Many mamas (and new moms-to-be) out there have probably heard that self-care is paramount during this time when your body is working hard to grow a new human. During my pregnancy, I talked to friends who were in many different stages with respect to parenthood - some of whom were new parents themselves, some of whom were thinking about starting a family soon or had a little one on the way, and some for whom becoming a parent was the farthest thing from their mind. Despite their differences, I noticed a common theme. They had all heard that alternative therapies like chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture could be helpful during pregnancy... but few of them knew exactly why that was the case. They seemed uncertain about when and how often they should seek treatment, and about what conditions chiropractors, massage therapists, or acupuncturists could help them with. I came to realize that had I not been working among these professionals for over two years, and become one myself, I probably wouldn't know the details to answer their questions. So, I set out to correct that. My hope is to clear some of those questions up for the other parents and parents-to-be out there, as well as their friends and family who might be looking for ways to help them ease the transition of this challenging but beautiful time.
While the scope of each speciality is different, they all share the principle of healing by correcting dysfunction. Generally speaking, chiropractic treatment adjusts the alignment of your bones and joints, massage relieves tension in your muscles and other tissue, and acupuncture clears blockages to improve communication in your nervous system. To put it simply, by resolving dysfunction, these treatments allow our body to function more optimally, feel better, and heal itself.
There are a myriad of conditions that can be treated by chiropractors, massage therapists, and acupuncturists, with considerable overlap. And, due to the complexly interconnected nature of our bodies, these therapies are often more beneficial when used in combination. For example, a spinal adjustment may bring immediate relief to back pain, but tight back muscles could pull the vertebrae back out of alignment quickly. Details on all of the conditions that our providers can help you with could fill a book... and they have. So let’s get back to the most common ailments you might experience during pregnancy, and how our providers can relieve them.
How can chiropractic, massage, and acupuncture help with the discomforts of pregnancy?
During pregnancy, the hormone, relaxin loosens ligaments throughout the body. This allows mama’s hips to widen to make room for baby, but also causes structural instability and often leads to pain (low back, pelvis, pubic bone, etc.). As baby gets bigger, mama‘s entire body shifts into “pregnancy posture”, with the hips tilting forward and an increased curve in the lower spine. This tightens muscles in the low back as well as hips and quads, and lengthens the hamstrings and abdominals. The extra weight of carrying baby, as well as adjusted center of gravity and weakened abdominals can also contribute to pain.
Chiropractic care during pregnancy helps to keep your spine and hips in the best possible position. This provides baby with as much space as possible and keeps them in optimal positioning for a smooth delivery. The most common special case or condition that docs see in our practice is when your baby is in less than optimal positioning. With breech, oblique, or transverse positioning, our docs use the Webster technique to provide as much room as possible for baby to promote optimal positioning. Studies show that consistent chiropractic treatment leads to decreased time in labor by 25% or more! Chiropractic care can also improve the overall functioning of the nervous system by stimulating the spinal cord and spinal nerves, which may help reduce nausea for those mamas experiencing morning sickness. *Bonus! Our docs can apply kinesiology tape to your belly to help take some of the pressure off. I loved this when I was pregnant, because it practically eliminated the sharp round ligament pain I would experience in my hips when I rolled over in bed.
Massage therapy can relieve the tension in the muscles that are suddenly working harder than they are used to with all the changes your body is going through. It also reduces the production of stress hormones and increases blood flow to speed recovery.
Acupuncture can help alleviate nausea and digestive problems, pain, and sleep issues that disrupt your day to day life by stimulating the central nervous system. It can also support mama and baby by stimulating the organ systems at play in each stage of pregnancy, and by preparing the body for labor. Certain “induction points” can even be targeted to encourage labor to begin if it does not start on its own by your due date.
So, when in your pregnancy should you start getting treated?
If you are already a patient of a chiropractor, massage therapist, or acupuncturist, it is usually okay to continue whatever treatment plan you were already following. This typically means monthly maintenance, but could differ based on what brings you in for treatment. Just be sure to let your provider know you are expecting so they can tailor their treatments accordingly!
If you are new to treatment, we recommend coming in for prenatal care during the second trimester. However, patients are welcome to come in sooner if they are experiencing symptoms of pain or discomfort early on in their pregnancy. Morning sickness/nausea, indigestion, constipation, back pain, and trouble sleeping are common conditions our providers can help you with throughout your pregnancy.
*Note that clearance by your OBGYN may be advised for women with pregnancies that are considered “high risk” - if you have conditions such as unexplained bleeding, ectopic pregnancy, preeclampsia, placenta previa, placental abruption, or are at risk of premature labor, it would be best to talk to your health care provider before seeking treatment. You can also reach out to one of our providers with case-specific questions. Our wellness coordinators at the front desk are more than happy to point you in the right direction to get all of your questions answered! You can reach them by call or text at 303-744-7100, or by email at firstname.lastname@example.org .
How often should you get treated?
Typical frequency of chiropractic treatments for women with healthy pregnancies would be every two weeks from the second trimester until the last month or so, when visits will increase to once a week. If your baby is in less than optimal positioning to allow for a smooth birthing process (breech, oblique, or transverse positioning), visits should be daily for 6 visits to help baby move where they need to be. Our breech protocol generally takes place after 33 weeks.
Monthly maintenance visits for massage should suffice for expectant mamas, unless you are experiencing significant discomfort, in which case biweekly or even weekly treatments would be recommended to keep you feeling and functioning well. Our specialized tables with cut outs and support for your belly allow mamas to lie face down safely and comfortably all the way through the end of pregnancy!
For acupuncture, it is advised to start treatment in the second trimester as well. For a typical healthy pregnancy, treatment in the first trimester is usually recommended if you have symptoms that effect your day to day life (like hyperemesis gravidarum, or severe morning sickness). Starting in the second trimester, monthly visits would focus on the organ systems that are at play in that stage of your baby’s development, as well as any discomforts mom is dealing with at the time. Around week 37, weekly acupuncture treatments would help prepare your body for labor. If you pass the 40 week mark and baby still has not made their grand entrance, our acupuncturist can stimulate induction points to get things moving along in as little as one treatment , up to about twice a week until 42 weeks.
Why does treatment frequency for all therapies increase toward the end of your pregnancy? This is because mom's body is changing more rapidly to keep up with baby's growth! Therefore, most discomforts usually occur during the third trimester, and intensify during the last month of pregnancy in particular. At this point, your baby is mostly developed already, but begins putting on weight rapidly to round out those chubby cheeks and arm-and-leg-rolls. Babies can gain about half a pound per week toward the end! All that added weight increases your spinal curve, further shifting your center of gravity, and causing all sorts of aches and pains. But not to worry - your providers here at WPC are happy to help!
Marcy Prendergast, LMT, specializes in Deep Tissue, Sports Massage, Trigger Point Therapy, Cupping, and Active and Passive Release Techniques. She enjoys working with patients to find the root of their pain and dysfunction and get them feeling and moving better.