by: Guest Contributor
Now that you’re in your second trimester, you’re probably pleased to have that cute little (or not so little) pregnancy bump, as opposed to just looking slightly out of shape and wearing ill-fitting clothing. People smile when they see you and most likely offer you their seat on the bus.
But with that bump comes excess weight and pressure on your joints and ligaments. The second trimester is when most people begin to experience back pain and may feel joint and pelvic pain.
As your pregnancy progresses, these aches and pains become more pronounced — if you don’t manage them. But with a little effort and some healthy exercises and tips, these little pains can become manageable.
If you have experienced back pain prior to pregnancy, your pregnancy will most likely exacerbate those symptoms. Start strengthening your back before you start trying to conceive suggests Paula Giblin, a Certified Nurse Midwife and Director of Perinatal Services at the MCPM Clinic in Denver. She suggests trying yoga, swimming, and Pilates.
Even women in the best of shape can experience lower back pain as well as neck and muscle tension. As your baby grows, your uterus grows as much as 1,000 times its original size. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, this amount of growth — when centered in one area — affects the balance of your body and may cause discomfort. Most women’s posture changes as their belly grows and they begin to lean back, which makes their back muscles become strained. And your newly voluptuous shape can also trigger neck and shoulder strain as your larger breasts pull on those muscles.
A big culprit is the pregnancy hormone relaxin, which does what it sounds like — it relaxes and loosens your joints and muscles to help the baby make its way out of your lower body. The added weight bearing down on loosened joints and ligaments can create all sorts of aches and pains — usually moderate, but in some cases severe.
Fortunately, there are multiple ways to relieve back pain. One of the most enjoyable suggestions is regular prenatal massage. CAPPA Certified Doula Sarah Murane says that massage therapy can help enormously with muscular pain. She also suggests heating pads and warm baths or showers.
“A good position to find relief any time of day is to simply sit backwards on a chair to take the pressure off your spine and relax your back,” she says. “Also, make sure you keep your low back supported with pillows when sitting in a chair.” Murane also stresses the importance of proper body alignment while you sleep. “Always have something [a pillow or towel] between your knees to take the pressure off your lower back and hips, and use a good pillow to help keep your body aligned properly.”
Regular exercise will not only help relieve pain and help your body get back into proper alignment, says Giblin, it will also help strengthen your body so you minimize your risks of additional aches and pains. Swimming, water aerobics, prenatal yoga, and other types of low-impact and/or strengthening routines will go a long way to help alleviate back and other pains — and help you lose the baby weight faster after you give birth.
Other suggestions to minimize back pain include wearing low-heeled (not flat) shoes, practicing good posture, and wearing some sort of maternity belt for extra support. Be sure to lift properly, bending at the knee and not at the waist, using your legs instead of your back. And ask for help with heavy objects; don’t overdo it.
If pain persists or becomes unmanageable, consider visiting a physical therapist or chiropractor.
Again, it’s because that pregnancy hormone relaxin is living up to its name that many pregnant women experience hip pain in their second or third trimester. Hip pain is usually caused by the loosening of the ligaments holding together the sacroiliac joints, which connect your spine to your pelvis. While this joint-and-ligament relaxation helps with the birthing process, it can cause pain in your hips, lower back, and legs as the weight of your uterus bears down on your newly mobile bones and joints. It can result in inflammation, misalignment or bones grinding against bones. Additionally, a change in gait (think waddle) can add extra stress. According to Sharon Phelan, M.D., professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of New Mexico, with each subsequent pregnancy these symptoms tend to show up earlier and earlier.
In addition, sleeping on your side, which is a must in the later stages of pregnancy, can cause hip pain because of the pressure. Overweight people or those with prior hip pain will tend to have greater issues.
The best thing, says Phelan, is to try to keep your anatomy squared when you’re sleeping. “Try to keep your hips straight with a body pillow to help maintain the normal contours of your back, and a pillow between your knees to relieve the pressure,” she suggests. Again, practicing good posture and avoiding slouching can help alleviate pressure.
Activities like prenatal yoga and Pilates can help stabilize these joints and provide relief. Unfortunately, hip pain can occur while walking, and subsequently walking can exacerbate it. A chiropractor or physical therapist can get your body back into alignment, help alleviate the pain, and allow you to resume most of your normal daily activities.
Michelle Sang, M.D., an OB/GYN at Portland Obstetrics & Gynecology Associates, suggests water exercises to take the weight off the joints. “Being in the pool when you’re pregnant can be really soothing and you can do strengthening exercises to keep things in alignment,” she says.
Lastly, a simple warm bath or therapeutic massage can go a long way in providing relief and comfort from hip pain and many other pregnancy discomforts.
Pelvic pain is most commonly caused by the softening of the symphysis pubic (aka your pubic bone), by that darn pregnancy hormone relaxin and the weight of the uterus bearing down on this joint. It can result in uncomfortable pressure as the baby’s head or other body parts invade your pelvic region, as well as soreness, pain (if the baby is sitting on a nerve) or swelling (if the baby is squatting on a blood vessel and interfering with proper flow and drainage).
Giblin recommends a sitz bath, which is what it sounds like. It’s where you fill a tub with warm (not hot) or room temperature water up to your thighs — and sit in it. “You can try Epsom salts or just plain water to help reduce swelling,” she says. “It’s also good for treating hemorrhoids.”
Phelan says that pelvic pain or vulvar swelling can be a result of simply sitting too much or too long in one place. “If you walk around, or lay down with your legs higher than your heart, you can reduce this discomfort by allowing for proper drainage,” she counsels.
Murane says making small movements often, taking the stairs one at a time, and not pushing or carrying heavy things will help alleviate soreness or pain. “Mayan abdominal massage (an ancient massage technique that releases deep muscle tissue spasms in the abdominal area) works wonders for pregnancy pain and postpartum,” she adds.
Some women will need to use a brace or some type of binder or girdle to help stabilize their pelvic area, warns Sang. And in rare cases, when the pubic bone is extremely sore and tender, women might need to use a walker to help take the weight off their pelvic joints. A pinched sciatic nerve is also a rare but painful occurrence, says Sang, that can be treated by physical therapy, prenatal yoga, and heat or ice packs.
Please remember to always consult your doctor if you’re experiencing pain or discomfort during your pregnancy.