I love having guest posts on this blog, especially when the topic is about specialized and important services for new and expectant parents. Today’s guest post about pregnancy and postpartum chiropractic is written by Dr. Jaclyn Borza Maher, of Inspired Health of Ithaca. Enjoy!
My partner took profile pictures of my belly every week while I was pregnant. Looking back, it is amazing to see how my body methodically grew week after week. These physical changes, are nothing short of extraordinary. However, as the body works to support the growing baby, pregnancy also adds significant physical stress. Muscles are stretched, joints become looser, aches and pains develop, and fatigue persists. Not surprisingly, about 70% of pregnant people experience low back pain during pregnancy. Many expectant parents go to chiropractors for help, and most (84%) find relief from low back pain. What most people don’t know is that pregnancy and postpartum chiropractic care can help them maintain whole body health at every stage of pregnancy and the postpartum transition.
How does a chiropractic adjustment work?
Chiropractic techniques adjust misaligned bones using a controlled force to improve joint movement and decrease pain. But adjustments don’t just move joints, they improve the body’s ability to function properly. They stimulate the nervous system to optimize the communication between the brain, spinal cord, and body. Adjustments also release muscle tension. In pregnancy, I stress the importance of pelvic joint health and muscle balance, but not just to improve daily quality of life. Pelvic alignment can impact the way the nervous system integrates vital aspects of the body to achieve a healthy pregnancy.
How can pregnancy and postpartum chiropractic help?
My goal when treating an expectant parent is to ease the physical and hormonal challenges faced throughout pregnancy and help facilitate an uncomplicated labor and delivery. Specific concerns can be addressed through treatments that include gentle chiropractic adjustments, cranial release therapy, myofascial release, guided chiropractic exercise, and nutritional counseling. This holistic chiropractic approach addresses the health story of each expectant and new parent to help them maintain a healthy and comfortable body.
How can chiropractic care help during each stage of pregnancy?
First trimester: Old injuries
When working with pregnant people during the first trimester I have one main goal in mind: address misalignments and muscular tension that were issues before becoming pregnant. Whether the person has a tendency towards tense shoulders that “flare-up” during times of stress, headaches from sitting at a computer for too long, or knee pain after too much activity, the postural stress of a growing baby can exacerbate these preexisting conditions. Treatments are focused on improving overall alignment and muscular balance to provide a solid foundation for the journey ahead.
Second trimester: Postural and hormonal changes
Postural changes become more noticeable in the second trimester. During pregnancy, the center of gravity shifts forward to the front of the pelvis. As the baby grows, the sacrum and hips tilt forward and more stress is put on the low back. With these changes, the body no longer absorbs forces in the same way. Day to day activities like walking, running, and climbing stairs are felt more acutely and muscles may easily fatigue.
Physical changes are accompanied by hormonal changes. The body releases increased amounts of relaxin, a hormone that “relaxes” ligaments and joints to allow for the expansion of the pelvis during labor and delivery. Relaxin also results in joint hypermobility. Spinal and pelvic misalignments become more common with “loose” joints. With the effects of relaxin, ligaments, which are typically strong support structures for joints, are not as resilient to chasing after toddlers at home, gardening, or strenuous exercise.
Between the postural shifts and the hormonal flux, it is common for pregnant people to experience aching hips, pain in the buttocks or legs, tense shoulders, and fatigue. Treatments in the second trimester focus on identifying “weak areas” and finding ways to support and strengthen them. Pregnant people with persisting complaints usually require an adjustment to align the pelvis and hips, but may also need additional supports or lifestyle modifications to maintain alignment and comfort. Some need to be fitted for a sacroiliac belt after proper alignment is achieved, while others need recommendations on alternate sleeping positions, ergonomics at work, or guided exercise and stretching.
Third trimester: Pelvic balancing and the Webster Technique
Proper pelvic motion becomes increasingly important as pregnancy progresses and the baby gains weight. In the third trimester the Webster Technique may be used to ensure sacral alignment and optimal pelvic movement in preparation for labor and delivery. The Webster Technique involves a specific analysis of sacral alignment, a gentle chiropractic adjustment, and myofascial release of some key ligaments. The alignment of the sacrum, the triangular bone at the bottom of the spine, can affect alignment of the entire pelvis. The pelvis has ligaments attached to it that support the uterus. Thus sacral alignment can facilitate symmetrical support for the uterus and optimize space for the baby to move freely. A prenatal chiropractor’s role in the third trimester lies in restoring balance to the muscles and ligaments that support the uterus and thus allowing the baby to assume the best position for birth.
How can chiropractic care help postpartum?
Chiropractic care is helpful after childbirth as well. In the eight weeks following labor and delivery, the ligaments that loosened during pregnancy begin to tighten up again. This is the ideal time to address postpartum complaints. People with issues brought on by pregnancy, such as related pelvic pain, sacroiliac/SI joint sprain, tailbone pain, pelvic floor weakness (leakage), and persisting low back pain often find lasting relief from postpartum chiropractic care.
Other complaints arise during the postpartum period due to the daily demands of newborn care and/or breastfeeding. Upper back tension and headaches are common among new parents as the demands of holding and feeding a newborn put significant stress on the upper body. Gentle manipulation, site-specific muscle work, and guided stretching and exercise are used to restore muscle balance, strength, and coordination to the body.
How can newborns benefit from chiropractic care?
The birth of a baby always brings an overwhelming sense of wonder to anyone that witnesses it. This is especially true when we think about the path in which every baby takes to enter the world. The birthing process, as beautiful and miraculous as it is, can be traumatic to a baby’s nervous system. If a delivery is fast, less than three hours, or if forceps, vacuum extraction, or cesarean is part of the process, it is common to see more misalignments and injury to an infant’s spine. Misalignments can put pressure on nerves that may cause symptoms elsewhere. Numerous clinical reports have shown that infants who experience torticollis, feeding difficulties and poor latch, colic, ear infections, and constipation can be helped from chiropractic adjustments. Only a fingertips touch and gentle pressure is used in chiropractic adjustments for infants, and often infants even sleep through their first adjustment in my office. Early detection and correction of spinal misalignments is a safe way to improve your child’s overall health and well-being.
It was during my own pregnancy when I gained an even greater appreciation for pregnancy and postpartum chiropractic care. I was able to find relief from symptoms that most regarded as “just a part of being pregnant.” My changing body was nurtured and supported which allowed me to be mindfully present at each stage of my pregnancy without distraction. My chiropractic visits provided relief from the ache in my hips and the swelling in my legs and I felt rejuvenated. I was free to focus on the joys of being pregnant and my growing family, and so can you!
Dr. Maher enjoys working with families to help them achieve total body health in a natural way. She focuses on restoring balance to the whole body to improve overall strength, function, and coordination. Experienced in working with people of all ages, Dr. Maher’s gentle, intuitive, and holistic care approach integrates chiropractic with applied kinesiology, cranial release, and nutrition to find and treat the source of pain and discomfort and promote healing. She received her Doctorate of Chiropractic from Northwestern Health Sciences University in Bloomington, Minnesota. She is a member of the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) and is certified in the Webster Technique. She currently resides in Ithaca, NY with her husband and two daughters. Visit Inspired Health of Ithaca to learn more.