Healthy, Natural Pregnancy: Sciatica

As promised, here is my newest series on having a healthy pregnancy, one that is as natural and enjoyable as possible. I hope to cover a very wide range of topics, including nutrition and nourishing your baby and yourself, using a midwife, having and preparing for natural childbirth and homebirth, supplements and natural remedies for common concerns, everyday struggles and challenges, avoiding harmful substances and toxins and anything else that I (or you!) can come up with.

I plan to write this series in sort of a "tidbit" fashion. What I mean by that is that rather than one long post on good nutrition, another on supplements, another on staying fit, etc. I will be writing many short and (hopefully!) informative posts on many individual issues. This keeps it more manageable for me, more readable for you, and will allow me to quickly jump in and answer questions and topics of interest as they arise.

Winter pregnant woman

So let's get started!

Sciatica… oh, this is a topic near and dear to my heart. One of the first questions I was asked when I mentioned this series was from a dear reader who is currently experiencing sciatica… oh honey, I've been there. I know your pain. I have had prolonged and painful sciatica with both of my pregnancies (although they were wonderful and healthy in almost every other way!).

For those who are unsure of what sciatica is, it is when pressure from the growing uterus begins to affect the sciatic nerve that runs from the lower back, down through the legs and into the feet, and causes it to spasm or become inflamed . In practical terms, it means that when you are walking or even just standing or sitting still, pain will suddenly radiate and shoot down either one or both legs, leaving you temporarily unable to move until the flareup dies down (at least, in my own experience).

For me, it begins around month 5, as soon as the baby really begins to grow in size and I really begin to grow myself, and oh-so-thankfully ends the moment that sweet baby is pushed out into the world. So what did I do about it, and what may be able to help those of you who also cope with this condition?

1) Exercise! Stretch! Walk! Move! Did I state it strongly enough? :)

Keeping myself toned, strong and my muscles well used and stretched was one of the best cures for me. My exercise of choice while pregnant is Pregnancy Yoga (minus any Eastern/spiritual stuff, of course). Simply used for it's physical benefits, yoga is very calming, relaxing and soothing. It is also toning, strengthening and reaches muscles and joints that are not easily addressed through many other kinds of exercise. I'm sure I'll talk more about this topic later, but really any kind of exercise, stretching or movement will be helpful.

2) Chiropractic care**

This can really help to relieve some of the pressure, and other muscle strains that can be associated. My big caveat with this is to find someone who is trained and experienced in working with pregnant woman. Your best bet may be to ask your midwife for a recommendation of an excellent chiropractor.

3) Massage therapy**

This can also be a great way to have the muscles in your lower back loosened and relaxed, and may also help to relieve some of the pressure and pain. Again, it's very important to have a qualified and experienced therapist, who knows what to do and what not to do in pregnancy. Make sure that they do not use a "pregnancy table" (with a hole in the center for your stomach, so that you can lie down flat). My therapist has told me that this puts far too much strain on the uterus muscles and is no longer considered good practice in massage therapy. Best options are lying on one side, supported by pillows, or sitting and leaning forward onto a bed to rest your head and arms.

4) Hot and Cold Packs

Try to see what works for you. Sometimes alternating hot and cold on your lower back for 10 minutes each can help to reduce inflammation of the nerve. You could try using a small heating pad, or taking a hot bath as well.

5) Shift baby's position

This is sometimes easier said than done! :) The way that I find most successful to encourage baby to move out of an uncomfortable position is to get on my hands and knees, to do pelvic rocks or even to do something practical like scrub the kitchen floor (additionally, this helps to move the baby into the correct position for a smoother labor, so that's a definite bonus!). 

**Note- Always let any practitioner you are seeing know that you are pregnant, how far along you are and any other complications or specifics of your pregnancy. This is crucial to helping them care for your body properly and safely. If you ever experience any pain or discomfort or are simply unsure about what a practitioner is doing or wants to do, don't do it! Stop and check with your midwife or doctor first. It is always better safe than sorry! And remember, I'm not a doctor, a health care professional, bla bla bla. I am not qualified to give you medical advice, this is simply one mama's personal opinion, so please take it as such! :)

Any other great tips for coping with sciatica? And please, start shooting out your questions and topics you'd like to hear about in this new series!

About Stephanie Langford

Stephanie Langford has a passion for sharing ideas and information for homemakers who want to make healthy changes in their homes, and carefully steward all that they've been given. She has written three books geared to helping families live more naturally and eat real, whole foods, without being overwhelmed, without going broke and with simple meal planning. She is the creator of Keeper of the Home.

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  1. During my pregnancy, I do walking everyday at park or in the seashore to prevent varicose veins and stretch marks in my body. Discipline is the best remedy to help from laugh lines. You have to minimize your food intake and cold drinks.

  2. I continually suffer with this and it only got worse during pregnancy. A few things I’ve found: Wearing certain shoes especially high heeled shoes made it worse, caring heavy things such as the “mama purse” on the same shoulder or a heavy diaper bag tended to irritate more than anything. A kinda- instant relief was I think they are called “chair sits” where you take your right leg (or left) and put it on top of your left (or right), then push your right knee down while holding your ankle with your left hand, then stretching until it has a little burn. I use this a lot especially if I can’t move when I’m trying to get out of bed because my leg is giving out. I loved the prenatal massage- it helped a lot but prevention is the key!

  3. Thanks for this series! I’m interested to know which, if any, prenatals you would take or recommend. In all my past pregnancies, I’ve taken Opti-natals (aka Vita-natals), made by the Eclectic Institute, but they’re unavailable to me now, so I’d like some other suggestions.

  4. Another option to chiropractic care is osteopathic manipulation – performed by an osteopathic physician (DO). They are fully trained physicians and a lot of them are specializing in the osteopathic manipulation they are taught in osteopathic medical school. They can help with both sciatic complaints, carpal tunnel symptoms and sometimes even help the nausea/heartburn complaints by treating the upper back. Thought I would offer another option. :)

  5. I have six children and lots of experience with scatic pain.

    The best tips I can give is,

    1, try to strengthen those stomach and back muscles BEFORE preganancy if possible.

    2, The swimming pool really really helped loosen and relax those muscles in the back there. Sometimes the only relief was the pool.

    3, A hot pack, heating pad on low, or a warm bath, can really help when the pain gets bad.

    4, Try to stand up straight, no slumping and use a back pillow when sitting for very long.

    Hope this helps some mommies out there and remember, this too shall pass.

    mommy of half a dozen blessings

  6. Oh boy did I ever suffer with this. Your suggestions are bang on especially massage by a registered massage therapist. That brought HUGE relief to me.

    Good stuff!


  7. I’ve been looking forward to this series, thank you!

    I second the requests for heartburn help (it’s gotten really bad, really fast) and how to make the most of a situation that’s not ideal – I’m having twins and am not thrilled about all the “policies” I’m facing from the doctor (no option for midwife here) and hospital.

    Any recommendations for a prenatal yoga DVD? I took a class while I was in Canada but can’t find a live class where I am now and still have a few weeks to go, so I’d like to continue with the yoga.

    Thanks again!!

  8. I have less than a month to go and so far, I fortunately haven’t experienced this… fingers crossed! :-)

  9. Heartburn – by the grace of God this was only mild for me last time and hasn’t shown up much yet this time. Sometimes eating yogurt helps, as it de-acidifies the stomach. I know you all have been told to avoid spicy foods, greasy foods etc. and not to drink water with your meals, and to sit up straight 30 minutes after eating. :)

    The “Wise Woman Herbal for the Childbearing Year” recommends Fennel-seed tea (tastes like licorice but it’s not) or Slippery Elm throat lozenges for heartburn. (I just bought this book and think it’s probably a valuable resource for herbal remedies, but just be aware the author is NOT NOT NOT a Christian. It also includes a section on inducing miscarriage which I’m only not ripping out so I know which plants to get rid of in my yard.) Anyway I think the Fennel would be easy to try, since you could just steep a teaspoonful of seeds you keep in the spice drawer and it would taste pretty good. I seem to remember I had a grandparent who’d chew fennel seeds for indigestion. Just in case this helps anyone!

  10. I second and third what Kristen said! What a great idea for a series, and I too would like some natural remedies for heartburn if you have any.

    I agree with you about the yoga – I have been doing some and have found a DVD with hardly any meditation/eastern stuff. I haven’t had much back pain/sciatica since starting it thankfully.

  11. A neat series! Maybe something to include would be making the most of the situation you are in with regards to not-as-good options for care. For example, with my daughter I had a midwife (although unable to have homebirth due to winter and distance) but this pregnancy we have moved and there are no midwives within 2 hours. I have learned a lot about how to make things work well with a medical doctor instead (and God has blessed me in so many ways, its amazing!) Some women may find themselves in this type of situation also because of certain conditions that midwives will not deal with, etc.

    I have pain similar to sciatica but its not…its in my groin on the right side and shoots down my leg and into my heel. It causes similar symptoms (the odd time I can’t even walk) but mostly now I just limp around. Its wierd! So I know what you mean. My friend who deals with sciatica says she gets a lot of relief from icing it and also by sitting with her back against the end of the couch (where the couch arm is) and putting her affected leg up on the back of the couch. It seemed to help my problem too.

  12. I’ve only really had sciatic pain occasionally with my previous pregnancies (the last one was only in labour, as though I wasn’t in enough pain already!! :-) Not a good feeling, that’s for sure (kind of like scraping fingernails on a chalkboard.) I feel for you Raven….

    Whoever mentioned heartburn previously, I’m with you on that one. I suffer from it from 3 months on. I hardly gained any weight with my last prenancy, in huge part to the fact that anytime I ate more than 5 bites of food at a time I would have terrible heartburn. There are definately worse things to deal with during pregnancy, so this isn’t something I tend to complain about, but it is a very real part of my life for about 6 months.

    Also, I’m sure you already plan on it, but what about a post on pregnancy nausea. The only thing I could find to help me was making sure to eat plenty of protien throughout the day. This did help me, but not to a huge extent. This time I resorted to *medication*, after refusing it for my other 4 pregnancies. I simply could not take care of my family properly without some kind of help.

    This should be an interesting series, Stephanie. I find that pregancy and childbirth is so ‘medicalized’ (I know that’s not a word.) Yes, it’s good to have medical intervention when necessary, but it is good to realize that our bodies were naturally created to have babies. I have been dissapointed with the way some of my children were born, and I would love to see more women giving birth naturally and healthfully.

  13. I had sciatic pain with both my pregnancies. My relieve was found in the pool. Most larger YMCA’s will have a pre-natal water aerobics class which is also a great way to meet other women going through the same thing. I learned a lot in my classes. If you can’t find a class, just find a pool and do some stretches for you lower back. It is much easier to move in the pool with the support of the water.

  14. Oh, and p.s. – another question; managing during the SECOND pregnancy when you’ve already got one little one. (Mine is 14 months right now and will be 18 months when her baby brother arrives.) I never realized how much easier my first pregnancy was until this time, when I can’t just stop and put my feet up whenever I want! I feel like I have to nurture my daughter, but also take care of my unborn baby by taking care of myself. Very tricky. I’m finally figuring it out, I think, but I’d be very interested in hearing how everyone else has managed this happy but puzzling situation. :)

  15. How did you know? :-) When baby moved head down last week I got my first taste of it again. Had it last pregnancy too, but this time it seems worse since I have to pick up a toddler and do stairs more often.

    I love leaning over the counter (just like on hands and knees) to get the baby to move a bit. I also make sure I don’t cross my legs (hips are moving out, why pinch them in?) and use a pillow between the knees when I lay down. And a lumbar pillow works great for sitting.

    I’ve also given up picking up larger objects and when I do have to lift my kid up, I make sure I bend my knees. And although it’s getting harder and harder not to do a major overhaul and organize the house, I realize how much pain I’d be in if I did, so we’re letting that slid for now too. :-)

  16. I’m the sciatica girl! My midwife was sympathetic but told me there wasn’t much beyond pelvic rocks and tyelenol to do… and I don’t like taking tyelenol when I’m pregnant.:)

    Thanks for this great post. It’s hard to keep doing my yoga when what I want is instant relief, but you’re right– I do really feel better the next day. I’ve also been trying to have good posture (per Aviva Romm’s Natural Pregnancy Book), but sometimes the only thing that helps is getting the baby to move to a different positition!

    One thing that seems to work with this baby, though it didn’t with my daughter, is a flashlight on my stomach, as weird as that sounds. The baby seems to move toward the light. Just offer it in case it helps anyone!

    Thanks so much for this series!


  17. Thank you, thank you, thank you for doing this series! I will definitely be reading each of your articles with great interest, as I am expecting my first baby and want to give him/her the best start.

    Would you mind talking about heartburn? I am struggling greatly with that and while I have some tips and tricks that I use to relieve my flare ups, I would greatly appreciate any new ideas, especially since not all the tips work all the time!

  18. I have also dealt with lots of sciatic pain during each of my pregnancies, though it was considerably better for the 2 pregnancies where I was doing water aerobics 3x a week. Excerise and stretching are a must for this condition, in my experience.


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