The Pregnancy Waddle, Explained!

Scientists used 3D technology to better understand why mamas-to-be walk differently. 

Pregnancy Waddle Iakov Filimonov/Shutterstock

By the time you hit your third trimester, it's normal to feel a little more like a penguin and a little less like a pregnant woman—and it turns out, the 'pregnancy waddle' isn't just a myth, at least if a recent study is any indication.

Researchers from Hiroshima University looked at this issue in a decidedly modern way: They used a 3D-motion-capture system—the same kind that's used on movie sets—to get a better picture of how pregnant women walk. This is the first study to look at the issue in this way and its results have confirmed the 'pregnancy waddle' most of us have heard of (or experienced!).

For the study, eight pregnant women were observed at three points during pregnancy—to provide context, researchers also looked at seven women who were not pregnant. Findings indicated that even in the first trimester, a woman's center of mass is farther forward than normal. Pregnant women also lean backwards more and bend their knees less while walking. This combination of tendencies can cause a pregnant woman to lose balance.

But understanding the gait patterns of pregnant ladies wasn't the study's only aim. The team also examined the ways in which women adjust their other movements (think: standing from a sitting position, changing direction when walking) during this time. By gaining a better sense of how pregnant women move, researchers may be able to advise on how everyday tasks can become safer and more comfortable for women who are expecting. After all, experts estimate that accidental falls account for 10-25 percent of trauma injuries during pregnancy —and pregnant women have as great a risk of falling as 70-year-olds.

Scientists are hoping their research will have far-reaching effects. "Prior to our study, there were almost no theory-supported models of the movement of pregnant women," Yasuyo Sunaga, the first author of the research paper, said. "This model is just the start of our goal of contributing to a safe and comfortable life before and after childbirth for pregnant women. We want to find the ideal way for new mothers to carry their baby, what exercises are most effective when returning to non-pregnant fitness, and what physical postures are best for work in the home or office. Now that we have the appropriate data, we hope to apply our model and make it possible to problem-solve these concerns of daily life."

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