Pregnancy and birth are a great time to look at how you use your back, and learn to use it better. Your body is soft and malleable during and just after pregnancy, and can accept change easily.
Getting your back right will help you carry your unborn child. Less obviously, perhaps, it can also help during labour and delivery.
A very simple and useful back exercise in pregnancy is crawling. Crawl about the house (or office!) whenever you can. Crawling can give a "breech baby" a chance to turn around late in the day, so that he or she is born normally. The all-fours position is also valuable during labour. The so-called Gaskin Maneuver is used to help deliver babies with head and shoulder presentation (shoulder dystocia) without medical intervention.
Rocking on Hands and Knees has similar benefits and may not be as tough on your wrists as crawling. (Some women develop "carpal tunnel syndrome" while pregnant or as new mothers. It can make your wrists painful and weak.)
The Whispered "Ah", which is for your neck and jaw, is excellent, and will help your whole back, improving your balance and resilience.
Why would your neck and throat be relevant to pregnancy and birth? Well, here's how they can affect your lower back, the scene of the action. In 2006 I was flat on my back for some days with lower back pain and weakness in my legs. The major problem was unearthed by my osteopath in the C6 neck vertebra, near the bottom of my neck. Since the treatment I have been using Whispered Ahs religiously. Six months later, the osteopath says my neck no longer has any problems. My lower back has been stronger and more flexible than I can ever remember.
Don't forget the other self-help exercises on this website. No work on any part of your back is wasted. All the exercises are gentle. In later pregnancy you might find the exercises that involve lying down on your back become uncomfortable. Listen to this feeling, and lie on your side with lots of support from pillows if you find this better.
If you seek professional help, be sure to tell the teacher or therapist that you are pregnant before allowing them to manipulate your spine.
During labour and birth, a strong, flexible lower back is one of your best tools. We have a "tail-bone" (coccyx) inside our bodies that usually curls inwards from the buttocks. During birth, a woman's coccyx should uncurl and move backwards in order to allow the baby through. It can't move as easily if you have lower back problems. Unresolved lower back pain may be a prelude to difficulties during labour and birth. Your labour may be longer, and your lower back may be at risk of further injury during the birth process. Pay attention to back pain now if you are pregnant.
Many hospitals still make women lie down to give birth, especially if their pregnancy or birth is considered high-risk. Sometimes there's a reason given: you're at risk, so you're wired up to monitoring equipment for your own or your baby's safety.
Hospitals instinctively want to monitor healthy pregnancies as well, and this is more controversial.
It can force the woman to restrict her movements for the convenience of the tubes and wires, and may ignore her own need to move during labour.
Women instinctively move during labour, kneeling up, sitting on haunches, all-fours, standing with knees bent, "moslem prayer position"...
In fact, one of the few positions labouring women don't tend to choose is lying down on their backs.
There are some good reasons. Lying on your back is a dubious social and medical convention, and has little to do with science, or what is best for mother or child. Lying down has been accused of making childbirth more painful, lengthening labour, and increasing the need for medical intervention in the birth process.
Lying down makes it more difficult for your tailbone to move up and back out of the baby's path, because it's pressing into the birthing bed.
Lying down doesn't use the force of gravity to help the birth.
More hospitals are showing flexibility on this count, but you may still have to be assertive (or ask your birth partner to be assertive for you) if you want freedom to move during labour.
It's worth making a fuss. In addition to problems with your tailbone, lying down doesn't make use of gravity during the delivery, which means you and your baby have to work harder, for longer. Birth is an active, powerful, life-affirming process. It is especially so when you're not forced to lie down!
If your hospital is not willing to accommodate your wishes, you might want to consider a home birth.
Perhaps you're watching other parents carry heavy-looking infants and toddlers, and felt your back groan at the very thought of it?
Don't worry! You may be surprised how easy your baby is to lift, even if your back is "bad". There are two big things that work in your favour when you're a parent carrying your own child.
Nevertheless, it's good to make sure your back's in good condition before giving birth (and before you become a new parent and suddenly have more lifting and carrying to do.)
During pregnancy your bones, ligaments and tendons soften and lengthen considerably under the influence of hormones. This softening and lengthening helps you carry and deliver your baby. For example, the softening helps your pelvis to let your baby out through the birth canal during labour. But because your tissues are softer during this time, you do need to take a little more care of your back than usual.
Ina May's Guide to Childbirth, by Ina-May Gaskin is a great place to start if you're looking to create a peaceful, positive birth experience. It's a warm, passionate, sensible, well-researched book by the founder of a midwife-run birth centre in Tennesee. We read it avidly while we were preparing for Sam's birth. Buy Ina May's Guide to Childbirth from Amazon.
In a recent study Ina May's birth centre was found to be as safe as a hospital, with shorter labours and a tiny fraction of the rate of medical interventions such as caesarian section (2% against a US national average of 24%). You can see the results of the study on Ina May's website.
Our Babies Ourselves, by Meredith Small. A readable summary of worldwide research on pregnancy, birth and child-rearing. The variety is immense, even varying a great deal in the 1st world, and can introduce you to a range of ideas about the way birth, babies and parenthood "should" be. If you've ever wondered if there was "another way" then this is the book for you. Buy Our Babies Ourselves from Amazon.
My wife Liz and I are new parents ourselves. During neo-natal classes we were introduced to Ilana Machover's E-book of Birth Stories which contain many positive, practical ideas and stories about pregnancy and birth. (Ilana requests a small donation if you like the book.)
This is our little boy, Sam, at 7 months, born at home in May 2006. I can't resist showing him off!