Brit Lifestyle,  Health

Managing Pelvic Girdle Pain in pregnancy

When I became pregnant, I had two major concerns: one – keeping the baby healthy and growing; two – how fat I was going to get. I knew about morning sickness, swollen hands and feet, and stretch marks, and was somewhat prepared for them. What I wasn’t prepared for was the relentless burning in my hips and pelvis, leaving me miserable. If you are also thinking that you have Pelvic Girdle Pain, this is my experience: from exercises to exhaustion.

Related: How to cope when you’re pregnant and miserable

What is Pelvic Girdle Pain?

PGP is generally caused by the three bones which make your pelvis moving unevenly. This can be due to the weight and pressure of a baby in the third trimester, or in my case, from high levels of relaxin loosening ligaments and muscles. You might have heard people refer to SPD – symphysis pubis disfunction – which is essentially the same issue, but solely on the symphysis pubis joint at the front of your pelvis.

I think the name ‘Pelvic Girdle Pain’ is a little trivialised. It doesn’t really suggest the debilitating effects of the condition in the way that other names of pregnancy related issues do – hyperemesis gravidarum, or pre-eclampsia, for example. These sound terrifying, primarily because they are words we don’t generally use. ‘Pain’ is vague – how painful, really? ‘Girdle’ – what an awful word. It just made me think of frumpy underwear.

My Experience with Pelvic Girdle Pain

In reality, PGP can be agonising. I first felt the twinges of it while walking Ted, at just week 14 of my pregnancy. My hips started to burn, and I started to feel shooting pains in my lower back and pubis bone. It was July 2020, just after the first full UK lockdown, and many hospital services were not running the way they used to. I was advised to call maternity physiotherapy, but they were not making face to face appointments, and I was sent a document detailing specific pelvic girdle pain exercises, and a compression band – ‘Off you go. That’ll do.’

Well, no. That didn’t do. The exercises aggravated the pain – something two women I met on my NCT course with PGP also said. But it was manageable in the second trimester. I was even able to holiday in Dorset for a week, walking through forests and cliffs: it wasn’t comfortable, and walking uphill was painful, but I managed it…

Except for that one day that Dan had to run from Lulworth Cove all the way to the Durdle Door car park to collect the car and pick me up, so I didn’t have to walk up a bloody mountain!

I went back to work at 25 weeks, but by about week 32 of the pregnancy, the pain was the worst thing I had ever experienced.

  • I could only manage about 20 minutes of slow walking at a time. No more dog walks.
  • Sitting on the floor would make my pelvis and lower back burn… and I wouldn’t be able to get up. No playing with the dog.
  • I would feel the bones scrape against each other when I turned in bed, or tried to lean to close the living room curtains.
  • I couldn’t stand at the front of the classroom, or reach to write on the board without pain. Picking up boxes of books were a definite no-no.
  • Sitting was uncomfortable, standing was uncomfortable, laying was uncomfortable – sleeping would be broken every night.

By week 34, it felt as though my whole pelvic area was going to fall out of me and I was exhausted. Sometimes, I’d come home from work in tears, feeling like I couldn’t do another day. The pain only eased when maternity leave began and I wasn’t spending almost all day on my feet.

‘It’ll disappear as soon as baby is born.’

Well, not strictly true. Even at six weeks post-partum, I would twist or balance weight in certain ways that would cause pain. Without the weight and pressure of a baby and stomach, the pain stopped being a burn, and became a distinct feeling of bones separating. Sometimes the pubis joint even clicked the way that knuckles do. However, it is nowhere near as painful as it was during pregnancy.

By almost six months post-partum, it’s almost gone. Not entirely, but enough for me to return to kickboxing!

Why am I telling you this?

For a significant part of the pregnancy, I felt utterly alone. Chronic pain shatters your mental health, and although it’s generally a temporary affliction, 26 weeks of pain and discomfort does take its toll on you. 1 in 5 women experience PGP in at least one of their pregnancies, but it’s something that is never mentioned. I certainly hadn’t seen anyone write about their experiences when I was researching.

What you can do to ease the pain

Try the Pelvic Girdle Pain exercises on a ball – as I say, the exercises aggravated me, but it might not for you. Call your maternity provider for specifics, but low intensity bouncing, leg raises, foot taps, and adapted child’s pose with your hands on the ball are generally what to expect.

Hot baths – though it’s not recommended for temperature of the baby, a hot bath definitely eased the PGP pain. If I was going to have a hot bath rather than a warm one, I always filled the bath to hip height, making sure that my belly was never submerged. If you don’t feel comfortable trying the bath, I found a hot water bottle could be just as effective.

Wear a belt – If you contact your maternity provider about PGP, they will likely send you a tube-like article to hold everything in place. Eventually, the tube will get a little too tight, so invest in a pregnancy belt, and make sure it’s tight, especially if you are doing lots of movement. I hated wearing mine, but I’m pretty sure it helped.

Reduce activity – in the last couple of weeks of my pregnancy, the PGP became so much more manageable. Why? I wasn’t working. I spent most of the time sitting on a comfortable chair, or bouncing on the ball, rather than waddling up and down a corridor. If I have to go through this again, I’ll definitely be taking maternity leave a little earlier than 36 weeks.

Take paracetamol when it gets too much – Yes, paracetamol is the equivalent of a wet blue paper towel, but when used sparingly, it can take the edge off. I had a weird obsession with thinking that if I took too much paracetamol, it wouldn’t work when I needed it. If you’re thinking the same, childbirth is pain that paracetamol can’t touch. Take the tablet if your hips burn at night – you might get a few hours’ kip.

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