How To Alleviate Aches and Pains During Pregnancy14 July 2023 | Before Your Baby is Born | By Lisa H and Julia S
Pregnancy is a beautiful and exciting journey for both body and mind. But it can also be stressful and tiring and lead to tightness in your body.
Doula and bodywork practitioner Julia Schwenke of Embodywork will share some tips with us on how to alleviate aches and pains during pregnancy.
Julia has trained and practiced in Australia, Denmark, Ireland, Thailand, Lebanon, and Germany. She is passionate about empowering people to find their strengths and reach their personal physical and mental goals.
First off, tell us a little bit about your journey to become a doula and bodywork practitioner. What was your inspiration and what are you most passionate about in your work with expecting couples?
My life got a very clear direction after receiving my first Ka Huna (Hawaiian) massage, which was a present from a friend. After that, all I wanted to do was learn the technique, learn about the body, nurturing and healing. It just so happened that I kept getting more and more pregnant clients.
I just love working with people that are “in transition” and being of service within that system. I can’t think of a better transition than becoming a parent and growing a child. This inspired me to do my doula training.
Many women experience aches and pains in their body during pregnancy. What can be the reason for that?
First and foremost, I like to say that pregnancy shouldn’t hurt.
Yes, there can be a whole list of things that are uncomfortable and maybe also challenging but it shouldn’t really hurt. I often hear that women are told “Oh it's unfortunate and it will go away once the baby is born” but today we have a lot of tools and tricks to support the body to realign and find/keep balance.
To answer your question, the main reason for aches and pains is most likely the hormone relaxin. True to its name, its job is to relax muscles, joints and ligaments. Overall, it prepares the body for birth as well as many other things. This is great if you’re into yoga as you may feel you can reach that bit further but it may also increase the risk of injury. There are many ways to exercise for lower back pain and other discomforts during pregnancy, but we will discuss that later.
Often what happens is that one side of the hip may rotate slightly, which creates a lot of pull on the surrounding tissue. This can happen when there’s a lot of weight on one side of the hip, such as getting out of the car, getting out of bed with the legs wide apart, getting up from the ground and putting your hand on your knee to get the other leg up as well as some pregnancy yoga poses. Thankfully, these things can be corrected easily during pregnancy.
Other changes pregnant people may notice is that their spine bends into a much stronger S-curve to balance the weight of the belly, as well as the rib cage widening to give room for the organs as the bump is getting bigger.
It is amazing what the body can do. However, with the way we sit and move in the modern world, sometimes we just need to support the body a little to be able to make these changes.
What can help in alleviating these aches and pains before the birth?
I’m a big fan of prevention and for me the best resource to recommend is Spinning Babies (R). This is a physiological approach to preparing for and caring for birth. For me, it is the holy grail of the birth world when it comes to understanding what the body does and needs during pregnancy.
They have exercises, for prevention as well as correction, that are easy to learn and I do them with my clients every week in my clinic. This includes things we can do to give plenty of space for the baby to develop well and find a good position for the birth. It certainly helps with back pain during pregnancy that many pregnant people experience.
Whenever a pregnant person comes to me, I first try to figure out if the pains are familiar to the client or new to them. If the body has already experienced injury, then pain might be heightened during pregnancy. When there is sharp pain it's always worth working on this as soon as possible so long as there is not the extra weight to carry, in order for them to go into labor pain free.
Also, there is so much we can teach to preserve balance. Like not crossing the legs, how to turn/twist in bed, get up from the ground, jump out of the car and how to sit smartly (especially while resting). If you have no issues great - but if you do then you can learn how to support your body to regain realignment and stay in balance, so you can be pain free!
Your specialty is Hawaiian massage. What can clients expect from it and how does it work?
This technique is known to work with love, a lot of yummy strokes trying to bring space and calm to the body as well as activating the body's natural ability to heal.
I enter a conversation with the woman first as she arrives and then I see /listen to what the body is telling me. I look for valves where the body can release pressure and also show exit points generally via the arms, legs and head.
For sure it's a very individual treatment depending on what is needed on the day.
The massage starts with a flowy rhythm but then can vary in speed and intensity later on. Often I use sound and breathwork to help the body to relax and surrender. The clients come off the table feeling like they were in the ocean or in a forest. So beautiful.
What they love for sure is lying on the belly as I have a pregnancy massage table.
On a physical level it's like sweeping a chimney. Ever so often we just need to gently blow through the system and life becomes easier automatically.
All in all it can bring some magic into the day to day. It connects the woman deeply to their inner knowing, trust in herself and brings a sense of calm.
What other professionals can you recommend?
When the pregnant person needs someone who is a bit more “technical” than what I offer, then I like to recommend working with an osteopath and/or chiropractor. The most important thing is that the practitioner feels confident working with pregnant bodies.
Anything else that families should know about bodywork and massage during pregnancy?
Do it! You’ll only do this a few times (at best) in your life. Pamper yourself, aim for pain free and come together into community. This is so important during pregnancy and beyond!
Are you curious about how doulas support families during pregnancy and the postpartum period? And how does this differ from the work of midwives? Read on to find out.