Aching back, sore shoulders, weak pelvic floor (AKA peeing every time you sneeze). Sound familiar? Sure, these symptoms are often written off as “just part of being pregnant,” but that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through them for the long haul.
There are a few different ways to alleviate pregnancy pains—Tylenol, exercise and massage being some of the most common—but what about seeing a chiropractor? Chiropractors are well known for treating things like back and neck pain (and for creating those super satisfying videos of patients getting their joints cracked), but can they help with discomfort related to pregnancy?
We talked with Dr. Christine Cantwell, prenatal chiropractor at Thriving Life Wellness Center1 , to answer all the most common questions surrounding pregnancy chiropractic care. Read on to learn more about the safety and benefits of seeing a prenatal chiropractor.
What is a prenatal chiropractor?
A prenatal chiropractor or pregnancy chiropractor is just like a regular chiropractor in that they focus on spinal and pelvic adjustments to relieve back pain and body tension, but they also have special knowledge and training around the pregnant body and common pregnancy-related pain and discomfort. Prenatal chiropractic also focuses more on the pelvis to help with pelvic alignment (which can help with labor and vaginal delivery) and to ensure there’s plenty of room for baby as they grow and invert in the third trimester.
Pregnancy chiropractors know “how to approach (pregnancy-related) ailments with a gentle enough touch that is safe for both mom and the baby,” Dr. Cantwell explains. Most importantly, “they also are trained to modify their techniques to be safe, effective and comfortable during all the stages of pregnancy.”
To ensure you’re being treated by a chiropractor who is trained to work safely with pregnant people, Dr. Cantwell suggests using the International Chiropractic Pediatric Association (ICPA) database2 to look for someone in your area who is Webster Certified or ICPA trained.
What to expect during prenatal treatment
You’re probably wondering how you’re supposed to lie face-down for a spinal or pelvic adjustment if there’s a sizable pregnant belly in the way, or if it’ll be uncomfortable or cause baby to shift in the womb. But don’t worry—if you’ve been to a chiropractor before, your prenatal treatment will likely only differ slightly from your regular adjustments.
For starters, you might actually be lying face-down on the table. Chiropractic tables feature separated sections that can raise and lower independently, allowing your chiropractor to comfortably lift different parts of your body away from the table. With the addition of a special bolster or pillow, your belly can be comfortably cradled off the table while your head, shoulders, hips and legs are firmly supported by the table.
For the adjustment, you can expect your prenatal chiropractor to focus on your pelvis, ensuring it’s in alignment, and any other areas of pain or tension you have, while avoiding certain pressure points that may trigger discomfort or contractions.
For your prenatal chiropractor, Dr. Cantwell assures that if your chiro is Webster certified, you can expect “an educated professional and specialist who should be able to educate, discuss and assess any imbalances that could be creating pain and discomfort.” Equally as important, your chiropractor “should be able to hold a safe space to facilitate [your] healing and should make [you] feel heard and safe while receiving care.” After all, you are in their hands.
Can I go to any chiropractor for prenatal care?
Not necessarily, but if you’re interested in pregnancy-specific chiropractic treatment, it’s in your best interest to seek out a prenatal chiropractor as soon as you know you’re pregnant. “While some chiropractors will continue to treat a patient once they get pregnant,” Dr. Cantwell says, “there is a difference between a standard chiropractor and a pregnancy-specialized chiropractor. A specialist would have certain certifications and training to best aid an expecting parent in this chapter of their life.”
Also worth noting is that you don’t need a referral to see a chiropractor, but you should still talk with your primary care provider and ob/gyn before seeking chiropractic treatment, especially if you’re at risk of any complications.
When should I seek prenatal chiropractic care?
If prenatal chiropractic is something you’re curious about, you can get started with treatment at really any time in your pregnancy. So even if you’re into your second or third trimester, if you’re just finding out about it and want to try this treatment, don’t feel like you’re late to the game. “In a perfect world, [you] would start chiropractic care before getting pregnant,” Dr. Cantwell says. “Starting the pregnancy journey with a balanced and strong pelvic floor and back is the best thing [you] could do to help minimize any complications or pain during the pregnancy.”
But in case you haven’t put much thought into seeing a chiropractor until after you’re pregnant and have started experiencing some pain or discomfort, “there is no better time to get under chiropractic care than right away or the second pain and discomfort starts.”
If you’re in your second trimester, good news: it’s a good time to think about getting an adjustment. “We recommend that pregnant patients come in for a pelvic alignment check between 24-28 weeks,” Dr. Cantwell explains, “as this helps the baby be settled in the pelvic bowl correctly by 33-36 weeks.” But even if you’re further along in your pregnancy (even in the third trimester), don’t stress; chiropractic treatment isn’t essential to helping you and baby prepare for labor, but it can help.
How About If It's Your First Time?
“Absolutely!” Dr. Cantwell says (enthusiastically). And it’s not uncommon. “We often have first-time chiropractic patients in our office.” If you’re brand new to chiropractic treatment as a pregnant person, rest assured that the key focus for pregnancy chiropractors is to have a gentle approach to keep you feeling safe and comfortable.
Chiropractic Treatment and Preterm Birth
You may have heard about this common (and very valid) concern. It’s hard to Google “prenatal chiropractor” without getting other search results asking “Does getting a chiropractic adjustment while pregnant increase the risk of miscarriage or preterm birth?” We get it, it can be concerning. But is there any evidence suggesting chiropractic adjustments cause or even prevent miscarriage or preterm birth?
Short answer: no. First and foremost, “there are no contraindications to pregnancy care with a pregnancy-specific trained chiropractor,” Dr. Cantwell assures. This means that there’s no medical risk in getting prenatal chiropractic treatment, including risk of miscarriage or preterm birth, as long as the chiropractor is certified in prenatal care. “You want to find a chiropractor who is specifically trained in working with pregnant patients via the Webster technique,” Dr. Cantwell reminds us.
Chiropractic care also won’t prevent miscarriage or preterm birth. “Up to 50% of miscarriages are due to genetic factors,” Dr. Cantwell points out. “And other causes are infections, hormonal imbalances or immune system responses. People who lose a pregnancy should be assured that it is not their fault,” whether or not they’ve sought prenatal chiropractic care.
Risks and complication prevention aside, getting chiropractic care during pregnancy has been shown to make pregnancy and birth more comfortable overall. “Research shows3 chiropractic adjustments improve pelvic floor function—which is critical for healthy birth outcomes and postpartum recovery,” Dr. Cantwell says, “and also has been shown to demonstrate quality of life for pregnant patients by helping improve many common complaints during pregnancy such as sciatica, hip pain, low back pain, restless leg, headaches and mid back pain.”
Wondering if seeing a prenatal chiropractor is right for you? Find one in your area and ask about potential treatment options for all your pregnancy aches and pains.