When I was pregnant with my son, my mother got super freaked out any time I lifted something, even if it was a mere bag of groceries. Indeed, wisdom of days past advised females not to lift anything while pregnant – leave it all for some non-pregnant person. This really isn’t practical advice though, as there are times when one must lift (e.g. groceries, another child), and the trick becomes doing it in the safest manner possible.
So how do you lift to protect your spine?
There are two main go-to methods I like to recommend to ensure proper lifting ergonomics to the general population:
The Golfer Lift
This is how you see a professional golfer bend over to lift his / her golf ball out of the hole (hence the name). One foot stays planted on the ground while the other leg is allowed to lift to the back as the body bends forward at the hips. The spine is kept in a neutral alignment and is never rounded or bent – the bend here is completely at the hip. This lift is ideal for lighter to medium weight objects, and is great for retrieving small objects (e.g. toys!) off the floor. This is a great method but a word of caution: it is not for everyone. This lift is not recommended for anyone with balance issues, and for pregnant women with pain in the pelvic joints.
Generally, standing on one leg will intensify any pelvic pain already present for a pregnant woman, and that is definitely not the goal!
Unless there is some limiting factor as to why one truly can’t, my other go-to recommendation for lifting technique is that of a squat.
In generations gone past women birthed in the squatting position, as it uses gravity to assist the descent of baby and places the pelvic bones in an optimally open position to allow baby’s passage. The squat is something that many of us have lost the ability to perform properly and effectively due to excessive sitting.
In a squat, again, the low back is kept in a neutral position – it is neither bent forwards nor is it arched backwards. The body weight is centered back over the heels with bending accomplished primarily at the hips, and secondarily at the knees. While one squats the knees should ideally track over the toes to prevent knee pain and injuries. Squatting is not something to be learned overnight, and is best learned under the guidance of a trained individual such as a personal trainer, chiropractor or physiotherapist who can spot errors in form and correct them.
Working with someone such as a chiropractor has the added bonus that any problems with form stemming from mis-alignments of joints or overly tight muscles can be remedied.
More lifting pointers:
- Keep whatever you are lifting close to your body. This minimizes the muscular action required from your back to stabilize the lifted load.
- Lift heavy objects in increments. For example, if you can lift the object from the floor to a couch, and then from a couch to your body, you’ve minimized the muscular endurance required and the potential strain on your back.
- Try to ensure that you do your lifting directly in front of you – keep your feet facing what you are lifting. Never twist while lifting!
- When lifting with the purpose of carrying (e.g. a child), make sure that you switch the hip you are carrying them on. We all have a dominant more comfortable side to carry on, but persistent one-sided carries can strain the low back and torque the uterus, and is thought to encourage breech presentation of babies.
- Listen to your body – pain and discomfort are your body’s way of talking to you. Don’t ignore it!
Lifting using proper form can be tricky at the best of times, and becomes even more so when pregnant. Take care to pay attention to how you lift, and how you feel when you lift. If something feels ‘off’, painful, or uncomfortable, check in with a trusted manual health care provider to ensure proper alignment of joints and optimal function of muscles.