By Dr. Emily Smith, Smith & Prissel Chiropractic
There are limited health care options during pregnancy, yet people rarely hear about how chiropractic, the most-used “alternative” health care, can be helpful during this important time. Chiropractic is the safest form of health care during pregnancy because it helps the body to function optimally without the use of drugs or surgery. Just as you see your OB or midwife for prenatal check-ups, so should you see a chiropractor throughout your pregnancy for spinal check-ups. This information can help you make an informed choice about your health and that of your unborn child.
The pelvis is made of roughly three bones. This includes the sacrum (aka tailbone), which is located at the center of the buttocks and two ilia (aka hip bones), which extend out to either side. The place where these bones meet in the back, along either side of the sacrum, is called the Sacro-Iliac joint (aka SI joint). These bones also meet in the front at the symphisis pubis.
A ligament is a fibrous band of tissue that connects two or more bones. There are three major ligaments on each side of the pelvis and each is named for the part that it holds together. These ligaments include the Sacro-Iliac ligament, the Sacro-Spinous ligament, and the Sacro-Tuberous ligament. (Notice all of these ligaments attach the sacrum to part of the ilium.)
During pregnancy the body prepares for birth by increasing the laxity of these pelvic ligaments, allowing for greater mobility and expansion of the pelvic opening. This design, however, reduces the stability of the joints because as the bones of the pelvis grow further and further apart, the strain on the pelvic ligaments increases. This instability can lead to misalignments of the low back and pelvis and contribute to pain and discomfort in these areas during pregnancy and birth.
During delivery the pelvis must expand to allow the largest part of the baby’s round head to fit through the greatest diameter of the pelvic outlet. Misalignments of the pelvis will often result in an oblong or oval shaped outlet, which means that the pelvis must stretch much further in order to allow for the baby’s head to fit, making labor and delivery more difficult and painful.
This is where chiropractic can be helpful. Chiropractic adjustments are a safe and gentle way to realign the bones of the pelvis, allowing for more pelvic stability during pregnancy and easier pelvic expansion during labor and delivery. In fact, women under chiropractic care during their pregnancy have been shown to reduce the length of their labor by an average of five hours (25%) with their first child and three hours (31%) with consecutive children, compared to those not under chiropractic care. A 1991 JMPT study found that women who were under chiropractic care during their pregnancy also experienced less pain during labor, including less likelihood of having back labor. “The relative risk of experiencing back labor was almost three times greater if back pain was experienced during the pregnancy.” This same study reported that in 84% of the cases, chiropractic care was able to relieve them of their back pain during pregnancy. It also found a correlation between low back pain during pregnancy and the result of longer labors if the back pain hadn’t been treated with chiropractic adjustments.
After birth the ligaments of the pelvis tighten to hold the pelvis in place more securely. If the joint misalignments that occurred during pregnancy or birth are still present, the strain on the sacro-iliac joints and ligaments remains and can interfere with proper pelvic function. This may or may not present itself as pain; it’s important that women receive chiropractic care as soon as possible after birth in order to assist the body in realignment of the pelvis and to ensure long-term pelvic stability.
Another concern for pregnant women can be low back or lumbar spine pain and interference. The nerves that exit the spine between these vertebrae control nearly all of the function