Singing throughout (and after) pregnancy – Part 2

Second Trimester: The energy is back, but ouch…

My second trimester was pretty much plain sailing until roughly week 20. The nausea was gone, my energy levels were really high, and I felt great. My bump started to show a bit just before Christmas, so pretty late (I am very tall with a long torso though, so don’t expect this to hold true for everyone), and it didn’t affect my breathing, or anything else for that matter, up until this point. And then the pain hit…

Backaches/Sciatica/Symphysis Pubis Dysfunction (SPD)/Pelvic Girdle Pain (PGP): Countless women get sore backs during pregnancy, many a bit later on. It is both down to the added weight of your bump, which also pulls you out of alignment, and the hormone relaxin, which loosens all your joints, especially those in your pelvis so baby can pass through the birth canal when it is time. Some women don’t suffer too much, others are in so much pain that they can hardly walk and require support belts or even crutches. My problems started as one-sided sciatica-like pain, and I had days when I could really barely walk. I am now at the stage of waking myself up at night if I roll over in bed because my lower back and pelvis hurt. Sadly, the standard treatment on the NHS is only curing the symptoms: Prescribing belts and crutches and suggesting rest. Many women get great relief by seeing an osteopath or chiropractor; you will need to find out for yourself what you need, but if in doubt, please see someone.

After the suggestion to “take a few paracetamol [ironically, they have just been proven to be totally ineffective against back pain], rest and use crutches”, I personally kept on going by myself with gentle, appropriate exercise and staying as active as I could, simply because it helped me most. This does not mean that it will be the right thing for you, and depending on the severity of your problems, you might be better off not moving too much. Replacing sitting on a sofa/chair with sitting on a gym (“birthing”) ball also really, really helped me. I also know what I need to avoid; I can’t do certain exercises anymore, walking for too long starts to aggravate the pain, and some movements are a big no-no (vacuuming, everything that involves bending over from the waist for long stretches of time etc), but this doesn’t apply to everyone. Don’t experiment, stop everything that aggravates the pain and get professional advice if you can.

To bring it to the point: Misalignment is always a problem for singers. If your spine, and its supporting structures, are out of whack, you will struggle to support your voice properly. That’s why it is so important to do something about it as soon as you feel the first niggles, but be prepared: It might not work. Your body is busy “cooking” a little human, and some things, you will just need to put up with – to an extent! This doesn’t mean that nothing can be done though, so please confide in your health care provider. However, also trust your instincts: Rest can be an option, but it can also make skeletal and joint pain worse. Speak up if you feel you are not taken seriously or being fobbed off with standard advice.

Diastasis recti: Another of those glamorous side effects of pregnancy. Many women are utterly terrified of it, but to be honest: It is actually not that uncommon (up to 40% of pregnant women will get it). It can happen to both women with stronger stomach muscles (maybe even because they have exercised a bit too much for too long during pregnancy, and didn’t pick their exercises carefully) and those with weak ones. If, at some point, you get a weird bulge/dome-shape when getting up from a reclined/lying to an upright/seated position, you very likely have it. Not every form of diastasis is considered problematic – everything up to 2 fingers width will usually go back to normal (“knit together”) again after pregnancy if you observe a couple of rules. Even the more severe cases are not hopeless, you might just need a bit of additional help.

And despite every midwife commenting on my taut stomach muscles at every appointment to this very day, it also started to happen to me roundabout the five months-mark. The rectus abdominis, whilst not being the only, or most important, muscle singers use, is of a certain importance to singers. It is a postural muscle after all (although more responsible for flexing than stabilising), and it also has a part in breathing, namely in forceful exhalation. So you can, once more, imagine that any instability will affect a singer to an extent. Alas, there is really not much you can do about it if it happens to you during pregnancy. All you can do is to be careful if you start to feel any discomfort whilst singing. You will also need to avoid any type of exercise that aggravates the problem further, and do the right type of exercise postpartum. And when I say “right type of exercise”, I mainly talk about utilising and strengthening your transversus abdominis (TA). It is one of the most important muscles for singers anyway, so I hope yours is already in half-decent shape. This means:

Don’t:

  • stretch your abs, especially not backwards (avoid Yoga poses like cobra, cow, in fact everything that involves backbends, for a while).
  • do leg lifts whilst your torso stays static. They will aggravate the problem further.
  • flex the upper spine off the floor (e.g. sit-ups, crunches or curls). So many women start doing sit-ups and crunches to get their bodies back in shape after giving birth, and they are actually some of the worst exercises you can do at the beginning. In the worst case, they will aggravate “mummy tummy” further, to the extent that your diastasis recti won’t come back together.

Do:

  • contract your core, and use and strengthen your transversus abdominis (pull in your navel during daily tasks, be it lifting or exercising, and do exercises specifically aimed at strengthening your TA)
  • get up the right way (don’t roll up your spine and jump out of bed or off the sofa, but contract your TA, bring your legs together, roll over and get up sideways for a while)

Everything else, you really should only do under the supervision of an experienced trainer or physiotherapist. And of course not before your doctor or midwife gives the all clear, be it during pregnancy or postpartum.

Next time: Third Trimester: I can’t sleep, I can’t breathe, and could you please make this heartburn go away?

© Petra Raspel 2015

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