Can chiropractic care help during pregnancy? Dr. Jo Nell Shaw, a chiropractor and naturopathic doctor at Shaw Family Practice in Fort Collins, Colorado, believes the world needs healthy moms, and she is on a mission to improve the experience of being a woman in the modern world. Dr. Shaw shared how going to the chiropractor can benefit pregnancy, delivery and fourth trimester postpartum recovery after a surrogacy journey.
Can you explain what a chiropractor is?
A chiropractor is somebody who looks at the nervous system and a person’s spinal integrity. We look at the joints of the body, the joints of the head, and the spine. They’ll make sure that they’re all aligned and that your nervous system is functioning well. That’s important to the connection between the brain and body. When a joint is not moving well, you’re going to feel pain and there’s going to be muscle tension around it. Your brain is constantly getting feedback that the body is not where you think it is. You need to fix it. We do have that very gentle touch. It’s not like the YouTube videos that you’ll see on chiropractors where they’re just popping everything. The whole idea of bone cracking is a myth. We are not cracking bones, we are moving joints.
What is a naturopathic doctor?
A naturopathic physician, or naturopathic doctor, is somebody who basically uses nature and the laws of nature to change someone’s physiology. We’re looking at people as a whole ecosystem. So it’s not just all of the organ systems of your body, but it’s also the environment that you’ve been in, any exposures that you’ve had from environmental toxins or genetic discrepancies. We also look a lot at people’s experience of the world, including any kind of trauma or events that have happened to them. We start basically peeling back the layers to figure out what the actual cause is of a particular health issue.
What are some of the main benefits of someone going to a chiropractor doctor like you?
Often people will seek out chiropractors because they are in pain, although we do a lot more than just relieving pain. Anytime that your body alignment is not correct, you may actually start seeing other systems in your body start to communicate, telling you they’re not doing well either. That’s not always painful. For instance, if somebody has sluggish digestion or constipation, I can address that. We’re looking at the body and how it’s adapting to all of the information that it’s giving the brain and, in return, how the brain is sending that back and changing the function of organs, muscles and joints.
Your mission is to improve the experience of being a woman in the modern world. How do you do that through chiropractic care?
I find that many women are trying to do everything for everyone around them. In order to make their life better, I demonstrate that taking time to focus on themselves is essential. It starts to empower them and put them in a role where they’re not putting themselves on the back burner and letting their health deteriorate. I see that a lot with women who end up having auto-immune conditions. Oftentimes, when we start peeling back the layers, they will then say, “Wow, I really wish I would’ve seen a chiropractor sooner because I would have really changed the way I was living my life.” You can imagine how running ragged for a really long time will cause these women’s health to really start hurting. This doesn’t affect just them, but everyone around them because they can’t show up and be fully present with their kids or their spouse. They’re missing days of work because they are in pain, and now they have a health crisis that they feel came out of nowhere. When we ask, “When did it start?”, they realize it has been going on for over a decade and felt it was just not a big enough issue to do anything about it at that time.
What pregnancy issues can chiropractic care help solve?
A major one is breech pregnancies. Chiropractic care helps by actually changing the mom’s anatomy. If you think about the natural curvature of someone’s spine, pregnant women end up having a large mass, the baby, in front of them. This causes their spine and back to really curve. Posture changes as the weight of the baby keeps increasing, and the body has to stretch and change with that. If she doesn’t have really good alignment, it’s not going to stretch and change optimally; compensations will occur which end up creating hip and shoulder pain. There are ligaments that go from the tailbone to the uterus. If your tailbone is not in good alignment, your uterus gets a bit twisted. It’s like a hot air balloon, with ropes on it; if one of those ropes is tighter, that hot air balloon is going to bend differently than if they were both symmetrical side to side. Women with asymmetries run the risk of having a harder delivery, worse birth outcomes and a harder postpartum recovery.
What is the Webster technique?
The Webster technique is a chiropractic technique geared towards helping pelvic anatomy for pregnant women. We want those ligaments going from the tailbone up to the uterus to be very symmetrical and stable. We balance out the piriformis muscles that run across your butt cheeks. We work on the front of the belly. Some women, later in pregnancy, will start having round ligament pain. That ligament is unique in that it actually has a muscle fiber running through it. It can have a trigger point in it that causes a lot of pain similar to what you get in your upper back. The Webster technique is focused on a pregnant woman and all about improving her anatomy to create the best environment for the baby to be in. Not every chiropractor is trained in pregnancy, so I encourage women to turn to resources like the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association to find Webster certified chiropractors.
What exercises do you recommend pregnant women do throughout their pregnancy?
I teach women what are called rest smart postures. These are ways to, for instance, sit in chairs or to move from lying down to sitting up in a way that doesn’t hurt your alignment. By utilizing these postures, women help to prevent pressure in the abdomen and reduce the chances of diastasis recti, which is a condition where the abdominal muscles separate. Not only do these postures help women recover faster from pregnancy, they help women to be more comfortable during that nine to 10 months of gestation. I also encourage pregnant women to do assisted squats. For example, doing a goddess squat stretches the perineum and helps to ensure that the legs are building endurance. Chiropractic care can help that and make the delivery go much more effectively!
How can a surrogate’s partner help?
I show partners techniques so that they can help women really feel comfortable throughout pregnancy and delivery. There’s one technique that I’ll have partners learn to help women when she wakes up in the middle of the night with hip pain, which helps everybody get a better night’s sleep. That same technique can be used later on during delivery, by opening up the pelvic outlet, contractions are more effective and the baby can come out easier.
How do you use chiropractic care for surrogates?
Going through pregnancy with the intention that you are growing a baby lovingly and giving that to the intended parents is amazing. Pregnancy is still challenging for a surrogate’s body and having a strong connection to her own anatomy is incredibly important. When I talk to these women about their experiences, they’ll tell me it was one of the greatest gifts that they could ever give someone. I want to make sure that their pregnancies and healing go as amazing as possible because I want that gift to continue to be something that they can cherish.
How does a chiropractor help the surrogate and her family?
We want to be able to make sure that surrogates can adapt to their changing bodies. They still have a family that they have to take care of, on top of caring for themselves. I work with women to give them the energy that they need while growing the baby. Our nervous system is going to be key in managing any kind of stress and chiropractic care helps ensure the brain and body are connected and working well together. When a surrogate has little ones at home that she’s taking care of while pregnant, if she’s uncomfortable she’s going to be grumpier because pregnancy can be such a drain on women. When a surrogate is comfortable, that is a huge gift and hopefully she is thinking, “Oh my gosh, this is the best pregnancy I’ve ever had!” That is the feedback that I get often and I want that for every surrogate.
Do you have advice for the surrogates who are preparing for birth?
Look at some rest smart positions. When you’re sitting down, you want your sitz bones, the deep bones in your pelvic outlet, to be on the surface and your feet are going to be wide and angled out. You want your belly to drop in between your legs to allow the gravity and weight of the baby to help stretch your muscles. Also, move often and eat as many vegetables as you can. Fiber is going to keep things really comfortable. As long as your digestion is doing well, you’ll be able to get anything that’s being mobilized out of your body. If your body doesn’t move with ease, find a chiropractor that can help. Consider yoga, too; there are plenty of free pregnancy based yoga programs on YouTube!
Does a chiropractor have any benefit for intended parents as well?
If an infant is uncomfortable and if they have problems pooping, feeding, or sleeping, those are all indications that a chiropractor can be helpful. Babies have had a stressful event during the birthing process, which impacts their entire body. If a baby is more comfortable, they’re going to feed better, poop with ease and sleep better too! I always tell parents to look at their children to see if their face is symmetrical. If you see one eye too small or closed, that’s going to be an indication that there’s something happening in the head shape that we can change. Also, look for a head tilt. That often can change the way that your child interprets the world. It’s also important that their mouth is opening and closing while feeding. If they’re uncomfortable trying to suck on anything, that’s another indication that a chiropractor could be helpful in getting their palate and their skull structure accustomed to being outside of a body.
What role does a chiropractor have in the 4th trimester postpartum time?
Fourth trimester postpartum care for surrogates does look different. Helping these women to feel at home again in their bodies while recovering from pregnancy is the goal. We address any complications from pregnancy, whether there was tearing, pain, or separation of abdominal muscles. All of her organs had to shift while she was pregnant and now they have to shift back. We work with that organ anatomy. I want to make sure that women are feeling their life is going the way that they intended. If a woman is struggling with pain, fatigue, or feelings of unworthiness, that’s something that I’m trained to help with. Having care providers who can address those needs is essential. If they’re in Colorado, they can come and work with me. If not, I can help put them in touch with people in their area. I really want to make sure that every woman is able to live the life that they want and feel good in their bodies.
What is your advice for women who are considering becoming a surrogate?
If you love being pregnant, I would definitely investigate. Talk to other surrogates to learn about their experience. The conversations that I’ve had have been extremely valuable because these women have said how much they loved it and how it was such a gift that they would do it again. On a clinical note, I know that a lot of women say they feel best when pregnant and that’s awesome. Somebody who truly enjoys that experience of being pregnant can be a great surrogate.
Being a surrogate can be hard, so make sure that you have a community around you who understands your choices! When making this decision, think about the risks, the benefits, and the alternatives. Make sure that this is the best choice for you and your family and then there will be no regrets. You can listen to other people, but tap into yourself and really use that as a guide to decide what would be best for you and your immediate family and go from there.