Written by Caroline Meyer
Pregnancy can bring on many changes in a woman’s body. Some of them fade after having a baby, while some have a lasting effect. Woman can experience discomfort at various stages of pregnancy. It is possible to alleviate some of the discomfort or to find ways of coping with it.
Pelvic discomfort and back pain are common during pregnancy. The way you do activities during the day can also have an impact on the level of discomfort you experience. When you stand, try and spread your weight evenly and keep your back straight and shoulders back. This will help alleviate some of the pelvic discomfort. Avoid climbing stairs, walking up hills or climbing up and down ladders as this causes uneven distribution and adds to pelvic strain.
When sitting down, try and sit with your bottom pushed to the back of the chair and your back as straight as possible. You can use cushions behind your back for support and may need to put your feet up on a footstool. This will help to reduce the strain on your back, and resulting back pain. When you get off the bed, roll firstly on to your side, keep your knees together and sit up on the bed. Lower your legs while lifting yourself with your arms to comfortably get out of bed without back strain. When you are sleeping, use pillows between your knees and under your belly and sleep on your side to reduce discomfort.
During your pregnancy, especially the later months, it is important to avoid heavy lifting. When you do have to lift anything, use your knees and not your back to pick it up. Bend your knees, keep your back straight, brace yourself using your core muscles and lift smoothly. If possible, hold the item close to your body. Do not twist and bend as this is likely to cause immediate strain on the back. Even when doing housework, avoid flexing your spine as far as possible. Get a longer vacuum pole or get someone else to do it. Work at a comfortable height and avoid having to bend or stretch excessively. Get a trolley for the laundry basket if you take out a batch of laundry. Rest whenever you need to. Use a chair to rest while you work or sit at a table to avoid having to bend for long periods of time.
Having young children can make it a bit more complicated, but you should also try not to pick small children up as far as possible as it unbalances your body and creates added strain on the pelvis and back. Rather sit down and have your little one cuddle with you. Get them a small step to help them reach your lap without you having to bend and lift them up. Where possible, have your small child climb into their car seat or pram on their own, if it is safe to do so. This will all help with reduced pressure on your aching back.
The pressure on your blood vessels can lead to varicose veins during pregnancy. Support your legs by wearing support hose when they ache. Sit down to rest whenever possible and avoid standing for long periods of time as this exacerbates the condition. Try and lie down for a rest during the day when possible. Wear shorts without a heel, that are comfortable and supportive. When varicose veins appear in the pelvic floor you will need to wear fitted underwear and possibly a sanitary pad to provide added support. Try and spend rest periods lie down and you can also try cold compresses or ice packs in the area to reduce the swelling. Pelvic floor exercises may also provide a small amount of relief.
Leg cramps are another common complaint. These can occur in the thighs, legs and even feet. They seem to occur more frequently at night but can occur at any time. Try and rest lying down at least once or twice a day. Light exercise and spending a little time walking can help alleviate the cramps. Make sure that you are hydrated and drink around 2 litres of water per day. When sitting down, flex your knees and move your ankles in a circle to help keep the muscles and joints loose. For leg cramps, stretch out your calf muscles to relax the cramp.
Some of the exercises you can do during pregnancy will help during and after the birth of your baby. These can include Kegel or pelvic floor exercises which help strengthen the internal muscles that assist with bladder and bowel control. They also aid in sexual function. These muscles provide stability and support your pelvic joints and should be firm. These exercises are fairly easy to do and can be done at any time. Tighten the muscles by squeezing the internal muscles while tilting upward. All muscles in the area should get a slight workout. Hold the contraction for a few seconds and relax. You should feel the muscles release. You can also practice this by stopping and restarting a urine flow midstream. Try and do around 10 contractions a few times a day.
Try pelvic tilt exercises to strengthen your core. This will help with your posture and keep the tummy muscles strong. You can do these exercises lying down, standing or while using a gym ball. Feet should be flat and knees bent. Tilt your hips backwards until the curve of your lower back straightens out. Pull your lower abdominal area (below the belly button) in towards the spine. Hold for as long as you can and release. Ensure you breath properly during the exercise. This can also help with pelvis and back pain.
Try various relaxation methods to reduce tension and stress which can also result in added pain on the back, neck and spine during pregnancy. You can also use relaxation techniques during labour to help you cope through contractions and reduce pain levels. Being able to relax, even a little, during labour can help you conserve energy and have a better experience. You can do this through breathing exercises, tension and release of muscles, focusing on something specific, listening to soft music or any other method for helping you relax your body. Once you have chosen a method that works for you, practice it regularly, especially before bed so that you are able to sleep better. You can do this at any time you feel heightened levels of tension during the day.