Feet splayed, knees out, back arched. Yep, it’s the pregnant-woman penguin waddle.
And it’s something almost everyone with a baby bump seems to endure (lucky you, if you skipped through your 9 months, light on your feet and elegant of gait, because we certainly didn’t!), leaving us feeling about as graceful as an elephant trying to dance Swan Lake, AND rather prone to stumbles, trips and falls (well, it’s hard to stay upright when your centre of gravity is so not where it used to be).
But WHY do we go all penguin-waddle when we’re pregnant? Is it a real, proper, physical, woman-expecting-a-baby thing? Or could it be that (whisper it) even if we do it unconsciously, we only do it because, er, well, that’s just how you’re meant walk when you’re expecting?
Well, we now have the answers. Researchers at Hiroshima University in Japan have actually spent time analysing women at various stages of pregnancy and have concluded without doubt that yes, we do properly waddle when we’re pregnant.
Why – and how – we waddle in pregnancy
The lab boffins filmed mums-to-be, tracking them from their 1st trimester onwards, comparing their movement to non-pregnant women. All of the women’s movements were recorded on special floors using infrared cameras.
The gait of the pregnant women changed, according to the researchers, as early as the end of the 3rd month of pregnancy.
Their findings showed that even in very early pregnancy, a woman’s centre of mass was further forward, making them lean backwards while standing, and causing them to bend their hips less when walking.
And this leaning back, stiff-hip combo didn’t just result in the penguin waddle; it also had an effect on balance. In fact, it’s already known that accidental falls can cause up to a quarter of trauma injuries during pregnancy, and it’s now thought that expectant mothers have the same risk of falling as a 70-year-old.
Eek! We’re reaching for the sensible ballet flats and support trainers pronto.
Using a biomechanical model of a pregnant women, the researchers also observed how mums-to-be adjusted their movements when doing everyday things such as changing direction or getting up from a chair (and we all know how hard THAT can be during the late stages).
So, is it anything to worry about?
No. But it’s probably wise to avoid high heels when you’re pregnant and to be aware that your balance may be a bit dodgy.
While it all seems a bit of a weird thing to be spending so much time and effort studying, the team did have a solid reason for undertaking the research: to discover what is the best way for pregnant women and new mums to achieve a safe and comfortable posture to minimise injury and discomfort.
“We want to find the ideal way for mothers to carry their baby, and what exercises are most effective to return to non-pregnant fitness, and what physical postures are best for work in the home or office,” says study leader Yasuyo Sunaga in the journal Applied Ergonomics.
We look forward to finding out what they suggest. Meanwhile, feet up, a cuppa and a nice biccie seem to work wonders on those less-than-balanced, splayed-feet days, don’t you think?