It’s the best of times; it’s the worst of times.
On the one hand: The awe of growing a new life inside you, the unforgettable feeling of those first gentle flutters in your womb, the thrill of seeing your baby’s tiny heart beating in grayscale on the ultrasound screen, and — above all — the eager anticipation of that moment when you finally meet the little person who will change your life forever.
On the other hand: The bone-deep fatigue, the unrelenting nausea, the constant assault of awful smells, ankles the size of tree trunks, pain that feels like your pelvis is about to crack in half, the absolute impossibility of finding a comfortable sleeping position (and hourly bathroom trips that have long prevented you from getting a decent night’s sleep anyway)… Shall I go on?
Pregnancy is certainly a blessing and a miracle. My heart aches for those who so yearn to carry a child but can’t.
Still, pregnancy isn’t all sunshine and roses. For many — perhaps most — women, pregnancy has its downsides.
Pelvic pain: an all-too-common ailment in pregnancy
My first pregnancy was fraught with pelvic pain. Somewhere in the second trimester, I developed pubic symphysis dysfunction — a misalignment of the pubic joint that makes it incredibly painful to do just about anything. As a result, I became increasingly sedentary as the pregnancy progressed. My plans to keep up a yoga routine or daily walks went out the window. The crippling pain kept me glued to the couch as much as possible. Toward the end, lumbering up and down the two flights of stairs in our house left me huffing and puffing, and hobbling through Target was more than I could handle.
Not surprisingly, labor and delivery were difficult. Forty-eight hours lapsed from the time my water broke until my son finally took his first breath. Recovery, too, was a bear. I felt as though a bowling ball had crashed through my pelvic floor. (Considering I had a 9 ½-pound baby, that’s probably a fair approximation of what happened.)
Fast-forward sixteen months. As I neared the end of pregnancy #2, my condition was a vast improvement from the first time around. I had done a modified prenatal yoga routine until 30ish weeks and kept up daily walks. Because our toddler wasn’t yet walking, I was constantly lugging him around our three-story house (not to mention wrestling him for diaper changes). I even continued to brave crowded Saturdays at Costco to stock up on groceries and diapers. In sum, I had no choice but to stay active — and it made a night-and-day difference.
Compared to my first, childbirth was a breeze the second time around. Instead of a multi-day marathon (and a world of anguish since my epidural kept wearing off), it took less than eight hours of labor and five minutes of pushing to bring my daughter into the world. Recovery went smoothly too.
They say that’s often the case. Your body knows what to do, your muscles are already
saggy and stretched out primed for delivery, you know how to push more effectively. But I’m convinced that staying ahead of the pelvic pain throughout my pregnancy — and staying active as a result — also played a big role.
What didn’t work
Once I realized what was going on during my first pregnancy – that my pelvis was shifting out of alignment, putting immense strain on the cartilage and ligaments that held it together – I scoured the internet for remedies, desperate for anything that might help.
The first thing I tried was a maternity support belt. Some women swear by these. Others swear at them. I tried about a half-dozen different kinds (they’re not cheap!), from a basic wrap to a complex corset-like contraption with a web of aggravating Velcro straps. Most were uncomfortable, itchy and majorly inconvenient. Every bathroom break involved a lengthy ritual of unwrapping and repositioning. And despite my best efforts, more often than not, they would shift out of place as soon as I took a few steps.
I eventually realized these belts were probably doing more harm than good. Instead of engaging my innermost ab muscles — the transverse abdominis — to strengthen my core, I was letting the support belt do all the work. As soon as I ditched it, I became more attuned to those muscles and found it much easier to keep them engaged.
That said, many doctors and physical therapists do recommend maternity support belts. They lift the weight of your growing belly off the pubic bone and can help keep diastasis recti (that pesky separation of the outer abdominal muscles) in check. If you wear one, just make sure you’re also doing strengthening exercises to avoid becoming dependent on it. (I did eventually settle on a lightweight belly band that provided some degree of support. I also used an abdominal splint postpartum, but that’s another story.)
Next, I sought out a chiropractor who was certified in the Webster technique and devoted much of her practice to treating pregnant women. I religiously got adjustments twice a week for the last several months of pregnancy. Yet the pain kept progressing. I have no doubt that many pregnant women find relief through chiropractic care; it just didn’t work for me.
What made the biggest impact
The second time around, I decided to skip the maternity belts and chiropractor and try something different. That one thing made the single biggest impact in keeping my pelvic pain manageable.
As soon as I started feeling twinges of discomfort around 20 weeks, I made an appointment with a physical therapist who specialized in pelvic and pregnancy issues. She knew exactly how to pinpoint imbalances and muscle weaknesses. What’s more, she prescribed exercises that actually worked. The 15-20 minutes per day I spent on those exercises (usually in front of the TV, I’ll admit) and the weekly PT appointments made the second half of pregnancy so much more bearable.
Of course, every person — and every pregnancy — is different. What worked wonders for me might do squat for you. Finding the right solution often takes trial and error, and there is no cure-all (except giving birth).
Still, anything that could make those long nine months less burdensome is worth a try.