Dropping, lightening, engagement — as your due date nears, it's time for baby to head for the nearest exit. But what if you're not feeling any lighter? You might wonder, how do I get my baby to engage in the birth canal? Is there anything you can do now to get your body ready for labor, and your baby heading in the right direction?
Dr. Elliot Berlin of the Berlin Wellness Group, a prenatal chiropractor, spends most of his days addressing exactly this issue. In an interview with Romper, he explained the basic problem of birth — your baby's head is larger than your pelvic opening (yeah, it's probably crossed your mind). Luckily, the bones of your baby's skull aren't yet fused, allowing them to fold in on themselves during labor. "The second set of the equation is the mother's pelvis, which I equate to a rubber band," Berlin explains. "At the end of pregnancy, your body tries very hard to make that band stretch." The hormone relaxin works on your ligaments, and progesterone levels rise to relax muscle tissue.
"When the baby comes through, they usually corkscrew," according to Berlin. "They go down and rotate at the same time. If the pelvis is very rigid and resistant, it can be difficult for the baby to drop, and/or drop and turn." As a prenatal chiropractor and massage therapist, Berlin uses manual therapy, massage, myofascial release, and adjustments to prepare the pelvis for labor:
"If you come in with a very rigid rubberband, your pelvis is very tight in the soft tissues, or the joints are stuck and rigid, we can have a big impact . . . We can make an environment in which the baby has an easier time dropping and rotating into the ideal position."
Dr. Berlin recommends yoga — think pigeon pose — to release tight muscles. If you're looking to nudge your baby in the right direction, you can also lean on your forearms with your butt in the air. This gives the baby a bit more space to wiggle and shift. It also feels great to relieve the pressure on your pelvic floor. Personally, I also recommend handstands in the pool. (Don't be embarrassed. All the cool pregnant ladies are doing it.)
Megan Schmitt, MD, is a Park Nicollet OB-GYN delivering babies at Methodist Hospital Family Birth Center in St. Louis Park, Minnesota. She explains to Romper that if you're on your first pregnancy, your baby's head will likely settle into the pelvic brim one or two weeks before labor — "Some women describe it as, 'I can finally breathe again!'" For moms on their second or more, however, Schmitt notes that the baby might not drop until labor begins.
If you're staring down your due date and still carrying high, don't worry. According to Schmitt, "It's important to know that if you don't feel like your baby has 'dropped,' it does not mean that your pregnancy or labor process is abnormal . . . it isn't something that's going to determine your ability to have a baby vaginally."
For home care, Schmitt recommends birthing balls, which can relieve the pressure in your back and pelvis, and give you a good stretch. A yoga or birthing ball is also way more comfortable than the common household chair (basically, a torture device for women in their third trimester).
While you can't make your baby "drop" into the pelvis or birth canal before she's ready, you can prepare your own body for labor with stretching, massage, exercise, and a visit to a chiropractor. Schmitt recommends chiropractic care for pregnant women with musculoskeletal pain, and both Schmitt and Berlin advocate for finding someone experienced in prenatal care. If you're feeling tense, the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) can help you find a prenatal chiropractor in your zip code.