For many women pregnancy means having to cope with a whole range of symptoms from back pain to morning sickness. Enormous physical, hormonal and emotional changes take place over a relatively short period of time, and huge demands are placed on the muscles, ligament and joints of the mother's body as the developing baby grows.
As the baby grows, the extra weight results in a changed centre of gravity, and posture changes week to week resulting in a variety of aches and pains, which include backache, aching legs and undue fatigue. As the breasts enlarge, pain may occur in the neck and upper back, and may also cause headaches. Some other discomforts of pregnancy, such as nausea and heartburn are related to the increasing size of the uterus crowding the internal organs. Similarly, the growing baby can make space tight for the diaphragm, stomach and bladder, leading to common symptoms such as swollen ankles, urinary frequency and heartburn.
As the baby continues to grow, the mother’s posture has to adapt to accommodate the position of the baby as it has less space to move about. If this conflicts with her own postural needs it may cause undue aches and pains. If the mother has any pre-existing back problems or strains in her body from past accidents or trauma it may be more difficult for her to accomodate to these changes, and she may suffer more discomfort as a result.
The ligaments of the whole body soften during pregnancy due to the action of hormones. This allows the bones of the pelvis to separate slightly during delivery to facilitate passage of baby’s head through the pelvis. Unfortunately this softening affects the whole body and makes it more vulnerable to strain during the pregnancy.
Conditions that osteopathy can benefit include:
Some common treatments for musculoskeletal aches and pains, such as drugs and exercise are not always suitable for pregnant women. Osteopathy offers a safe and effective way of helping the body to adapt to the enormous physiological and postural changes that take place during pregnancy and delivery. Gentle techniques are used to ease pain, reduce swelling and help the body to adopt the ideal posture ensuring efficient use of postural muscles. The cranial approach is a particularly gentle way of working with the body’s own natural mechanism for releasing and rebalancing tensions without force.
Osteopathy can help to prepare for the demands of labour and aid the mother’s recovery after the birth. Trauma to the pelvic bones, coccyx or sacrum at any time in the mother’s life can leave increased tension in muscles and strain within pelvic ligaments and bones. This may affect the ability of these bones to separate and move out of the way during labour, limiting the size of the pelvic outlet. Releasing strains within the pelvis can offer the best chance of an easy uncomplicated labour.
The symphysis pubis is the joint at the front of the pelvis between the two pubic bones. This joint is held together by strong ligaments; however, pregnancy hormones allow these ligaments to relax to enable the baby to pass more easily through the birth canal. This can lead to a painful stretching or separation of the pubic symphysis and the joint can become unstable and painful. SPD is characterised by pain at the front of the pelvis brought on by activity such as walking, climbing stairs or changing position at night. The pain can also radiate into the buttocks and low back or down the thighs. Movement can become difficult and in the most severe cases walking can be almost impossible. Osteopathic treatment aims to balance and release any restrictions in the lower spine and sacrum that disturb normal pelvic mechanics, reducing strain on the pubic area. If you suspect that you have SPD it is important to discuss this with your midwife.
After delivery, the body usually corrects itself, but stretched abdominal muscles, a sore perineum, tears, the pressure on the pelvic floor from prolonged pushing and the changes to the bladder and uterus in the weeks following birth can all hinder the process leading to pain and a feeling of instability. Births by caesarean section, use of ventouse or forceps, episiotomy, epidural or spinal block can all have an effect on the comfort of the mother. If the mothers feet were in stirrups the weight of the legs puts huge leverage through the pelvis at a time when pelvic ligaments have been stretched to their limit and are unstable. This is one of the most common causes of back problems, neck pain, general fatigue or headaches arising from the neck.
Osteopathy can help the mother return to normal, physically and emotionally, by releasing strains that may have occurred during the pregnancy and labour, allowing her to relax and enjoy her new baby. Resolving any retained strains will help the mother to be more comfortable whilst nursing baby, also help to avoid unnecessary complications in any future pregnancies.
It is advised that mother and baby return after delivery for structural examination, advice, check ups and if necessary for treatment. The sooner an osteopath is able to diagnose and treat a baby, the easier it is for the balance within that child to be restored. Any woman attending one of our clinics for osteopathic treatment during her pregnancy is entitled to a free baby check within the first 3 months following birth.
We also offer new mum and baby checks, where both mother and baby can be checked, and treated at a discounted rate. These appointments last for 90 minutes and consist of an extensive history of the mother, obstetrics history and newborn history, examination of mum and newborn assessment, followed by treatment as necessary.
Antenatal and postnatal checks involve an extensive case history that includes an obstetrics history to see if you are suitable for treatment. Our osteopaths will always ensure that patients and their babies/children seek appropriate medical advice and treatment alongside any osteopathic treatment, and will refer patients back to their GP, midwife or health visitor if a problem is not suitable for osteopathic treatment.