A woman inhabits her body in a new way during pregnancy. A change we might be most familiar with is the foods she desires and emotions she experiences. Her growing belly will also shift the way her body relates to gravity.
Hormones will loosen the ligaments in her body in order for her pelvis to open and move during pregnancy and labor. Women have many options in their everyday life, and during active labor, to help their bodies prepare and shift for an easier and safer birth. A baby moves freely in the uterus throughout pregnancy and usually doesn't settle into its position for birth until a few weeks, days, even hours, before being born.
In my background of Osteopathy, one principal we learn early on is that structure determines function. If a mother's pelvis is restricted and doesn't move well in its joints — often caused by falls onto the bottom (Can you recall falling with your snowboard/skis, slipping on ice, or being in a car accident?) — it also might not be able to open well during pregnancy and labor to allow the baby to emerge through the birth canal. In this case the structure (pelvis) isn't able to open wide (function).
With every patient who comes to see me in my office, and especially with pregnant women, I check for pelvic alignment and function.
Another aspect that might make women's births more challenging now than in past generations is our sedentary lifestyles. Sitting in a chair for hours at a time, especially in a slouched posture (which most of our chairs and car seats encourage these days), can tilt the sacrum (the triangular bone at the bottom of our spine) and literally decrease the size of the birth canal. It can also diminish blood flow and nerve innervation to the uterus, which participates actively in labor by pushing your baby out. And this happens so much better with proper blood flow and innervation!
We have the opportunity to remind ourselves to sit more upright, or even choose better chairs that encourage well aligned posture and movement ("Kore chairs" and "kneeling chairs" are a great example for this). Kore chairs will constantly have you move your spine in very small movements, as they are not flat but rounded on the bottom. Both of these options are great if you have a desk job that requires you to sit for hours at a time, even when you are not pregnant. You can also prop a small rolled up towel under your low back to prevent you from slouching or use a wedged pillow to sit on. However, avoid this if you already have a strong lumbar curvature (Hyperlordosis).
Another option to remember movement is to set a timer every 30 minutes and make sure you stretch, take a walk around the office/house, move your pelvis in figure eights and circles, get on all fours and do a cat/cow stretch, take a walk during your lunch break, use the stairs instead of the escalator, or park you car 10 minutes away from where you need to be. It's the small things that really make a difference!
You also have the option to continue this movement into labor. We have all seen the media images and movies in which a woman lies on her back, screaming, during labor. This is less than ideal. First of all, screaming is not the most common noise a woman makes during labor, and is usually a sign that the woman has hit the panic button and needs to be guided into more regulated breathing and deeper sounds.
From a birth position standpoint, it can be harder for a baby to be born with the mother on her back. More ideal and natural positions for the baby to rotate, flex and extend through the birth canal are:
Mother on all fours
Extending her upper body forward and stretching her arms from a bar on the wall or a rope from the ceiling
Birth balls & birth stools
Most important is what position is most natural and comfortable for the mother and baby, in which labor progresses well (there should not be a time limit on labor other than the ability of mother and baby to cope and be healthy). An ideal position for the baby in utero for being born is called Left Occiput Anterior (LOA), but oftentimes babies are in less ideal positions such as breech, "sunny side up" or occiput posterior and many other variations. A mother can actively participate in optimizing and if needed changing her baby's position (www.spinningbabies.com is a great resource for this).
Make sure your provider is on board and prepared for you to move in and out of different positions during labor. A fetal monitor should not be a hindrance to movement as there are other ways to monitor baby's heartbeat than lying on your back in a bed, or at least you should ask to be able to get out of bed in between readings. As chiropractor Jeanne Ohm, DC says: "Labor is a dance between mother and baby. Together they find the ideal movements and positions that allow for a safe and easier birth experience. Listening to your own inner voice and literally moving with it is the essence of this dance."
Although there are more factors to it, the above mentioned reasons all play a major role in why births may be longer, more painful and include more birth interventions such as C-sections. Increasing your awareness of your posture and movement can help your baby find their optimal position for a safe and natural birth.
At Elevate Wellness Center we offer modalities such as Craniosacral Therapy, Acupuncture and Abdominal Massage to help mothers during pregnancy, as well as knowledge from our Midwife, Doula and Breastfeeding Expert to help you have the pregnancy, birth and postpartum-time that's best for YOU!
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