CARING FOR YOUR SPINE
The spine is flexible column of vertebrate that acts as the central scaffolding of the body and which, because it is sinuous and lithe, enables all the parts that are attached to it to move freely. Your spine is not rigid like a lamp post. It is both strong and elastic. Caring for it properly depends on using it well. When it is used like a crane, you run the risk of backache and back injury.
The section of the spine at the rear of the pelvis is the sacrum. It is the central pillar to which the pelvis is fixed. The large, flaring ilia, the bones that look rather like elephant’s ears, are fixed to the sacrum by the sacroiliac joints.
The spinal vertebrae are cushioned by discs, rather like a dynamic hydro-elastic pillow. When you bend, these cushions soften the movement. When the vertebrae are pulled apart, the discs open up like segments of garden trellis. The discs contain fluid that is gradually lost during the day if you have been in an upright position, especially when you have been sitting a lot. For this reason, a person is nearly 2.5 cm (1 in) shorter at the end of the day than at breakfast-time. Lying down enables the discs to fill up again, but they depend on movement to suck in fluid. In pregnancy the sheer weight of your body, and the extra weight of the baby and its luggage, also sits heavily on discs in your lower spine. The result is that all this extra weight squashes them even more. The forward load produced by the increased size and weight of your uterus puts strain on the small of the back, and your upper spine may then be pushed into the wrong position in order to compensate. So to have a healthy back in pregnancy you need to use it wisely. This means knowing how to lift without strain and varying your position so that you do not sit still for long periods of time. It is a good idea to get your weight off your spine and on to all fours now and again and to have rest times when you lie on the bed. But rest is not enough. It is important to move around as well so that you plump up the discs. Dancing, pregnancy exercises, and swimming are effective ways of keeping the spine flexible and revitalizing the discs.
TONING YOUR ABDOMINAL MUSCLES
Four-legged mammals take the extra weight of pregnancy on their abdominal muscles, which are slung evenly between the front and back limbs. Despite their upright stance, human beings also need well-toned abdominal muscles because, if these are flabby, the back muscles are forced to compensate by taking on too much work to support the spine. When this happens, the vertebrae of the lower spine are forced into an unnatural position and the discs between them are subjected to a great deal of pressure. They may slide and become displaced. This leads to exhausting backache. Girdles or “tummy control” tights and pants just take over some of the work that healthy muscles should be doing. The best girdle is composed of your own tummy and buttock muscles, and both sets need to be toned to provide mutual support.
The muscle running from top to bottom down the front of abdomen, the rectus muscle, bears much of the load of late pregnancy, this may show as a dark line in your skin from your navel down to your pubic hair line, although it does not occur in all women. You can see the same line as an indentation about the width of a pencil in photographs of Mr. Universe flexing his muscles and caving in his abdomen. The two sides of the rectus muscle can be pulled apart if it is subjected to great stress. Then it “unzip”. Constipation and straining on the lavatory can sometimes cause this muscle to separate as well.
You can test to find out if there is any separation of the rectus muscle. Lying on you back with a pillow under your head, rest your hands on your tummy and very slowly lift your head and shoulders with your chin tucked in. If you feel a soft bulging area the width of a finger or more the muscle has separated. You can rehabilitate it with exercises after the baby is born (see pages 416-419). Meanwhile concentrate on leg sliding (see page 123). Some exercises intended to strengthen the abdominal muscles can cause the rectus muscle to separate. Do not try double-leg-raising exercises while you are pregnant, or even single-leg raising unless the muscles are already in very good condition. Nor should you do exercises that entail putting your feet under heavy furniture and then raising the upper body, or try sit-ups without using your hands. Not only can these exercises damage abdominal muscles, they can also strain the back.
EXPLORING PELVIC MOVEMENT
The bones that form the pelvis are like a cradle for the baby growing inside you, a cradle that can rock in all directions. Feel your pelvic bones with your fingers. Start with your hip bones. Press in over their upper ridges and then walk your fingers around and down into the small of your back where your hip girdle joins your spine. The point at which it does so is the sacrum, the bone that forms the back of the pelvis and the outlet through which the baby descends. Now walk the fingers around again to the big bones at the side, then down into the groin and around the front till they meet at your public bone. This forms the front of the pelvis and the baby dips down under this bridge of bone just before birth. Notice that your pubis is much lower than your sacrum. The human pelvis is tilted. Once you have found exactly where these bones are and have a clear picture of them, get your partner to feel them, too. Guide his hands so that he is able to track your pelvis accurately.
Lie on any flat surface (it can be a firm bed) with your head and shoulders supported by two pillows and your knees bent with the feet down flat. Explore the capacity for movement in your pelvis. Experiment with some gentle, rhythmic rocking. Then try rolling the cradle around as if you were doing a very slow hula-hoop movement. This is a kind of belly dancing while lying down, in which you tighten your tummy muscles while pressing your buttocks together. As you do so, notice how the different sets of muscles are alternately tightened and released and the way in which your tummy and buttock muscles work together in a coordinated fashion.
Text copyright © Book: The New Pregnancy & Childbirth choices and challenges by Sheila Kitzinger