by Erik Dalton Ph.D.
as published in Massage & Bodywork Magazine
The miracle of motherhood is eloquently expressed when observing how perfectly the female body is designed to conceive, birth, and nurture a child. Following conception, a woman and her unborn baby unite in an oceanic blend of energy and identity. Where one ends and the other begins no one knows (see Figure 1). However, there does appear to be an innate wisdom that uses the nervous system as a conduit to transmit electrical impulses of intelligence to all the body’s systems that maintains mother and fetus in a state of homeostasis and balance. Regrettably, mechanical pressure on the central nervous system by distorted cranial bones and spinal structures can interfere with the normal transmission of this vital intelligence. Since all of the mother’s systems and organs are now providing for two, it is obvious that optimal posture and functioning is critical for the baby’s healthy development.
We begin our adventure into motherhood by introducing some very intriguing theories detailing how third trimester fetal positioning in momma’s womb may create aberrant adult postural patterns seen daily in our offices and clinics. Basic hands-on pelvic balancing and trunk stabilization routines taken from my Advanced Myoskeletal Techniques textbook are also included so therapists can aid expectant mothers in their quest for a healthy happy delivery. But before introducing the various postural theories and techniques, a brief overview of Mother Nature’s remarkable art of birthing requires thoughtful consideration.
Fetal Lie and Posture
The embryo enters the mother’s pelvis in what is medically termed a left occiput anterior (LOA) or left fetal lie position. The baby usually remains in this “normal” primary fetal posture throughout labor and delivery although a variety of movements are common throughout the entire birthing process. In the left fetal lie configuration, the baby’s head is inferior, flexed and rotated left with arms and legs curled to accommodate restrictions in the uterine cavity. Figure 2, above right illustrates a typical vertex positioned baby with head turned left. The small figure on the right shows the left occipital ridge resting comfortably on the mother’s pubic bone. However, as the embryo begins normal rotational movements in momma’s womb, the left side of the head will eventually face posteriorly. The most compact profile for the fetus is for the arms and legs to curl in opposing directions with a resultant rotation along a longitudinal axis. Some authors including Ida Rolf, PhD, J. Gordon Zink, DO, and Fred H. Previc, PhD1,2,3 have found this rotational fascial bias to be an important factor in determining the final shape of the fetus. It appears that as baby grows from infancy into adulthood, it expands in size but still retains ingrained embryologic rotational fascial preferences (see Figure 3). When testing for rotational fascial patterns, bodyworkers typically find the head rotates easiest to the left at the occipitoatlantal joint and right in the lumbosacral region. Due to fetal positioning, it is likely that fascial patterning does actually begin in the mother’s womb during the final trimester of birth. Moreover, individual variations in fetal lie seem to become increasingly important as the embryo’s body takes shape.