Trying different birthing positions has become more relevant in the last few years, as it's proven to favour dilation and other aspects related to labour.
For decades, women used to lie on their backs, bending their legs, when going into labour, because that allowed caregivers to have the best view of what was going on 'down there'. However, researchers came to the conclusion that such a position was counterproductive for labour, since babies had to move uphill and defy gravity in order to find their way out. Also, lying on your back is linked to slower and stronger contractions, along with tearing and the need for an episiotomy.
Taking that into consideration, which are the best labour positions? Experts recommend shifting birth positions as much as you need to, so that you can determine the best fit depending on the situation and the stages of labour. So, no, there's not only a valid option, but multiple ones to experiment with. Actually, it wouldn't be surprising if the medical staff asked you what position you want to give birth in – you can even write down your preferences in your birth plan. Your comfort matters, and that's why you should read and plan for it.
Do you need guidance on birthing positions and their benefits? Then, you couldn't be visiting a better post than this.
Birthing positions for active labour
When you reach the active labour stage, contractions will become more regular and painful as your cervix keeps dilating. You may follow your own instinct to try and choose the most suitable position, which may be one of the following:
- Standing and walking: you don't necessarily have to sit and wait, but get on your feet and move freely, instead. When contractions strike, you can just stop and lean against the wall.
- Sitting: if you haven't been moved to the hospital or you are having a home birth, you can try sitting on the chair or bed, either placing some pillows behind you to support your back or leaning forward. If you want to, you can 'tailor-sit' (cross-legged) on the floor as well. Another good option is for you to straddle, sitting with a leg on each side of an armless chair. Do it by facing the back of the chair, where you should put a pillow and lean onto it with your belly. This will relax your back.
- Rocking: the active stage of labour can feel more bearable if you 'shake' your body, either by standing or sitting on a rocking chair, if you have one. You can play some music and dance with your partner to make it more natural and fun.
- Getting on all fours: being on your hands and knees can be very helpful to reduce back pain, which is common at this stage of labour. This position can make you a little tired after a while, so you may have to take some rest.
- Lying on your side: this is a good alternative to lying on your back, in order to get a break in between contractions and also to keep your pelvis open. You should lie on your left side, with a pillow between your knees, since it's better to promote blood flow.
- Using a birthing ball: Sit carefully on a birthing ball while leaning into a pile of pillows, allowing you to squat while having your weight supported by the inflatable ball. You can also try leaning over it while kneeling.
Birthing positions that help with pain
There are labour positions that, more than anything, can provide you with natural pain relief. In fact, they are listed as natural alternatives to soothe your pain when giving birth, so take note of them:
- Walking up and down a 'wall': no, you don't have to turn into Spiderman! Just lie on the floor facing a wall and resting your head on a pillow. Place the sole of your feet on the wall and go up and down, as if you were walking on the wall. This exercise will boost blood flow in your legs, which will let you push better during labour.
- Standing: this position can minimise kidney pain in labour. The best way to do it is by keeping some space between your legs and bending your knees slightly.
- Supporting your back: sit on the floor and make sure to lean against the wall, so that you can take some pressure off your back. Keep your legs bent and open.
- Arching your back while lying on the floor: yes, the point is to get your pelvis moving up and down. And how can you do that? Well, first lie on the floor and arch your back for a few seconds, while breathing in. Get back to the initial position, so that you can start with the reps. This exercise can help you tone up your abdomen and, also, give the pelvis some rhythm for what's about to come.
- Birthing ball, already mentioned as one of the birthing positions for active labour
- Getting on all fours, also mentioned above
Birthing positions that favour dilation
The most effective one is standing and walking, which helps the baby move down through the birth canal and, at the same time, it fosters the cervix dilation. Other birthing positions that can lend you a hand when dilating are lying on your side, getting on all fours, straddling a chair and kneeling on the bed while leaning into a stack of pillows.
Birthing positions that are good for pushing
Pushing is one of the hardest parts of labour, but we can make it a little bit easier with the right birthing positions. Lying down won't help you much in this case, so try taking advantage of gravity by being upright, kneeling, sitting and, above all, squatting, which allows your little one to have more room when moving through the pelvis. Sitting on an open toilet seat is an easy trick to squat without getting exhausted in the process, as well as squatting bars or birthing stools. You should ask your caregivers if they can provide you with any of these items.
When can't I try certain birthing positions?
Unfortunately, there are certain situations in which you won't be able to change birthing positions to get pain relief or favour dilation. For example, if you have medical conditions that require you to be on the bed and tethered to a monitor, which will keep you from walking. You'll have to adapt to it by trying bed positions or standing up by the bed. Things may get worse if you have preeclampsia, in which case you won't be able to leave the bed, or medical pain relief like epidural. Such an anaesthetic will numb you from the waist down, unless you are given what's called a 'walking epidural'.
As said previously, your comfort matters, but we can't forget about the baby's. Some birthing positions may affect your baby's heartbeat up to a point where you'll be told to change to a different one. Remember that this is a dynamic process and things may not turn as you expected, so be mentally prepared... just in case!
In a nutshell, there are many birthing positions for you to try out when going into labour. It's good to know which ones work best for what, so you can adapt better to the circumstances. Also, remember that you won't be alone... there will be a team of professionals assisting and guiding you throughout the whole process. And let's not forget about your partner, who can play an important role when helping you with labour positions as well.