When Pregnancy is a Pain

There is an indescribable rush of unbridled emotions when you learn you’re going to be a mother. The anticipation of bringing a new life into the world, and having the opportunity to develop and nurture an unbreakable mother and child bond transport expectant women to a euphoric world of bliss … until the physical symptoms of pregnancy kick in!

Although the fantasy world of sailing through a pain free pregnancy and delivery is shared by most expectant women, in reality, pregnancy and post partum back, neck, legs and foot pain affects more than 65 percent of pregnancies. “The number is probably higher for women in their last trimester, however many do not discuss their pain with their doctor,” says chiropractor Anthony Galante of Algonquin, Ill. Believing that pain is part of the “pregnancy package,” or that being pregnant precludes their ability to seek treatment, too many women are robbed of experiencing the joy of pregnancy as they spend their pregnancies suffering from often frequent and excruciating or debilitating pain.

Know What to Expect
“I had no idea that being pregnant would feel the way it did,” says recent new mother Theresa Thompson of Aiken, S.C. Not expecting to have leg and foot pain or sore hips and knees catches many expectant women off guard. “I was prepared for swollen fingers and nausea, but I wasn’t prepared for all the aches along the way,” Thompson adds.

“I started feeling very blue as a result of my pain. My sister didn’t have back pain nearly as severe as I did, and I started thinking that I was doing something wrong or that something might be wrong with my baby,” shares Thompson.

When you’re talking to your obstetrician about your due date, prenatal vitamins and options to combat morning sickness, make sure to ask what possible physical changes you should anticipate. “I had pain in my groin muscle when I walked by my fifth month and back pain that started around end of the sixth month with my second child,” says Apryl Chapman Thomas of Watkinsville, Ga., “Since giving birth, the pain is gone.”

The two most common causes of pain are the growing baby putting extra pressure on the mother’s internal organs and nerves or the hormonal changes from the pregnancy affecting the nervous system negatively. Dr. Nayan Patel, head of the Pregnancy Pain Management Program at the Texas Back Institute adds, “There are many factors that can cause low back pain in pregnant women. When a woman gets pregnant there are numerous postural changes that occur, placing more stress on the low back in order to support the weight of the baby.”

Women also secrete specific hormones during their pregnancy that can make their ligaments lax and can lead to instability of the pelvis and low back region.

Easing the Pain
Although the goal of a completely pain-free pregnancy might be a bit lofty, health experts agree that significantly reducing pain and preventing physical strain is a realistic goal. “The good news is that by taking some simple precautions, women can reduce their risk of injury and back pain,” says Dr. Andrew Casden, associate director of the Spine Institute at Beth Israel Medical Center in New York, N. Y.

The first step in treating your pain is realizing that it is a potential side affect of pregnancy and usually not the result of something you’ve done or needed to do. Talking with your obstetrician or birthing professional will provide much welcomed emotional support, as well as information on how you might pursue safe, but effective, pain relief.

Upon consulting your physician, you might be able to explore some popular methods such as exercise routines, massages and water aerobics that have been known to reduce the intensity of pain for expectant women. “Because spine instability can lead to back pain and poor posture, we usually begin treatment by focusing on strengthening the core stabilizers of the spine.

These core muscles and those on each side of the spine must be equally strong to balance spinal forces and create stability,” explains Dr. Patel.

There are also several homeopathic and natural remedies, too, that many have used to relive their pain. “Expectant women can find relief from head, neck and spinal pain using acupuncture, which is safe for both mother and baby,” says San Diego, Calif., acupuncturist, Julie Chang. Many women also discover treatments administered by other medical providers such as a chiropractor or a doctor of naprapathy, who often focus on pain management helpful in managing and easing the pain associated with pregnancy.

Pregnancy Back Pain Facts
• More than two thirds of pregnant women will experience lower back, hip or leg pain.
• The most common sources of pregnancy-related pain are the joints that connect the spine to the pelvis.
• Women with a history of low back pain are at an increased risk of pregnancy-related back, leg and hip pain.
• Back and leg pain during pregnancy does not affect your baby’s health.
• Most women experience relief within 48 hours of delivery.

Gina Roberts-Grey writes about family and parenting issues for parenting publications nationwide.