Experiencing some pain or discomfort during pregnancy is not unusual. Back pain during pregnancy, for example, is a common complaint – in fact, 85% of expectant mothers complain of back pain some time in those nine months. Pain, especially in the low back area, is especially prevalent in the second and third trimester. Is it any wonder – carrying around all those extra pounds? But the extra weight is not the only reason may expectant mothers deal with some sort of back discomfort on a daily basis.
Pregnancy back pain is caused partly by the influx of hormones, estrogen, progesterone and relaxin, to prepare the body for pregnancy and childbirth. These hormones affect the composition of ligaments and tendons to allow for greater elasticity, or more movement in the joints, and greater space in the abdomen. This excess mobility can cause spasms in the muscles.
The ligaments supporting the low back area and the pelvis are particularly stressed during pregnancy. Not to mention the changes in our posture to accommodate a shift in our center of gravity from a growing abdomen. In fact, the more weight we gain, the worse our posture becomes, thus increasing back pain.ï¿½
A simple way to decrease the general discomfort due to a growing abdomen is gentle relaxing massage! Massage should be performed in the second and third trimesters, or after the first three months. You should always consult your physician before starting, especially if you are a high risk, have experienced a miscarriage or have any medical problems during your pregnancy.ï¿½
Massages should be limited to 15-20 minutes in duration, with frequent rests or positioning changes, as necessary. You should stop your massage if you feel nauseous, light-headed, uncomfortable or have any other symptoms. Women who experience heartburn during pregnancy should wait two hours after a meal before receiving a massage. Women with diabetes, who are cleared by their physician, should have a snack just prior to the massage.
Can’t afford to go to a professional massage therapist? Fear not! There are things you can have your partner do at home to make you feel better!
First, get comfortable! Most pregnant women are comfortable side lying – it is recommended to lie on your left side to remove the fetus off the vascular structures, with the use of pillows between the knees and supporting the abdomen, if necessary. Sitting is another option, making sure you are comfortable and well supported. Keep in mind that you will not be able to tolerate an hour-long massage – massages during pregnancy are kept in short duration, and changes in positioning may be necessary. Remember, comfort is the key!
Your partner must understand that this is a relaxation technique. Light, gentle stroking or light kneading (gentle muscle squeezing) in your shoulder and your low back, and yes, even your buttocks area, can significantly decrease your pain. Avoid the temptation to “work out” those tight areas. Be content with the loving strokes of your partner. There will be time enough for those stubborn knots once your baby is born.
Massaging your abdomen is useful in the second and third trimester. It can decrease constipation, increase relaxation to you as well as the fetus, and creates the sense of bonding. When massaging the abdomen, use gentle sweeping motion of your whole hands in a clockwise direction.
Heat is also an acceptable form of pain relief when you are expecting. Used on your back, buttocks and neck can offer relaxation as well as increased circulation to those “screaming” muscles. Remember, this is the time in your life when relaxation is key. Excessive stress and pain may affect the growing baby, so take time to de-stress through relaxation exercises, deep breathing techniques, even meditation. Try relaxation tapes or visualization. Not only will they help you unwind, they may even combat the insomnia some women experience during this time.
And how about those stubborn leg cramps? Calf cramps can become more frequent during the last trimester. Often, they occur at night with pain so intense, it can disrupt the sleep your body needs for the extra energy necessary to carry a growing baby. So before bedtime, try some easy range of motion exercises of your ankles, toes, feet, and even your knees. A gentle calf massage may also help. When experiencing a cramp, draw your toes and foot upwards towards your head, followed by a gentle massage. This should relieve the cramp within a few minutes, but remember, the area may be tender for several hours, even several days. And, always consult a physician to rule out any major health concerns, such as blood clots before treating these cramps on your own.
Though these simple techniques may not offer you a pain-free pregnancy, massage is a great way to relax and enjoy time with your partner and yes, with your baby! It increases blood flow, soothes aggravated muscles and enhances your sense of well-being. The key is light, loving strokes – there will be plenty of time to work out those stubborn spots once the baby arrives! So, treat yourself to a massage. It’s worth it!