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Sun, November 1, 2009
Pregnancy and Chiropractic: Why Your Pelvis Determines Birth Success
As a doctor of chiropractic that specializes in the care of the spine during and after pregnancy, I want to paint a larger picture of what exactly happens to the pelvis and lower back of pregnant women. How does the health and balance of these areas affect the mother and the baby? Profoundly, at least.

In traditional terms, if you are pregnant “they” weigh you, measure you, assess the position of the baby, and begin intervening to ensure that you have a “normal” labor and delivery. Why then do we have a cesarean rate that approaches 50%? Why are there so many problems during hospital births? Although I cannot answer all of these questions, it is wise to look at the bigger picture of spinal/pelvic balance and how the establishment of a better spinal and pelvic balance can lead to a more balanced pregnancy with less pain and complications.

Consider the human form. It stands erect, is large-brained, and is extremely active. This, at first glance, is no big news and seems pretty normal since most of us fit this profile, more or less. Standing erect is unique among mammals on the planet, however. In order for us to exist in an upright fashion, our spines and hips are angled differently than other four-legged creatures. The amount of brainpower it takes to control the complex set of muscles that keep us upright is impressive. It also complicates how the mother and unborn baby co-exist both structurally and functionally.

If you have ever had the opportunity to witness the birth of a puppy litter you would see that the actual birth process is quite a bit calmer in comparison to the human birth. When puppies are born the mother will look down casually and notice there is a wet, sacked mass that has just arrived from somewhere down there and she will begin licking it until it is free. After the mother repeats the process 6-12 times the puppies will find their way and begin to feed. That’s it – the whole birth process, and it is common for a wide assortment of animals both large and small.

With people, however, birth can be painful, traumatic, and can pose a threat to both the mother’s and the newborn’s lives if things do not go well. The pelvis has to enlarge and stretch to allow the passage of a baby. Therefore, the opportunity for pain and complications becomes magnified.

Our skulls are massive in relation to the size of our bodies, especially the newborn, as a result of our large brains. The larger head must compress to a significantly smaller size during birth. The odd and often bizarre shape of a newborn skull is evidence of the journey just taken. After a day or two the skull will “blow-out” or re-expand again.

How do the mother and baby endure all of these variables? Finding physical, mental, and emotional balance is so important during pregnancy and birth. As doctors of chiropractic we directly address the spinal and pelvic structures of the mother to help her accommodate the size of the baby to provide an easier delivery. This focus helps to promote the proper positioning of the baby prior to birth, as well.

So what is “balance” in the pregnant mother? The relationship between the uterus and the pelvic bones plays a big role. The uterus (which is a large muscle) is covered with connective tissue. Imagine a rubber ball tightly stuffed into a balloon. If we were to pinch the balloon on either side and pull out to the sides we would be imitating the “round ligaments” of the uterus. The ends of these ligaments attach to the inside of the mother’s pelvic bones.

Many women (about 60%-70%) have pelvic bones that are rotated unevenly from right to left. This common misalignment develops as we grow through childhood and often does not cause pain until pregnancy. When the round ligaments attach to a mis-aligned pelvis it actually “torques” or twists the position of the uterus and baby. This imbalance dictates how the baby is positioned before birth. Can this cause a breech or other undesirable fetal position? Most certainly!

The Webster Technique

The “Webster Technique” is a very specific chiropractic technique developed for, and used solely with, pregnancy. It was developed by the late Dr. Larry Webster, D.C. with the sole purpose of balancing the pelvis and spinal column. I trained with him personally when I was a student at Life Chiropractic College in the late 1980’s. Often, people who are familiar with “Webster” mistake it for a “baby turning procedure.” This is wrong. In fact, the whole technique evolves from the more traditional chiropractic goal of re-aligning and restoring life force through the nerves with spinal adjustment techniques.

What does that mean? Simple. The spine is a structure that supports the body and contains the nerves that go to all body parts. When the spine is not aligned or balanced, the nerves and thus, the body parts do not function as designed. As a chiropractor I “adjust the spine” to restore normal structure and transmission of normal nerve impulses to all parts of the body.

In pregnancy, the function of the nerves to the uterus and baby are vitally important. We already know that a misaligned pelvis can physically torque or twist the uterus and baby. Now, add nerves. Nerves come from the spine and control the uterus and surrounding muscles. This plays a vital role in allowing the baby to grow, properly positioned, in a balanced uterus. It also allows the uterus to function actively during pregnancy. Remember, the uterus is a muscle, it doesn’t just hold the baby like a sack, it nourishes and supports the life of the baby. And the pelvic structure and nerve supply to the uterus is a big deal.

The Webster technique plays three roles:
  1. Balances the pelvis
  2. Balances the round ligaments
  3. Opens the nerve supply to the uterus and surrounding muscles
Sound simple? It is, usually. And it is safe for both the mother and baby. The first time I used the Webster technique was in 1991. I was in practice for only 3 years and still relatively inexperienced. I got a phone call from a mother who was 39 weeks pregnant and breech. I adjusted her pelvis using Webster and then got a second call from her an hour later. The baby turned into the proper position by the time she arrived home - painlessly and without drugs or surgery… just the way us chiropractors like it! Regardless, whether that was beginners “luck” or the universe encouraging me to continue with this work, the mother was elated.

Note: I always recommend that moms actively participate in chiropractic care during the entire course of her pregnancy to facilitate balance, which usually takes more than an hour. Balance is a process, not an event.

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