your legs then you can support the weight of the top leg to reduce lower back strain. Some women find placing a pillow under their abdomen can assist in supporting the weight of the uterus.
After around the 4th month of pregnancy, back sleeping should be avoided as the weight of baby and uterus can compress blood vessels. This can reduce the blood flow to the placenta and the baby.
A pregnancy massage from a suitably trained and skilled practitioner can assist in assessing potential problem areas and provide you with a structure for maintaining good posture.
Richard Lane is a qualified remedial and sports massage therapist, with a mobile massage practice in Sydney's Inner West, http://www.innerwestmassage.com.au . Several therapists have received specific pregnancy massage training. He also operates a Sydney corporate massage business, Massage Sydney . His clinic is in the Sydney's Eastern Suburbs