Nurture Article | The Portland Hospital Parenting Magazine
Autumn Issue 2012 | Deborah Arthurs
It is one of the defining moments of pregnancy: the realisation that the four-inch heels you once wore with ease, now have you groaning in pain.
Extra weight, altered centre of gravity and softening ligaments all conspire to make beloved stilettos a no-no for expectant mothers.
The official line from the Society of Chiropodists and Podiatrists is that after the first trimester, pregnant women should avoid wearing high heels - and that means above two inches. Anything higher could put a strain on the lower back, knees, toes and balls of the feet.
Chartered Physiotherapist David Silver, a lower limb specialist, agrees, saying he is in no doubt that prolonged wear of high heels in pregnancy can lead to back, knee and foot pain.
“Relaxin, the hormone the body produces in order to allow the pelvic ring to expand during child birth, has a global effect and can destabalise joints across the body,” he says.
Relaxin loosens the ligaments supporting the bones of the foot and knee, leading to more stress being placed on the local muscles, tendons and connective tissue.
Ligaments that support the lumbar spine can loosen during pregnancy too, so wearing heels that force the bottom to jut out and promote greater arching of the back can further stress ligaments and joints, warns Mr Silver.
But it’s not only high heels that cause problems for pregnant women.
Very flat shoes like ballet pumps or sandals offer very little support to the foot and can cause Achilles pain, calf strain and flattening of the arches which can lead to plantar fasciitis.
“At a time when the feet need support when walking on hard surfaces, this is not ideal,” says Mr Silver.
So should mothers-to-be ditch heels or beloved ballet pumps altogether?
Not necessarily. Mr Silver says the optimum height for a shoe during pregnancy is around two inches - although the exact height depends on the structure of each individual’s foot.
However, there is some flexibility.
“The type of shoe worn is not as important as the activity that the person does in them,” he says. “If you are commuting in London wearing high heels or very flat shoes this will have a greater impact on any musculoskeletal pain than wearing heels or flats around an office.”
Mr Silver advises wearing comfortable, supportive footwear with some shock absorbency - such as trainers or a cushioned shoe with arch support - for walking or commuting. Heels are fine, but walking long distances on hard surfaces should be avoided.
“No sane man would ever try to tell a woman she couldn’t wear heels!” he says. “If you must wear them, then supportive shoes that have straps and hug the foot are best.”
Thankfully, the current trend for low-heeled shoes makes dressing for Autumn/Winter a breeze.
Boots are the obvious go-to option: bikers, riding boots, cowboy boots and Cuban heels all offer that magic low heel.
Avoid floppy sheepskin boots that offer little support, and instead choose a hard-soled winter boot such as Ugg or Burberry’s more robust styles.
Maternity label Seraphine stocks ballet pumps especially for pregnant women with a 2cm heel, padding, arch support and added lateral structure (£75 seraphine.com), or try loafers, brogues or kitten heels.
Finally, inexpensive shock-absorbent insoles bought from chemists can be slipped into regular shoes to give padding and support. Maybe those Louboutins can stay after all!
TREATS FOR FEET DURING PREGNANCY
PediRoller foot massager, £4.99, Boots
Mother Goose cooling foot cream, 125ml, £4.99, Boots
Homedics foot spa, £40, Debenhams
Leather lined insoles, £12, Birkenstock
Seraphine: Pregnancy-friendly ballet pumps (seraphine.com)
Burberry: Myriad winter boots (uk.burberry.com)
Russell and Bromley: Low-heeled loafers and boots (russellandbromley.co.uk)
M&S: Comfortable Footglove styles
Clarks: True, traditional, comfort (clarks.com)
Ugg: Buy structure; avoid floppy styles (uggaustralia.co.uk)
Birkenstock: Perfect holiday sandals (birkenstock.co.uk)
For more information on our Maternity Services please call the Maternity enquiry line on 020 7390 8020