A friend of mine slipped down a stair case when she was 20 weeks pregnant – she called me worried, but also said she was mad at me for not warning her of increased clumsiness (yes, Violet, I’m talking to you!). She and the baby were fine, but I promised her I would warn others.
So, to prevent the wrath of anyone else, here it is:
YOU WILL BECOME MORE CLUMSY DURING PREGNANCY!
The following all contribute:
Change in center of gravity. As the baby grows and the uterus expands, weight shifts forward. This contributes to back pain and lordosis of pregnancy (more curving in the lower back to compensate), and primarily it changes the center of gravity changes. That change can take some getting used to. It makes it easier to lose balance or to take a misstep.
Another reason is simply not being able to see your feet. Towards the third trimester, it can actually become impossible to see your feet. You rely on proprioception for that next step more than ever. Combined with the ever changing center of gravity – it’s a set up for slipping or falling.
Swelling. It’s normal to have swelling during pregnancy. Heard of cankles? Ankles that the size of the calves? That’s from swelling. The medical term for this is edema. Even though it’s normal, if you’re not used to it, it can make fine motor movements harder, leading to more clumsiness. Swelling is a reason pregnant women get carpel tunnel syndrome too – the compression of the nerves of the hands makes the last 3 fingers a bit (or a lot, depending on the severity) tingling and numb. That makes the hands more clumsy too!
Lack of sleep. Many people struggle with getting a good night’s sleep during pregnancy. In the first trimester, insomnia is common because of hormones and anxiety and nausea. As pregnancy progresses, trouble sleeping happens because of discomfort, trying to sleep on the left side, getting up to pee over and over again. Poor sleep can make everyone more clumsy – regardless of pregnancy. The sleeping issues combined with fatigue in pregnancy is a double whammy.
Hormones. Hormones are different during pregnancy (not the first or last time you’ll hear this!). These hormones can make the brain work and process differently, making some people more prone to clumsiness.
OK OK. Obvious on why people are clumsy. How to make it better?
Pay attention! Pay attention to what you’re doing. Pay attention to the ground you’re walking on. If you slip, you’re more likely to fell because of the change in center of gravity makes it harder to catch your balance. Wear good shoes. Forget the flip flops. Be extra cautious on ice or hikes or dirt or water or cracks or stairs or just anywhere! Take an extra, thoughtful pause and don’t rush (but please don’t run late to your doctor appointment either. That sucks!).
Exercise and move your body. This can help you keep in touch with your ever changing body and can also decrease swelling.
If you have quite a bit of swelling, reducing salt, increasing water intake, and of course exercise can help keep it minimal.
It’s probably not possible to prevent the clumsiness altogether, but acknowledgement and some awareness can make it have less of an impact on your life.
When is clumsiness a problem?
Here are some reasons you should bring it up with your doctor / midwife:
If you’re worried! They may just provide reassurance but may recommend further evaluation too
If you have neurologic symptoms, like weakness or tingling in the extremities. Carpel tunnel in the hands would be the most common, but don’t dismiss these symptoms!
You notice a sudden increase in swelling. Especially in the 3rd trimester – that may be a sign of preeclampsia. It might just be a sign you ate too much salt, too.
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Sara Twogood, MD
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