By Nathalie Tellier, Osteopath
Osteopathy is a holistic, gentle manual therapy that aims to restore your health and vitality. Tensions or restrictions in the body can impede on the proper functioning and provoke pain and discomfort. Osteopathy’s goal is to release these tensions so your body can function properly without pain. This is hugely beneficial to expectant mums. An osteopath can assist the process of pregnancy and birth by ensuring proper mobility of all the involved structures, allowing both mum and baby to grow and adapt to each other peacefully – and because osteopathic treatment does not involve drugs, it is proven to be a safe and effective therapy for pregnant mothers as well as newborn babies.
A research in Montreal in 1998 “the effect of osteopathy treatments on delivery” (Ani Lafrance DO) concluded, that mothers who had osteopathy follow-ups during their pregnancy had a labour that lasted 4 hours less than the mothers that didn’t see an osteopath. This is due to the fact that the treated mothers had good alignment and mobility of all the structures in the pelvic area, thus allowing the baby to make its descent without any restrictions.
The Changes in Your Body During Pregnancy
Throughout pregnancy, a woman’s body will undergo many changes at different levels: the anatomic (structural) level, the circulatory (fluids) level, as well as at the hormonal level.
These changes alone may cause various musculoskeletal discomforts and increase the risk of injuries. If there are pre-existing restrictions from stress, previous accidents, illnesses or trauma, these changes become even more difficult to the mother’s mind and body.
The Benefits of Osteopathy
Many pregnant mums find osteopathy helpful in relieving the discomforts, maintaining circulations and preparing for birth.
Let me share my personal experiences, and you will then understand why I’m so passionate about helping future mums and their babies.
I have 2 beautiful children, now 11 and 13. I was pregnant with my daughter during my 4th year of osteopathy and I opted to receive osteopathic care monthly. The treatments not only help me to avoid discomfort and heartburn but also put me in contact with my baby inside.
With my second pregnancy, my son was not in a good position because his head was sitting on my pubic bone. My osteopath managed to release all the tensions around so he was able to return to a normal position, and all my discomfort went away.
But the biggest benefit of being treated throughout my pregnancy was the easy deliveries I had. My daughter’s labour lasted 8.5 hours, dilated from 4 to 10 cm in 20 minutes, at which time I was ready to push, and then pushed for 3 contractions and out she came. My son’s labour lasted 5.5 hours, and again I only pushed for 3 contractions, as his head was crowning when I reached 10cm.
An important factor and something that was working against me, is that I was 38 and 40 when I had my children. My doctor said that my son’s delivery was one of her easiest deliveries in her 13 years of experience and that I had blown the statistics out the window!
I had no epidurals or episiotomy. I recuperated really quickly and was ready to go home within 24 hours of delivery (in Montreal they usually send you home after 48 hours). I attribute these wonderful experiences to my monthly osteopathic treatments, which allowed my pregnancies to be as discomfort-free as possible.
The Early Stages of Pregnancy
Now as an experienced osteopath myself, the most common complaint I receive from pregnant mums during the early stages of pregnancy is nausea, sometimes accompanied by vomiting. This is commonly referred to as “morning sickness” and can result in some debilitating physical strains in the diaphragm and ribs.
Just because it is very common, it does not mean you have put up with it! You can seek relief in natural therapies such as osteopathy.
The “morning sickness” symptoms usually come from structural dysfunction at the spinal level, which then affects the nervous system’s supply to the organs involved. Through very gently manual adjustment an osteopath can help you minimize the symptoms and remove the physical strains caused by it, without the use of drugs.
The Second Trimester
The future mother encounters a lot of physical changes in the second trimester. It’s at this time that the uterus drastically increases in size and weight and expands out of the pelvis and into the abdomen. This involves considerable postural adaptions, as the mother needs to adjust to the constant change of the centre of gravity of her body. It also causes the diaphragm to become elevated, which could result in common problems such as heartburns and reflux.
Last year a client came to me, 33 weeks pregnant with ongoing lower back pain. She had tried different treatments with no long-term results. Her sacroiliac joint (commonly known as SI joint) was not moving properly and that caused the other joints to compensate for this decreased mobility.
Through some gentle mobilization and soft tissue techniques, I was able to restore the movement in her SI joint and she was able to resume her Pilates routine with no pain for the rest of her pregnancy.
The Third Trimester
This is when the biggest changes occur at a mechanical and structural level.
The result of this is changes in the gait, loss of balance, and lower back or pelvis pain. As the weight of the uterus increase the gravitational pull causes pressure and tension in the pelvis or diaphragm area, which can lead to congestion in the fluid circulation and digestion, resulting in edema and hemorrhoids.
Gentle osteopathic mobilizations and releases to the pelvic floor, as well as the pelvis, lumbar, and thoracic spine will greatly help to improve the fluid circulations.
Caroline, a 32-year-old pregnant mum came to me during the 26th week of her pregnancy, complaining of constipation. Constipation is very common because the growing uterus pushes the colon upwards and sideways, creating tension. After an initial assessment I gave Caroline 2 osteopathic treatments. By eliminating some restrictions in the general area, the transit resumed normal mobility and by the following week, Caroline was able to maintain her regularity again.
Effect from the Pregnancy Hormones
Another important factor to consider is the effect the pregnancy hormones has on the body. Hormones released during pregnancy will cause your body to soften, thus allowing the bones of the pelvis to separate slightly during the delivery to facilitate the passage of the baby’s head through the pelvis.
I cannot emphasize enough the importance of proper pelvis and lumbar alignment. Poor alignment of the pelvis, as well as asymmetrical pelvic floor muscle can result in poor baby positioning, and prevent it from engaging properly in the later stages of pregnancy.
An osteopathic treatment can’t be complete without cranio-sacral techniques. Cranial and dural tension in the head or along the spine can create tension around the pituitary gland. The pituitary gland is responsible for the release of oxytocin, the hormone facilitating the onset of labour. An osteopath can assess and treat the cranial dural system to establish the best environment for the pituitary gland, thus enhancing its functionality.
Labour Preparation and Birthing
An osteopath can prepare pregnant mum for the delivery by paying particular attention to the mobility of all the structures around the uterus, as well as the mobility of the baby within the uterus. If the mother’s pelvis is twisted or stiff, it can interfere with the baby’s passage through the birth canal. Osteopathic treatment can restore and maintain normal pelvic alignment and mobility, contributing to a successful birth and healthy baby.
It is also the osteopath’s role to make sure that the baby is positioned correctly as you get closer to the due date. A breech baby refers to a feet or buttocks down position (as opposed to the normal head-down position) can make a vaginal birth very difficult and the majority of babies who remain breech arrive by caesarean. A 37-week-pregnant client came to see me because she was having a breech baby. After treating her pelvis and releasing her pelvic floor to increase mobility in the structures around her uterus, I also treated the baby within mum. She then went for her scan the following day and confirmed that baby had turned. Needless to say, she was relieved.
Postpartum Care and Newborn Babies
The forces present during birth, the occasional episiotomy performed to help the baby to come out, as well as the epidural, can have repercussions on the mobility of the joints of the pelvis and spinal column of the mother.
A follow-up with an osteopath is especially helpful when it comes to persistent pain in the low back or pelvis, and making sure all the organs/viscera are able to return to their proper positions so the mobility is restored properly.
For the newborn, the course of the pregnancy as well as the powerful process of birth, difficult or not, can be at the origin of tensions or restrictions. These restrictions can result in many different issues, from misshapen head, colic, feeding problems, sleeping difficulties, to subpar neuro-motor development.
An osteopath can evaluate the baby and then use very gentle treatment to support the healthy growth and development of your baby in the womb and after birth.
My daughter was born very fast, which can be traumatic for her as she was going through the birthing canal very quickly. As I was breastfeeding her right after birth, her suction seems difficult and erratic. My nurse was an osteopath and treated her immediately. Her suction became rhythmical, easy, and peaceful. I never had any problems breastfeeding both of my children. My kids have been treated throughout their entire childhood, and have developed great immune systems. They have not seen a doctor since we moved to Asia almost 7 years ago, and I truly believe it is because they didn’t grow up with restrictions and limitations in their bodies.
As an osteopath, and more importantly as a mother, I encourage you to experience osteopathic care.