As a chiropractor who works on many pregnant women, I am always observing postures and mechanics of soon-to-be and new moms. I often see pregnant women in St. Louis, walking around Creve Coeur Lake or Forest Park, holding their lower back or rolling-out their neck as they take a break on a park bench. Whether you are pregnant or a new mother, this may sound like you? Motherhood often brings a gaggle of new aches and pains. Symptoms are commonly attributed to postural changes during pregnancy, “trauma” while going through labor and delivery, or even to your “new mom tasks.”
I use the word “trauma” lightly. You may have had a very easy, emotionally non-traumatic birth, but even so, your body just went through a great deal of physical stress. From head-to-toe, the muscles, ligaments and joints in your body have been stressed in one way or another. This is also true for cesarean sections. Chances are, you had a long, arduous labor leading up to a C-section. Even scheduled C-sections, take a tremendous toll on your body. A C-section is an invasive abdominal surgery, due to the cutting through many layers of skin, fat, and muscle, damaging any “core” you once had.
If you are a new mom, my guess is, you are experiencing some level of discomfort. After a taxing pregnancy and delivery, now you have a little one, totally dependent on you. Needing you to feed him, hold him, and rock him to sleep. Activities like these can wreak havoc on posture, leading to a cascade of issues including stress, pain, headaches and postural deformities.
Let’s start with neck and shoulder pain. Infants constantly need the warmth and comfort of their mom (and/or dad). They generally get this through being held or fed. Because most people are usually dominant on one side of their body, we typically pick up, hold, and feed infants on the side that allows us to freely use our dominant hand. If you are still in the pregnancy stage, imagine lifting and holding seven plus pounds in one arm all day every day. If you are a new mom, you don’t have to imagine it. You already know what I’m talking about. Because of this unbalanced weight distribution, your muscles, ligaments, and joints in the neck and upper body tend to “compensate” and work harder to accommodate this new posture. This causes increased muscle tension and an imbalance in your muscles, often leading to postural deformities. I am guessing, you can understand how this leads to pain and discomfort.
Headaches are another condition that is often associated with “new mom stress.” Headaches can be caused by an increase in mental and emotional stress, but also by physical stress. Like I mentioned before, the increased muscle tension and postural changes in the neck and upper back, can often lead to “tension headaches.” These are headaches that usually begin with neck pain and then radiate into the back of the head and sometimes the forehead or behind the eyes. Nursing moms get this type of headache because they are looking down watching their child feed for extended periods of time throughout the day.
Now lower back and hip pain. There is a multitude of reasons new moms may experience lower back and hip pain.
The first, is the nine months of pregnancy. Because of the increased weight on the front of the body, the muscles and joints in the lower back and hips are greatly stressed. This causes altered biomechanics of the lumbar spine and pelvis. Unfortunately, this is not automatically reversed when the baby is born. Often, new mothers continue to experience pain associated with postural changes and pelvic dysfunction long after pregnancy because it is the “new norm” for the mother. It may take chiropractic care or muscle therapy to return the muscles and joints to their “pre-pregnancy” status.
Second, there can be pain associated with the birthing process. Without going into too many gory details, your hips and pelvis are put through a lot when the baby moves down and out of the birth canal. Thankfully, our hormones are designed to relax the muscles and ligaments, allowing the pelvis to “open” during this process, but it still very stressful on the body. Hormone levels typically return to “normal” (pre-pregnancy) levels about 6-8 weeks post-delivery. Because of this 6-8 week gap, the pelvis can be “unstable” due to the laxity of the muscles and ligaments.
Third, the epidural. Yes, the epidural is supposed to “block” out the pain and discomfort of contractions. Despite this, many women report pain while getting the epidural, as well as continued pain at the epidural site long after birth. It is typical to have pain at the epidural site for days to weeks after giving birth. I have even had patients tell me they continue to experience intermittent low back pain for a few years following an epidural.
The last major cause of low back and hip pain in new moms, is plainly, the ergonomics of a new life style and child rearing. This may include, repetitive bending over to pick up your child, “babywearing,” getting up and down on the floor to spend time with the child, sharing a bed, etc.
I’m not trying to scare you. Many moms feel great after pregnancy and delivery. For those who do not, chiropractic care, can often be your solution. By mobilizing the joints, reducing muscle tension, and strengthening weak muscles (through specific exercises), your body CAN return to “normal,” or how you felt prior to your pregnancy.
Now for my shameless plug… If you are from the St. Louis or St. Charles area, I always recommend the Birth and Wellness Center of O’Fallon, or the Mercy Birthing Center. Both offer comprehensive, thorough care, unique to your wants and needs. It is a great alternative to a typical hospital birth, for those looking for a more holistic, natural approach. Along with your obstetric or midwifery care, chiropractic care in the prenatal and postpartum periods can help you feel better and achieve your health goals.