Relaxin—how much is too much?

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An excess of relaxin can lead to some issues, which may be remedied partly by stretching and physical therapy. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

It’s quite amazing to watch the pregnancy and childbirth process unfold, from the moment of conception to delivery and beyond.

A host of hormones are involved all throughout, including oxytocin and others.

In a previous post, we briefly mentioned the hormone relaxin.

This hormone comes into play during the menstrual cycle and during pregnancy.

Throughout pregnancy, however, the relaxin level is an estimated 10 times higher—and it reaches its highest levels in the first trimester.

Relaxin performs a role even before pregnancy. It initially helps prepare the uterus for the new occupant. If there is no fertilization, the relaxin level returns to normal. If a woman becomes pregnant, however, the relaxin level increases. This helps with the implantation of the baby in the uterine wall. Then, as the pregnancy continues, it helps mom avoid preterm labor.

As the pregnancy progresses, relaxin helps stimulate the mammary glands to prepare the body for nursing. It also allows the rib cage to expand, which helps make room for the growing uterus.

Relaxin helps relax the blood vessels, too, so mom’s body can handle the extra blood she’s circulating for herself and baby. (Pregnancy can increase a woman’s blood volume by 30% to 50%.)

At the end of pregnancy, relaxin helps the pelvis prepare for the birth of the baby. It does this by softening the cervix and by relaxing the hips or pelvis.

On the negative side, relaxin can also relax the spine, which can cause back discomfort in a pregnant mom. Her balance and spine are already affected by the change in her center of gravity from the baby.

Pregnant moms are more likely to turn an ankle or be wobbly because of the increase in relaxin.

Also, too much relaxin in the pelvis can result in symphysis pubis dysfunction or pelvic girdle pain. This is thought to happen in about 1 in 300 pregnancies.

One of the main symptoms of symphysis pubis dysfunction is difficulty walking. Many moms feel they waddle during pregnancy, but those with symphysis pubis dysfunction can hardly walk at all.

Some other possible symptoms of symphysis pubis dysfunction:

  • Worsened pain when lifting one leg to ascend or descend stairs, or to roll over in bed.
  • Pain in the center of the pubis bone.
  • Pain in the lower back, possibly spreading to thighs.

What can you do to alleviate the symptoms?

For starters, wear a pelvic support band. There are several such bands on the market, so talk to your provider about options.

Other possible approaches:

  • Get an OB referral to a physiotherapist who can evaluate your joints and ligaments and offer exercises.
  • Avoid heavy lifting and don’t twist when bending.
  • Avoid standing or sitting in the same position for long periods of time.

A study in the Journal of Canadian Chiropractor Association highlighted the experiences of a few women who found some relief through various physical therapy or chiropractic techniques, as well as home remedies. The latter including ice applications, staying active, stretching, pelvic floor exercises and placing a pillow between the knees when sleeping.

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