Swimming to Help With Hip Pain in Pregnancy

The weightlessness of being in the water is bliss in itself, but what it enables me to do is move. I can keep my mobility up without wearing myself out and causing further pain. I missed a swim due to illness and by the next day I was unable to walk more than a few feet – I fully believe I would be on crutches by now if I wasn’t still swimming regularly.

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When I found out I was pregnant at 5 weeks I was halfway through a course of hydrotherapy to help with my Fibromyalgia but when I told the physiotherapy team about my pregnancy they decided that the hydrotherapy pool at the hospital was too warm for it to be safe for me to use and I wouldn’t be able to complete my course. I was absolutely gutted, the pain relief afforded to me by being in that pool was incredible. When they turned me away I almost cried.

Even before I found out I was pregnant the pain in my hips was the focus of my physiotherapy which I attribute to my son getting stuck during labour and requiring a forceps delivery. Naturally, I was apprehensive about hip pain being a problem this time and, unsurprisingly, I was right to be concerned.

As my normal fibromyalgia flares turned into sharper twinges I realised I needed to get back into the water and I knew I wouldn’t be able to maintain any level of fitness on land. Having spent several years saying I should join a gym whilst also avoiding actually signing up, I finally took the plunge. I packed my swimming gear and hit the local gym after dropping my son at nursery one morning and signed up for a swim only membership there and then and it has saved me from a whole world of pain since.

I have been swimming three days a week after the nursery run for four months now, at one point I got up to 40 lengths of the pool and I was feeling really fit, since the baby decided to move into my lung space I can only manage 20 but it’s not the lengths that are important, it’s about being in the swimming pool to take the pressure off of my hips, well, all of my joints really. The weightlessness of being in the water is bliss in itself, but what it enables me to do is move. I can keep my mobility up without wearing myself out and causing further pain. I missed a swim due to illness and by the next day I was unable to walk more than a few feet – I fully believe I would be on crutches by now if I wasn’t still swimming regularly.

This ability to move about was missing in my first pregnancy, so my health suffered. I gained a lot of weight last time which I think I have been able to avoid this time… I suppose we will find out how effective it has been in a couple of months!

As my pregnancy progresses I am slowing down somewhat but there is an amazing level of support from the other “slow lane” users at the pool. When I started this I was not expecting to make friends but I have. The support from these strangers means I know I will be able to continue to use the pool until the end of pregnancy… even if I can only wander about in the shallow end in a few weeks.

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Diastasis Recti 101

Aah, the mum tum. The pooch. The overhang. While the post-baby jelly belly is something most mums expect to encounter to some extent, fixing it isn’t always as straightforward as you might first imagine. It took nine months for your tummy to get that big, so it’ll take at least nine months to fix it, right?

But what if it doesn’t shrink? What if you still look 4 months pregnant months (or even years) after delivery, and nothing you do seems to be shifting the baby weight?

You might be amongst the 60% of mums who have a Diastasis Recti

From a medical perspective, (according to the Mayo Clinic):
“During pregnancy, the growing uterus stretches the muscles in the abdomen. This can cause the two large parallel bands of muscles that meet in the middle of the abdomen to separate — a condition called diastasis recti or diastasis recti abdominis.”

These muscles form part of a wall of muscle that holds the uterus, intestines and other organs in place and lends support to the pelvic floor. Typically, the gap will go back to normal around 8 weeks postpartum.  However, the gap sometimes does not close on it’s own, which can cause a number of health issues (not to mention leaving you perpetually frustrated at your stubborn tum).

Signs you may have a Diastasis Recti include: 

  • lower back pain
  • constipation
  • bloating
  • poor posture
  • incontinence that lasts for more than eight weeks postpartum (separated abs can cause issues with your pelvic floor)
  • a pooch or bulge in the middle of the stomach
  • dome like bulge in the stomach when coughing or getting up from lying down

Before you start to panic, it’s not all doom and gloom. Below is a list to help you check yourself for a diastasis, and what to do if you think you have one.

Checking for a diastasis

  1. Lie on your back with your feet flat on the floor, knees together and bent.
  2. Raise your head and shoulders off the floor so that you can see your tummy.
  3. Place your hand flat on your stomach, fingers pointing towards your toes.
  4. Try and feel for the gap between the muscles above and below your belly button. You might feel them squeezing your fingers tightly. You might not. That’s ok too.
  5. Note how many finger widths you can fit in the gap, and how high up your torso that measurement is. You may find your diastasis is larger at the bottom than the top, or vice versa.

Typically a diastasis recti is measured as 1 finger width = 1cm. Therefore, if your diastasis is 3 finger widths, it is 3cm wide. If you feel a gap wider than 2cm, you have a diastasis. A gap wider than 4-5cm wide is considered severe.

What to do if you think you have a diastasis recti

If you’ve found that you have a diastasis, it is more than possible to improve it. The best way to do this is to get guidance from a physiotherapist, who can advise you on the best exercises to do to close the gap. In the meantime, here’s a list of things to avoid:

  • traditional crunches, sit ups and planks, as these can increase intra-abdominal pressure and actually make the gap worse by putting too much strain on the muscles, effectively pulling the gap wider rather than closing it.
  • holding baby on one hip, if it is painful
  • coughing without supporting the ab muscles
  • lifting or carrying heavy loads

Alternatively, there are many diastasis recti repair exercises on youtube, which you may like to follow along to. Just be careful you don’t put too much pressure on your stomach, as this can delay your healing and even make the condition worse.

Last but not least, if exercises from your physical therapist fail to improve your condition, surgery is always an option, however this should be a last resort, and always discussed fully with your medical team.

Needless to say, if you’re experiencing any physical difficulties postpartum (be it months or years) you should always speak to a medical professional about your concerns. While having a Diastasis Recti can be a pain (both literally and figuratively), it can be improved over time.

You’ve got this, mama.

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