The Essential Guide to Sitting, Standing and Sleeping For an Optimal Pregnancy
Pregnancy is a miraculous and exciting time! It is also a time of great biomechanical stress. Growing a new human is no easy feat. We experience altered rib movement, changes in the position and angle of our spinal curves due to added weight and changes in weight distribution – our center of gravity moves forward, we have compromised core strength and stability due to muscular stretching and weakening, and add on top of all of that the laxity in our joints due to the hormone relaxin which softens and loosens our ligaments so that we can widen to grow and deliver a baby.
Because of all these changes, we have to be more aware of our postures, as small shifts can cause big challenges and pains.
When sitting while pregnant, you want to remain as “square” as possible. That means having both feet on the floor (legs uncrossed) with your knees slightly wider than your hips. You also want to ensure that any time you are sitting, your knees are always lower than your hips. Push your sit bones back to increase the curve in your low back and have your belly resting between your legs. This position will reduce the amount of pressure on your spine and pelvis, but, more importantly, can help to alter the position of your growing baby. If you lounge back like on a big couch, with your tailbone curled under, gravity encourages the heaviest part of your baby, or their head, to fall back towards your spine. This can lead to an occiput posterior or “sunny side up” position of your baby which can be very painful and difficult to deliver vaginally.
If you are having trouble getting into this position, try sitting on an exercise ball. The instability associated with sitting on ball will force both your legs to remain on the ground and, if the ball is the right size for you, will automatically put your hips and knees in the right position. On the ball, you can practice pelvic tilts and/or gentle figure 8 movements. Ball sitting can also provide a gentle stretch to your perineum which can help prevent tearing of the area during delivery.
Just like when sitting, you want to stand “square.” Try your best not to balance or lean more on one leg/hip to prevent torsion or twisting of the pelvis. Because, when pregnant, we carry more weight on the front of our body, our center of gravity shifts forward and this can cause us to slouch or slump. When we slouch our upper back and shoulders, we have to then pick our head up to see properly in front of us. This leads to a forward head posture that can put great stress on the joints and muscles at the top of our neck. Headaches and neck pain can result so, to prevent this, the chin tuck exercise is recommended. When we tuck our chins, we are looking for that magical “double chin” position. No, it’s not attractive, but it can help stretch and strengthen our postural neck muscles and decrease this forward head posture. Do not tilt your chin down towards your chest or up up towards the sky. Your chin should go straight back, like it is on a track, and you should feel a stretch at the base of your skull and tension in your throat. Hold this position for 5 seconds and release. Try to do this exercise multiple times a day for the best results.
When standing, we are often also carrying things. Purses, toddlers, etc, carried on one side, can also cause twisting of the pelvis and spine. Try alternating the shoulder you carry your purse on or wear a backpack, and switch hips when carrying your kids or wear them in a carrier instead.
I am known for telling my patients that the best position to sleep in is the one that allows you to actually get a good sleep! When you are pregnant, certain positions, like lying on your back, can lead to nausea and tingling, so there is a particular way to position yourself that can minimize these risks. When laying on your side (the left side is recommended due to changes in blood flow), place a pillow between your knees. You will need one that is wider than when you were not pregnant, as your hips will be wider and will need a larger amount of support. Place a small pillow under your belly to decrease twisting and pulling on your spine. I often suggest a body pillow to support your upper body as well to limit twisting of the upper back and shoulders and decrease compression in your armpit which can lead to numbness in the fingers, hands and arms. If using a body pillow, a regular one or a Snoogle-type specific to pregnancy, you can often kill all these birds with the one stone, or pillow - it can support you between your knees, under your belly, and through your upper body and shoulders.
When you are getting up from a reclined position, always use the log roll technique. First, slowly roll onto your side, moving your hips and shoulders together. Next, use your arms to push your body up onto your elbow while swinging your legs down over the side of the bed/couch. Push up to a seated position from your elbow with your other hand. From here, you can stand up. Moving in this manner will help take the pressure off your abdominal muscles, which are stretched and weakened due to your growing belly, and can help prevent abdominal muscle separation, otherwise known as diastasis recti.
Shaila Callaghan is a prenatal and pediatric chiropractor and the owner of Vita Brain + Body KIDS, where Healthy Moms cardholders can receive an initial exam for $49 ($135 value) and 10% off ongoing appointments. Find out more here: https://gohealthymoms.com/vita-brain-body-kids