Eighty percent of pregnant women experience low back pain at some point during their pregnancy. When you look at the pregnant body, it’s easy to see why. Especially during the third trimester, excess weight sits in the mom’s abdomen, pressing onto the pelvis and pulling on the lumbar spine forward. The breasts are also larger and heavier due to the expansion of the mammary glands in preparation to produce breastmilk. This strains the thoracic spine and upper back. The stronger and fitter the mom, the more comfortable she can feel physically during the pregnancy… in general. All this strain on the spine can also affect spinal nerves, which can affect organs and other parts of the body. This can contribute to nausea, blood-sugar imbalances, fatigue and swelling or pain in the arms or legs. Common symptoms of discomfort during pregnancy may be positively affected by chiropractic care.
The birth process itself is a natural miracle. A symphony of hormones, and communication between baby and mom is what coordinates the baby’s journey heading down the birth canal. Contractions of the uterus, ripening of the cervix, spreading of the pelvic bones, these, and other things, harmonize for the baby to birth properly. Depending on the size of the baby, the speed of the birth, force of pushing, readiness of the mom and baby, the amount of medical interventions, the position of the baby, and a host of other actors, the birth may be more or less physically traumatizing to the mom and baby. Even when a mom is anesthetized with an epidural or laughing gas, she could still push too hard and tear badly. Face up (“back labour”) makes for a much more painful labour as the baby’s back presses against the mom’s lower spine and pelvis. Baby can have a hard time, too. If the cervix isn’t soft enough or the contractions and pushing is too forceful (as in with induced contractions with Pitocin) the baby’s head can be ramming against a hard wall. This can affect a baby’s very delicate neck. Baby’s neck can also get stressed or injured if there’s pulling of the head or body, as in during a C-section, or during a vaginal birth, especially if forceps or vacuum are used. Luckily, these days, more birth attendants and moms are aware of ways to help the birth be gentler.
Once mom and baby get the “okay” to go home from the hospital, it is easy to think neither mom nor baby need more care, other than basic feeding, sleeping and changing baby’s diapers. This expectation may be doubly so if the mom has other kids at home. As in, “you’ve done this birth thing before, no big deal. Now go home and take care of this baby on top of caring for the household and your other kids.” Is it any wonder that a sizeable portion of women go through post-partum depression or blues?
The postpartum mom still has very high levels of hormones flowing throughout her body. This is because the birth of a baby is also the birth of the new mother-baby unit and the hormones are key to forming that special bond that’s absolutely necessary for the baby’s survival. Mom’s own body is depleted of energy and nutrients, and still sore from stitches, from pelvic pain from the birth itself and back pain accumulated over the pregnancy. In the early weeks, moms are weaker than usual, and should be spared heavy housework, running errands or social engagements that run late.
In Chinese culture, a “baby moon” is not a pre-baby honeymoon for the parent-to-be. Instead, the first month, (“moon”) of a baby’s life is spend in a little cocoon-like state with the new mom. In that time, mom and baby have no obligations, except to heal from the birth, rest, bond with each other, establish breastfeeding, and get strong. Typically, a grandmother or female relatives take over household tasks, including caring for other children, and make special soups and foods to nourish mom and baby. Mom and baby don’t leave the house, except for doctor appointments, if needed. They are discouraged from attending crowded places or big gatherings as both mom and baby have weaker immune systems. After the one-month “baby moon” is a celebration, welcoming baby to the greater family with a feast and presents. Historically, many babies and moms die during birth or shortly afterwards, which is why many people didn’t dare name the baby or celebrate until reaching the one-month mark. This is why so many measures are taken in that early period.
What kind of postpartum care is needed?
- Nutrition for mom and baby
During pregnancy, mom’s bodies become somewhat depleted, if need be, of necessary nutrients to give baby the building blocks of life. Then, during the birth, a lot of blood is lost. Soon after, breastmilk production begins and mom will need nutrients for that as well. Moms will need to eat frequently and preferably nutrient-rich foods. Supplements for nursing moms can fill some gaps.
- Sleep when baby sleeps. Drink when baby drinks.
It’s beautiful seeing the satisfied, drunken look on a baby’s face when the tummy is full and baby is falling asleep. The love hormone, oxytocin, is shared between mom and baby as mom breastfeeds. Oxytocin helps put a baby to sleep and has a sedative effect on mom, too. Instead of fighting the urge to sleep, mom should go with the flow, especially the first month, but ideally through the first 3 months, also known as the “fourth Trimester.” Nursing a newborn is a full-time job that can take 8 or more hours in a 24-hour period, and often interrupts a mom’s night time sleep. Of course, having extra help in this time is a godsend… help with cooking, cleaning, laundry, shopping, and older kids if there are any. Don’t forget to drink water or herbal teas (blessed thistle and fenugreek helps with milk production) to stay hydrated because baby’s can literally “suck you dry.” Best is to always have a cup of water or herbal tea by your side to finish with each nursing.
- Don’t underestimate your own needs.
Just because pregnancy and birth are expectedly painful, that doesn’t mean you should stay in pain after the baby is born. Maternity leave is for the mom, as well as the baby. Recovery also means getting appropriate help for the stresses endured leading up to the birth, plus for the ongoing physical stresses related to caring for an infant. This includes learning proper ergonomics for nursing, transporting and carrying the baby, sleeping, and even changing diapers. Part of good recovery should include good chiropractic care to help the spine and joints return to a proper alignment and relieve nerve stress. New moms also have emotional needs that are best met with a supportive village of family and friends to talk to, help out and shower the new family unit with love, but not overwhelm them with busy-ness.
The same instability that the body creates to help the mom’s body expand and change for pregnancy and birth (through Relaxin hormone) continues 6-12 weeks postpartum. This is the ideal time to get focused chiropractic care to help the mom’s body return to its pre-pregnancy alignment. Chiropractic care can also relieve the physical stresses of caring for the baby so that mom doesn’t need to suffer aches and pains; she can enjoy baby instead.
- Babies are adjusting to life outside the womb
The outside world is a scary place for babies, and so, the first few months are all about learning how to survive in it. A baby’s best tactic to survive is to be cared for by a loving parent. A loving, attentive parent reassures a baby that they’re being looked after by responding whenever baby is distressed, holding baby close, feeding upon demand and, engaging with them (making eye contact, conversing, cuddling, playing). All these positive actions on the part of the parent is not only for physical survival, but has been proven to help the brain develop, as well. Babies don’t cry to manipulate their parents. They cry when they’re scared, uncomfortable, in pain, hungry, wet or overwhelmed. Chiropractic care can help babies feel more comfortable and at ease, and so, babies that get adjusted tend to be happier, have better attachments, to parents and other caregivers, and are relaxed enough to explore the outside world and develop new abilities. Signs that a baby might benefit from chiropractic care include restricted neck motion, persistent neck tilt, ongoing fussiness, very low muscle tone or overly spastic muscles, difficulty nursing or a difficult birth process. Chiropractic care for babies is exceedingly gentle. It’s common for babies to sleep right through the adjustment.
The postpartum period can be a magical time for the mom, but it can also go by in a blur of sleep deprivation, constant nursing or rocking the baby, endless diaper changes and gazing lovingly at the little miracle. This early time is crucial for establishing breastfeeding, helping baby adapt to life, and for taking extra care of the mom because she is in a weakened state. Are you interested in finding out if chiropractic care is appropriate for you or your baby? If so, please visit www.familywellnesschiro.ca and ask for a free consultation.