By Catherine Reid
A mum who was confined to a WHEELCHAIR during pregnancy has invented a life-changing pelvic girdle to help other mums-to-be.
Mum-of-four Ruth Roberts suffered intense pelvic girdle pain (PGP) during her fourth pregnancy, which left her feeling like she was being ‘stabbed repeatedly’.
Ruth, 41, was in a wheelchair at 16 weeks pregnant and had an induced labour one month before her due date because the pain was so bad.
But after trying maternity belts, physiotherapy and medication – all of which failed to help – Ruth and husband Dafydd Roberts invented a ‘pelvic girdle’ to ease her pain.
The couple, from Pentrefoelas, Wales, have now won an award for the harness and have revealed it could be rolled out to PGP sufferers on the NHS by the end of the year.
Dafydd, who has a clothing and manufacturing business, said: “There is nothing like this out there on the market.
“The traditional maternity belt was the only thing on offer, but it provided no relief whatsoever.
“We’re delighted it’s now being trialed on the NHS and eagerly await the full trial being published, hopefully in December.
“Then we can look to supply it to the NHS and also sell the girdle privately.”
Full-time mum Ruth had a bout of PGP during her third pregnancy, but when she was pregnant with Harri, now four, her symptoms were far worse.
She was reliant on crutches at 16 weeks pregnant, and shortly after was reduced to a wheelchair.
She said: “You’re supposed to enjoy your pregnancy, but I was in constant pain.
“It affected me mentally as well as physically, but I couldn’t even do simple things like go to the toilet.
“My husband and my children became my full-time carers.”
The cause of PGP is unknown, with some doctors blaming it on a hormone imbalance, although this is not proven.
It’s estimated the condition – also called symphysis pubic dysfunction – affects one-in-five pregnant women and, in severe cases like Ruth’s, leaves the sufferer unable to walk through pain, with some experiencing lasting effects after the birth.
She added: “It’s like you’re being stabbed repeatedly and this shooting pain spreads to your hips, your back, everywhere until you can’t do anything for yourself.
“You don’t enjoy your pregnancy at all and you’re just counting down to the baby being born.
“I spent most of the pregnancy in hospital for respite care. The three older kids, who were all in high school, had to become my carers, and Dafydd too.
“I kept a diary of that time and when I look back at it now it still makes me cry.”
Unable to take much more, Dafydd started using materials at work to make a girdle to provide Ruth with some small relief.
She said: “I was using towels and dressing gowns to hold my hips together and then Dafydd said he could make me something similar.
“He would bring something home every day and it went from there really.
“It held everything in place that I wanted and by the time I was seven and a half months pregnant, the final prototype came in.
“It just gave me that tiny bit of independence and meant I could get out of bed.”
Dafydd thinks the belt will retail at £149 each, and it’s to be worn as and when the client desires – although it’s not suitable for sleeping in.
It can be worn under or over your clothes and he sourced a special fabric from the U.S. which is entirely breathable.
Dafydd said: “The one key thing was that it was comfortable.
“It provides support for the whole back while supporting the weight of the baby, too.
“It’s latex free because many women are allergic to latex, and it’s fully breathable so it can be worn under or over your garments.
“It’ll fasten anywhere on the fabric too so it can be worn throughout pregnancy, and it’s also black so it doesn’t show up any marks – unlike the white maternity belts.”
Wrexham Maelor Hospital consultant obstetrician Mrs Kalpana Upadhyay, a specialist in high-risk pregnancies, recognised the potential in the new harness from the outset.
She gathered a team of researchers, physiotherapists, midwives, industry managers from Health & Care Research Wales and experts from the clinical trials team NWORTH at the University of Bangor to investigate whether the device was better than current treatment available for PGP.
Funded by Betsi Cadwaladr University Health Board (BCUHB), a randomised clinical trial was arranged and is due to finish at the end of the month.
Dafydd said: “We’re very confident with the product.
“The result of the trials will determine its wider potential but the response we’ve had from private customers has been very reassuring and positive.”
Dr Upadhyay added: “This research started from the patient’s perspective.
“It stemmed from one woman’s difficulties during pregnancy and evolved into a major research project in which we built up a whole team of researchers and experts.
“It has taken a long time to progress as the whole process usually takes between one to two years, but there has been strong team work throughout and now that we’ve almost completed the recruitment phase we should be able to disseminate the results very soon.”
Jan Fereday Smith, BCUHB Professional Lead for Physiotherapy said: “This has been a great opportunity for physiotherapists to get involved with a clinical trial and learn about the processes and scrutiny required, especially where there is such an exciting collaborative approach with industry.
“It’s great to help put the ‘University’ status into BCUHB.”