back pain

Relieving Pregnancy Aches & Pains

It’s not pregnancy that causes aches and pains, it’s posture. Posture while you’re sleeping, standing, walking and sitting can cause problems with your lower back, hips, shoulders, headaches and cramping. So before you reach for the bottle of painkillers, or spending a lot of money on seeing an osteopath, use the guidelines below and see if anything changes.

Once you reach 22 weeks of your pregnancy, it is strongly advisable to lie on your side (normally your left side) while sleeping. This is because you have a main vein running up the right side of your spine, and with the extra weight of your belly pressing against it when you’re on your back, you and your baby will find you get short of breath and will be restricting the blood flow to your baby. If you find yourself on your back during the night, don’t worry. Your body has woken you up so you can change position and be more comfortable.

Many doctors, midwives and physiotherapists recommend placing a pillow between your knees while you sleep on your side to help with hip and back aches. Unfortunately this is totally pointless. The first problem is that you’ll be placing too much pressure on the inside of your leg with the weight of your top leg. Given that your blood is thicker and prone to clotting (very normal and healthy; any clots are usually dissolved naturally), you don’t want to be putting extra weight onto your legs. You’re likely to experience pins and needles and cramping by doing this.

The second problem with using a pillow between your legs is that the pillow is rarely stable enough and thick enough to keep your hip joints at the right angle. This will mean that you’re back will be twisting (causing more mid and lower backache and also pressing on your belly) and your hip will be over stretching with the angle of your leg pulling down. It’s really not comfortable to lie like this, and your sleep will be compromised.

For a Joyful night’s sleep, I recommend getting either a sturdy bolster (that won’t roll) or a firm pillow from the sofa that is at least as thick as the span of your hand; your thigh needs to be at a right angle to your hip joint and your foot supported (preventing cramps). This will allow you to have a straight spine while sleeping and also give your belly enough room to be comfortable, and thus give baby enough room to move. Your lower back ache will be eased and you’ll be comfortable enough to sleep well.

If you turn over in the night, don’t worry about the leg pillows… put your leg over your partner! (If he/she doesn’t mind!!) They’re usually just the right height!

You will also need to place a small pillow under your belly as you sleep on your side. There are some ligaments from your uterus that are attached to the base of your spine, so any pulling on those may cause lower back ache. By placing a small pillow, just big enough to stop the feeling of dragging (so not very thick) you’ll find your lower back is much more comfortable, and you’re baby will have more room to move.

To help with any shoulder tension, I suggest you place a pillow parallel to the pillow under your head. Allow your shoulder to drop down between the two pillows to as you don’t squash it while you’re asleep. Having the pillow horizontally will mean that if you roll over you’ll already have the pillow in place for your other side. I also think it’s a great idea to hug on to a pillow over your chest (like you would a teddy bear). This stops your exposed shoulder from over stretching as it drops down and will also protect your breasts if they’re feeling tender.

Prevention is better than a cure, so even if you don’t have any aches, please do lie with these pillows so as to have a comfortable pregnancy. Going into labour with a sore back to start with isn’t a very good way to enjoy your child’s birth to the full.

Whenever I mention posture to a client, they immediate stiffen their back and pull their shoulders back! Here are some great tips to encourage good posture, the easy way…

When you walk, stand or sit, try and remember to have your feet pointing forwards. By turning your toes out, or your ankles in, will result in hip ache as the bones and joints are rotated. When your feet are pointing forwards and the weight of your body is evenly distributed you should feel a slight pull outwards on your thighs. If you feel the weight on your feet is uneven (on the front, back or sides), rock backwards and forwards or side to side until you feel that the weight is equal.

The weight of your body, and correct posture, should be held on your bones and not your muscles. Muscles are designed for movement and if they’re expected to take your body weight for prolonged periods they will start to ache. Place a finger on the ball of your hips (one on each side), and purposely push your bottom out. You should feel the ball of your hip roll down and back. Many women stand like this and think they have a big bum and belly; standing like this will feel like your growing uterus is dragging down. Tuck your bum under so as you feel the ball of your hips roll up and forwards. It’s only your bottom that needs to move, not your legs and knees. You should now feel the weight being held in your hips and feel a relief from your belly and back.

If your shoulders are prone to rolling forwards you’re likely to cause yourself lower and mid back aches from the muscles pulling, and also neck ache and headaches. The way you will always be able to tell if your shoulders are rolling forwards is by placing your hands by your sides. If your hands are in front of the seam of your trousers/skirt then your shoulders are rotating forwards. All you need to do to correct your posture, is to move your hands, palms flat against your leg, behind the seam of your trousers. It’s really difficult to roll your shoulders forwards when you’re hands are in this position. When walking remember to swing your hands behind the seam of your trousers, rather than in front of you. Keep practicing this and you’ll find any shoulder and neck tension will dissolve very quickly.

Standing and walking with the weight in your hips and your shoulders back will now make you look like a gorgeous pregnant woman rather than a gorgeous over weight lady. Follow these easy steps and you’ll have more space to breathe, your mood will lift, your energy will increase and your baby will have more space to wiggle!

Based in Auckland, Samantha is New Zealand’s only advanced specialist in Pregnancy, Labour & Postnatal Massage and offers a unique service to New Zealand women as a Birthing Doula and tutor. She is passionate about giving women the essential information they need to have the best chances of a Joyful Childbirth which often get over looked by the medical profession, antenatal classes and popular birthing books.

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