I have helped expectant mothers (and fathers!) for many years. Michele Kolakowski, the founder of Sanctuary Healing Arts, has been improving maternity and newborn care over twenty years.
I asked Michele what were the biggest body issues she saw in pregnancies. She found that though her expectant mothers were getting miraculous results through her massage therapy treatments, their symptoms sometimes later recurred if they were related to poor ergonomics. We put our heads together to analyze the situations and find solutions within ergonomic principles and tools.
The most common issues for pregnant women result from repetitive movements during the day and sleep habits (or lack thereof). These are the root causes for these four main “stuck points:”
Decorating your nursery with baby turtles is cute. Looking like a turtle while you are expecting is not!
Many pregnant women carry their head too far forward. A woman’s head should be centered with ears aligned with the shoulders, not in front of the body. Proper posture can help you carry your baby with less or discomfort. With the turtle head position, headaches and other musculoskeletal issues develop.
We often see the turtle head position in women who spend their days looking at monitors that are either too far away or too low (or both!). As their bodies move further away to allow for an expanding turtle shell of a belly, not adjusting their workstation accordingly forces their heads forward and downward.
1.Move the monitors closer to your body so your head can be in a position with your ears aligned with your shoulders.
2.Adjust the height of the monitor so that it is level with the top of your head (or 3-4 inches lower if wearing glasses).
3.The ideal viewing angle to the monitor is a cone of 0 to 40 degrees.
4.Make sure the monitor is centered with your keyboard and your body.
Bye, bye, turtle!
As the weight of the pregnancy increases, women often try to get off their feet and sit more. While it is good to take a load off, when sitting at the computer, pregnant women need to pay extra attention to their posture.
We often see expectant mothers round their shoulders forward around their belly, like a Koala Bear. This creates tension in the shoulder muscles, resulting in the rounding forward into a C position, instead of an upright back, head up, shoulders relaxed healthy posture. Women have reported pain and burning between their shoulders and in the shoulders themselves. Pregnant clients often say it feels like someone stabbing them in the back.
The most common reason for this posture is a desk that is too high. From a seated position, if you are reaching up to the desk for the keyboard, your shoulders are elevated forcing the shoulder muscles into the rounding forward C-position. Another cause may be that the chair arms are too high raising your shoulders and propping your elbows on the chair arms angles them too far away from your body. This will increase tension to your neck and upper back.
The problem with the Koala position is that instead of sitting on the sitz bones, pregnant women end up balancing their weight on their sacrum, the triangular bone just above the tailbone. Prolonged sitting on sacrum can negatively affect “optimal fetal position” as the birth approaches.
In pregnancy, the body releases a hormone, relaxin, which allows more flexibility in the joints, especially the sacroiliac joints (the #1 pain complaint area) and pubic symphysis of the pelvis in preparation for birth. Muscles often compensate by working a little harder to stabilize these joints. Many pregnant women suffer from piriformis syndrome which mimics sciatica.
What a pain in the sacrum!
1.Invest in a good ergonomic chair that has seat tilt, back tilt, and a flat seat to support and allow an angled position when seated . Here are some suggestions for shorter and standard height women: High back, flared back, smaller seat with high back
2.Find an angled balance between your sacrum and sitz bones.
3.Alternate standing and sitting – the movement will improve circulation. (Remember that standing at the right height is just as important as sitting at the right height)
4.Position yourself (whether sitting or standing) as close to desk edge as your body will comfortably allow. Elbows should be at a 90-degree angle and wrists should be level with the keyboard. Your head should be level when looking at your monitor (let your eyes do the work). The keyboard and mouse should be close to you so that you can avoid reaching.
5.The exercise ball is a great tool for movement, just not in place of a proper chair. Sitting on a ball as a desk chair makes it hard to get to the right height in relation to the desk height (there’s that Koala posture again) Keep an exercise ball at your desk and use it on the hour to relieve sacrum pressure and keep your body moving. Just be sure to keep air in it because it goes flat often
6.Get up every hour and take a break to get water, use the bathroom, and move your body. Walk during your lunch-even 5 minutes will make a difference.
Back stabbers and pain in the sacrum, be gone!
During pregnancy, the body produces approximately more blood and body fluids to meet the needs of the developing baby. Edema is the accumulation of interstitial fluids commonly experienced in the hands, arms, feet and legs. Edema can make you feel like a puffer fish and put more pressure on the median nerve in the arms causing carpal tunnel like symptoms including tingling, burning, and numbness in the hands and wrists.
Pressure and pain and swelling, Oh My!
Often, when women rest their wrists on the edge of the desk while typing or mousing, these symptoms worsen. This will cause compression, which can add to edema.
A correction of posture habits in conjunction with the desk and chair being set to the right formula height can do wonders.
1.Support and elevate the feet with a footrest if your desk is too high
2.Make sure your hips are higher than your knees when seated if using the seat tilt feature to take pressure off sacrum. Hint: there should be no tension in your thighs. For a flat seat setting, hips level with thighs.
3.Make sure your wrists and elbows are level when typing.
4.If possible, lower your desk so your feet are on the floor and you are in a comfortable, neutral position when seated.
5.Consider a sit stand desk and maybe an anti-fatigue mat to relieve aches and pains when standing. This is an easy way find your “sweet spot” whether sitting or standing. .
6.Move often – take breaks, take walks, stretch, and do light exercises periodically throughout the day
Support, elevation, motion, and relaxation – the perfect antidote to pressure, pain, and swelling (Oh My!)
In a 2014 study, pregnant women experienced poor sleep quality, insufficient nighttime sleep, and frequent nighttime awakenings. As the baby grows, women find it increasingly difficult to get comfortable and their sleep suffers.
Sleepless nights are expected with a newborn, not in utero!
When sleeping, pregnant women must maintain a healthy neutral posture, which is often hard to do. In the ideal resting position, a pregnant woman looks like she’s standing up in straight alignment. Often, the pelvis cannot maintain a neutral position and the shoulder joints and the hips (bony greater trochanter) need more cushion.
1.The bed you sleep in must be able to compensate for the body‘s changes during pregnancy.
2.Massage and exercise will lead to a better night’s sleep.
3.The belly pillow is a smaller wedge pillow that cradles your belly, is portable and takes the weight off.
They say you should sleep when your baby sleeps. At 32 weeks, your baby sleeps 90 to 95 percent of the day. Begin your hibernation, ladies!
Ergonomic solutions for pregnancy
Be kind to your body while you are pregnant: it is supporting you as you support a new life. Of course, it goes without saying ANY time is a good time for a massage. Selecting a therapist who is a prenatal specialist will give you the miraculous results for a healthier you!
Set up your workstation to work for you: make adjustments for your changing body. Give yourself breaks, keep hydrated, use tools that support you, and keep moving.
Karen is the founder and president of Kare Products, specializing in active ergonomic solutions. She has 30 years experience in ergonomic product design and consulting.