Pregnancy is a time of big change in a woman’s body. Up until the 14th week of pregnancy, and then again towards the very end, the body begins to increase production of the hormone relaxin. This hormone lubricates joints, tendons, and ligaments, allowing them to become more flexible in preparation for birth. While this increased hormone production is necessary to help the pelvis open for birth, the result can be increasing back pain and discomfort that may begin to radiate down the legs.
Chiropractic care during pregnancy can help with this pain, but it is important to understand how chiropractic care works, along with any risks.
Physical changes during pregnancy, combined with increased hormone production, can cause severe lower back pain as a pregnancy progresses. The more elastic tendons and ligaments of the pelvis begin to lose some stability as the baby grows. This excess weight in the front of the body and the instability of the pelvis create an anterior tilt of the pelvis (a backward tilt) that causes compression in the lumbar spine. While the low back is naturally curved, the stress on the muscles that help support the low back (the piriformis muscles and iliopsoas muscle) increases. At a minimum, this can cause soreness and stiffness in the low back, but in many cases the pain is extreme and radiates down the legs.
As the curve in the low back deepens, the upper back begins to curve to help compensate. This is an unsteady and unbalanced posture that can cause an increase in falls due to a shifting center of gravity and a spine that is not supportive.
Not only is this unnatural pelvic tilt and spinal alignment painful, but it can actually hamper the development of the baby. In a condition called intrauterine constraint, the tilted pelvis may limit the amount of space available for the baby to grow. Babies shift position quite a bit over the course of a pregnancy, and it is important that they be able to move into a head-down position for birth. Babies who have a restricted amount of room may present in a breech position, feet first, increasing the chances of a non-elective cesarean section.
Chiropractic care can help relieve back pain and make space for the growing baby. Here’s how.
1. Gives the baby room to grow and prevent breech presentation
Chiropractic care during pregnancy helps correct pelvic alignment to create room for the baby to move and grow. Babies may be feet down until as late as 37 weeks, with approximately 4% of all babies presenting breech at birth. Larry Webster, D.C., founder of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA), developed a technique of chiropractic care (the Webster Method) that is clinically proven to correct breech presentation in 82% of cases. This technique can be started as early as the eighth month for babies still in breech position.
2. Relieves back pain
With the baby pulling the entire front body forward, a mother’s low back takes the brunt of the abuse. Regular chiropractic adjustments throughout pregnancy can help decompress the low back and bring the spine into proper alignment.
3. Reduces the time of labor and delivery
The pain of labor and delivery is ultimately rewarded with a beautiful baby at the end. Chiropractic care can help decrease the time between the pain and the reward. A well-aligned spine reduces the amount of nerve compression which helps contractions to be more effective and productive.
4. Helps bring the body back into alignment after delivery
The tendons and ligaments that are elastic and stretched during pregnancy and birth eventually begin to contract and become more rigid post-partum. Chiropractic care can help bring the body safely back into alignment as these changes occur, minimizing joint pain or discomfort as the pelvis returns to its pre-pregnancy state.
But is chiropractic care safe for pregnant women and their babies?
The short answer is yes: chiropractic care is generally very safe for expectant mothers and has very few, if any, side effects.
Chiropractors receive extensive training on chiropractic care during pregnancy, and some choose to specialize in chiropractic care for pregnancy and pediatrics. The International Chiropractic Pediatric Association has an online search tool to seek out such doctors. It is important to look for a Webster-trained or certified chiropractor.
While chiropractic care for pregnancy is recommended for all moms-to-be, there are some women who should definitely visit a chiropractor throughout their pregnancy:
• Women with a history of back or pelvic pain during a previous pregnancy
• Women with a previous back injury or with a history of accidents or falls
• Women attempting a VBAC (vaginal birth after C-section)
• Women who have been told that their pelvis is too small or improperly formed for a vaginal birth
• Women with a previous breech baby
Though universally considered safe for pregnant women, there are some contraindications to chiropractic care. These include ruptured membranes, premature labor, sudden pelvic pain, cramping, and toxemia. Additionally, any diagnostic imaging should be kept to a minimum or eliminated during pregnancy.
Chiropractic care during pregnancy is an excellent way to keep the body fit and well-aligned for the work of carrying and birthing a baby. When combined with abdominal and back exercise for muscle strengthening and support, chiropractic can be an excellent way to keep expectant mothers comfortable and strong throughout their pregnancy.