Over the past year, you’ve likely heard a lot about the negative health effects of prolonged sitting. Research has shown that sitting is the single greatest risk factor for diabetes and death from heart disease or cancer and thus has been equated to smoking, something we have long accepted as one of the worst villains in the world of risk factors for our health. Comparing sitting to smoking may seem harsh, but it shows us the severity our lifestyle choices may have on our health and sounds an alarm that something needs to change.
Why is sitting so bad for us? It places uneven pressure on the spine leading to wear and tear on the discs, joints, ligaments and excess strain on the muscles increasing your risk of injury. Prolonged sitting, particularly in a slouched position, also reduces the space available for your lungs to expand and therefore leads to less oxygen circulating in your blood. Sitting compresses and pressurizes the muscles, nerves, arteries and veins which impairs their function, reducing blood and nerve flow, and leads to symptoms of numbness, swelling and pain. It reduces our body’s ability to burn fat, reduces blood flow and oxygen to the brain and affects our ability to function and concentrate. Long periods of sitting have been linked to kidney and liver problems, diabetes, cancer and heart disease.
Now, consider what this means if you are pregnant. We can assume, given how the internal organs must shift out of the way and are compressed as the uterus expands to accommodate the growing baby, that the additional strain of sitting, particularly in a slouched position, will only exacerbate things. For example, our lung capacity is already reduced when pregnant, as any pregnant women who must climb a flight of stairs can attest to, so our oxygen levels may be even further compromised when we sit for long periods of time.
We all know the dangers of smoking while pregnant…what about the dangers of sitting?
Sitting for Two
There hasn’t been a lot of research done yet on the detrimental effects of prolonged sitting on pregnant women. But what we do know is that prolonged sitting during pregnancy can be a real challenge. On top of the added strain to your joints, muscles and ligaments in your lower back and pelvis causing pain, it is also related to less than ideal fetal positioning and may contribute to mothers experiencing “back labour” and other difficulties during childbirth. Studies have also shown that prolonged sitting during pregnancy may be related to an increase risk in blood clots. Add that to the negative effects mentioned above and you may wonder, “How on earth am I going to get through the next 40 weeks without sitting down?”
Now, I’m not saying you can’t sit when your pregnant, you definitely can and should, as prolonged standing during pregnancy comes with its own negative health effects. As with many things in life, it is all about balance and moderation.
The Sitting Solution
If you are pregnant and your day to day routine requires prolonged sitting, here are my tips for how to do so in the smartest and best way you can so you can minimize the negative impact it may have and hopefully avoid a lot of discomfort.
1. Use the best chair you can find…or no chair at all
If you are sitting at a desk for the majority of your day, use a good quality, adjustable desk chair that you can adjust to suit you throughout your pregnancy as your body changes. Make use of the lumbar support and if it doesn’t match up with your body and you can’t modify it, use a folded towel, blanket or small pillow to help support your lower back. Try sitting forward on your “sitting bones” and avoid slouching. Your back should never look like a C! If you do not have access to a good quality desk chair, consider using an exercise ball for some of your work day. It forces you to use your core muscles (yes, you still have them!) and keeps your pelvis in a better position while sitting. It may be a challenge to use the ball the entire day, so switching between a chair and the ball might be helpful.
2. 'Manspreading’, or as I prefer to say, ‘Sitting for Two’
I am not a fan of the term “manspreading” and can hardly believe I am using it here, but it seems to get the message across! When pregnant, it is important to sit with your knees wider and lower than your hips. Remember this when you are at work and at home as the cozy recliner or slouchy couch may not be the greatest choice for you. And please, no crossing of the legs!
3. Get Up and Move – make the most of the bathroom break
Getting up from your chair/ball every 30 minutes and moving around for a few minutes is a great way to break up the strain on your body and give yourself a rest from sitting. If you have to set an alert on your phone or computer to remind you, then do so. If you can walk around and/or do some of your work tasks standing that’s a great way to be productive while also helping your body. Try doing this simple exercise to help mobilize your lower back and pelvis:
Figure 8 or Hulahoop Exercise:
4. Get Down
Each day, spend a little time on your hands and knees and squatting. Both positions help counter the effects of prolonged sitting and help encourage better fetal positioning and mobility of your sacrum (these are extremely important for your comfort during pregnancy as well as during childbirth).
5. Regular visits to your friendly, neighbourhood pregnancy Chiropractor
Okay, so I’m a little biased here, but there is research on my side to back it up that chiropractic during pregnancy is safe, gentle and effective in resolving pain in the lower back and pelvis, helping to achieve optimal fetal positioning, and that mothers who receive regular chiropractic care have shorter, less painful and less complicated deliveries. Chiropractic care can minimize the consequences of prolonged sitting during pregnancy, help you feel more comfortable and help prepare your body for childbirth.
Prolonged anything can lead to issues and this is true whether you’re pregnant or not. If you’re having any trouble at all throughout your pregnancy, please don’t hesitate to connect with a Chiropractor experienced in providing prenatal care. Lower back and pelvic pain is extremely common during pregnancy but is not normal and you do not need to live with it.
Dr. Holly Beckley is a Chiropractor and Acupuncture provider at ReBirth Wellness Centre in London, Ontario, Canada. For more information on Dr. Holly and her practice please visit www.rebirthwellness.ca and www.hollybeckley.com
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I am Holly Beckley, a wife, mother and Chiropractor, living in the wonderful city of London, Ontario, Canada and I am passionate about helping people feel and function their best.