Positions for Labour and Birth
Although women in the West have traditionally given birth lying on their backs, this is not the most effective position for either labour or delivery. Women who remain mobile and adopt a more upright position during labour, and who stand, sit or squat to deliver, generally have an easier time. Labour tends to be shorter, less painful and requires less intervention.
In the last weeks of your pregnancy, practise the positions on these pages a couple of times to see how they feel. You will not find which are the most effective and comfortable for you until you are in labour. However, do not stick to just one position but move between them as your body dictates, with your birth partner's help if you need it.
In the early stages, before you go into established labour, try to stay as relaxed as possible. Do not sit around waiting for the onset of labour, but take your mind off it by finding something to do. This is a good time to practise your breathing techniques. During the day alternate between periods of rest and periods of keeping mobile. However, if you go into early labour during the night, there is no need to leap out of bed and start pacing around. This will just tire you out.
During this stage of labour, while your cervix is dilating and your uterus is rising and tipping forwards, it makes sense to adopt positions that help these processes and assist in stretching the ligaments that join the bones of your pelvis.
Being upright, whether walking around or resting across a chair, ensures that your baby's head is pressing on your cervix, which will encourage contractions, speed up dilation of the cervix and move your baby's head down and deeper into the pelvis. Imagine carrying a dining table through a doorway. It would need to be tilted from side to side, in the same way that your baby needs encouragement to descend through the pelvis. Changing positions and walking around can help him to move further down.
When you are having contractions during this stage, adopt positions where you are leaning forwards so that your contractions work with gravity rather than against it, pushing your uterus forwards.
Positions where your thighs are flexed and wide apart help to open your pelvis, so there is more room for your baby to manoeuvre.
You already unconsciously change your breathing pattern according to what you are doing, for example, when drifting off to sleep, exercising, or sinking into an armchair at the end of a day. Nobody had to teach you to do this, it is automatic. Likewise, any kind of stress automatically affects your breathing. It will become faster and shallower, from the upper part of the lungs, and will cause tension in your shoulders. During labour, the majority of women find that the stress of being in an unfamiliar environment and coping with contractions makes them tense. Therefore you need to find a breathing technique that will keep you relaxed and tension free. When you feel Braxton Hicks tightenings, practise taking slow, deep breaths, just as you will when in labour.
- Sit or stand comfortably, with loose shoulders, hands and face.
- Breathe in deeply through the nose and out through the mouth.
- Relax your body as you breathe out.
- As you breathe, find something on which to focus. During labour you could look into your partner's eyes or picture an image in your mind.
- During labour, if you get the urge to push before your cervix is fully dilated, panting through the contraction, or using gas and air, will help you to stop pushing, and reduce the pressure on the cervix. The best position to relieve pressure on the cervix is on all fours, with your head and chest down and your bottom in the air. Alternatively lie on your left side. Practise taking two short in and out breaths, followed by a longer one. Pant, pant, blow.