I knew that pregnancy would change my body. I paid attention in middle school health class (kinda). But when I peed on that pregnancy test and that pregnancy test threw up that plus sign and I started gestating, I realized I had no idea just how much would change. Like, for example, how pregnancy changes your pelvis. Because you can be well aware that your hips have to accommodate a growing fetus and still not fully comprehend just how much your body is going to have to expand, stretch, and shift to get the job done.
"During pregnancy your body has an increased amount of the hormone Relaxin that causes all your joints to get loosey-goosey," Sara Reardon, a pelvic health physical therapist, owner of of NOLA Pelvic Health, and self-proclaimed The Vagina Whisperer, tells Romper. "So the ligaments in your pelvic soften, allowing your pelvis to expand as your baby grows, which is a good thing."
This "good thing" can lead to some not-so-good issues, though. According to Reardon, an expanding pelvis can lead to instability, which can cause pain in your pubic bone and sacroiliac joints — a common source of discomfort during pregnancy and postpartum. Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP) — pain in the front and/or the back of your pelvis — affects one in five pregnant women, according to the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists. In rare cases, PGP can rule out a vaginal delivery, according to What To Expect.
Just because pelvic pain is common doesn't mean you should be stuck enduring it. "No amount of pain is normal," Reardon says. "It may be common, but its not normal and there are resources that can help like a pelvic floor PT."
If you are experiencing pain, and that pain is causing urinary leakage or affecting your bowel movements, sexual function, or organ support, Reardon says it might be time to contact a pelvic floor therapist. "A pelvic floor physical therapist can assess your pelvic floor and abdominal muscles to help rehabilitate and strengthen as needed," she says.
(Reardon notes that if you're postpartum and experiencing pain, it's not recommended that you see a pelvic floor physical therapist for the first 4-6 weeks, to "ensure adequate healing time before an internal examination.)
You can also, of course, modify some things at home — how you sit, stand, exercise, etc. — to help with the pain and discomfort. Reardon recommends compression or maternity support (like a stability belt) to help support your pelvic bones. "Wear a Serola belt all of the time," she says, "especially with exercise, which should only be walking, swimming, gentle yoga, and nothing high impact if you're experiencing pain."
Sleeping on your side with a pillow in between your knees, and making the most of your kegel exercises, can also help you treat the discomfort associated with pelvic changes, Reardon says. And, unfortunately, there might a list of things to forego until your pregnancy ends or the pain subsides. "Avoid certain movements that can cause pain, like standing when getting dressed, putting on socks, and shoes or shaving your legs," Reardon tells Romper. "Avoid getting in and out of your car with one leg at a time. Keep your legs together and turn to your side instead of putting one leg out and then another. Avoid separating your legs really wide which would tug on that pubic bone (sounds weird but, for instance, avoid doing a deep squat, child’s pose, butterfly stretch, lunges, or Pilates reformer work)."
Pregnancy, labor, and delivery is going to change your body — there's no way around it. How long those changes remain is entirely dependent on your unique body and medical history, but it's important to remember that you don't have to live in pain just because you're pregnant and your body is adjusting. As your ligaments relax and stretch and your pelvis prepares for birth, Reardon recommends checking in with yourself, reaching out to experts, and demanding care if you need it.
"It's normal to not know what's normal during pregnancy, so do your research and be your own advocate for your health," she says.