Aligning or Relaxin Before Pregnancy?

This morning on the Aligned and Well Facebook page (find us!), I got this question and thought it was important enough to share:

Does relaxin not do enough to loosen the muscles of the thighs and abdomen to facilitate labor? Will I still need to stretch my crazy tight psoas once the hormone starts working?

For those of you who don’t know relaxin, she’s not asking about relaxin’ as in, swinging in a hammock or getting a massage. Relaxin is the name of a hormone that targets the collagen of certain tissues with relaxin receptors. Relaxin is often called the pregnancy hormone, but both men and women make it for various collagen-softening reasons (the most current being relaxin’s role in cardiovascular function, but…for another time.)

Contrary to popular belief (which in terms of scientific information is typically like one long game of Operator*!) relaxin does not affect muscle tension because it does not affect muscle tissue. I’ll say that again. Skeletal muscle, which is the muscle you think of when you think of your muscles (that’s not confusing, right?) is not affected by relaxin.

In pregnancy, the tissues most affected by relaxin are the pelvic organ ligaments, the uterine muscle, and the pubic symphysis (which I will refer to as the PS because I have to look up how to spell symphysis every time.)  The PS is the soft joint between the right and left halves of your pelvis. No, your pelvis is not one fixed bone, but the slightly malleable interaction between your right and left side. And this is a good thing to, as you want your symphysis to be supple to allow for greater birthing space.

The pelvis, viewed from the front…
Pubic Symphysis up close (the blue squishy part between the bones)

So, Great. I’ve got relaxin. Awesome. Then I’ll just chill on the couch until it’s time to push ’em out, right?

Not so much, because here’s the thing.  While relaxin secretion (when your body moves in alignment and has all the muscles at the right length) is an awesome biological occurrence, relaxin secretion (when your muscles and bones are not where they are supposed to be) can also result in pelvic ligament sprains, low back pain, and pelvic-joint instability. Not fun, especially with an extra ___ (fill in the blank) kilos to your frame.

And, here’s the other thing. Nature’s excellent programming of flexible parts during delivery can be rendered useless by something else — your tight muscles.There is an incorrect belief that your muscles soften when it comes time to deliver. Nope. When it’s time to push, you’ve got what you’ve got — there aren’t any hormones that will bail you out of muscle tension. You need to take care of that ahead of time.

And before and after your delivery, your whole-body muscle tension and weaknesses can make pregnancy uncomfortable by allowing your muscle imbalances to do more damage. With softer connections, your habits place your now-excessively flexible parts at risk (think sitting on that tucked pelvis with a sacrum that’s a little less stable).

Or (as pictured above) tighter hip musculature on one side that now rotates the left half of your pelvis away from the right (pubic symphysis pain, anyone?). This is NOT what you want to be dealing with before, during, or after labor.

To recap: Relaxin is not your ticket to relaxin’. In fact, the fact that relaxin is there at all really requires that you to work back to your natural alignment ASAP to prevent tissue damage and have an optimal delivery.

To answer the question from above more specifically — the relaxin will do nothing for your psoas muscle. That, my friend, is your job 😉

*The game of Operator! (aka Telephone) goes like this:

A group of people sit a circle. The first person leans over and whispers in the ear of the person next door and says something like:

I think that John should have to make dinner tonight” and by the time it makes it all the way around the circle, the last person says aloud what they heard it as, which is usually something like “She’s in the sink with Shauna but that’s all right.”

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6 thoughts on “Aligning or Relaxin Before Pregnancy?

  1. This is so interesting! I had very bad pelvic pain and lower back pain during my pregnancy, and was told by my health professionals that it was due to the relaxin and there was nothing to do about it.

    I’m so excited about this information, because it means I can hopefully have a much easier pregnancy (and birth) next time! I’ve already gotten rid of my period cramps thanks to Katy’s exercises, so I’m very hopeful!

  2. Can’t get enough of your blog post! And I just realized you are pregnant?! Congrats! Training and reconditioning Pre and Post Natal women is what I do, so I love hearing your expertise! I’ll have to take a course from you sometime.

  3. I am 22 weeks pregnant and have had pelvic pain from pretty early on. I went to see a physiotherapist who gave me some exercises to do to help realign my pelvis. Unfortunately I couldn’t afford to continue going to see her. I have a feeling you have appropriate exercises on this site/blog, but I’m having trouble finding it! Could you point me in the direction of any posts/videos about realigning your pelvis?

    1. I hear ya sistah! I had crazy pelvic pain after my first child and it took me almost three years to find an answer that actually got me on the path to healing (Katy and alignment) instead of just treating the pain for a few days and then it would come right back (physical therapy, chiropractic, more physical therapy, drugs, exercise). Good news is I had my third child a few months ago and the pelvic pain only creeped in on occasion and postpartum I’m feeling great!
      Good luck, pelvic pain is pretty nasty stuff. It was very debilitating for me. But things turned around pretty quickly for me after I started addressing the real problems, Katelyn’s exactly right, it’s a whole body thing. Just jump in and start learning. The Down There DVD has some great basics to start with and will help. If you aren’t already, get out of your heels. I grimace thinking of how much pain I caused myself in heels. I’m a FLATS only girl now. Best of luck!

  4. Hi Krista,
    If you are looking for exercises, check the right column, under “All Topics” you will see a category titled “Posts with exercises”. One think I have learned is that to align the pelvis you will have to move way beyond the pelvis. All our parts are connected, our habits and ways of being and doing in this world create the body we inhabit. I thought I had hip problems, what I had were feet problems, rib-thrusting problems, short, tight hamstrings, and a psoas that didnt know what the word “relax” meant. It basically rolled its eyes at me and said “Yo, I have been holding you upright for going on 30 years, if I let go you will fall over and look like a moron!” So, I would recommend looking around the whole site. There is so much information available for free here- useful and practical information that is easy to begin integrating, if you are willing. The “Quick Tips” category can also be a good jumping off point as you begin to orient yourself.

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