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Alternative Birth Positions - Taking the Labour Out of Giving Birth

Written by Hulda Thorey on Friday, 21 November 2014. Posted in Labour & Birth

Learn how different positions can help make your labour seem less laborious.

Alternative Birth Positions - Taking the Labour Out of Giving Birth

Giving birth is not called “labour” for nothing; it can be hard work and one of nature’s greatest frustrations. Giving birth is often made more laborious than it needs to be because women conform to the idea that they should give birth while lying down on their backs. Women oblige because that’s what they see done on TV, and the professionals who should be advising them otherwise, fail to tell them there is an alternative, because that way is not as tidy or convenient for them. “That way” is being mobile during labour.


Fortunately, more women are coming to understand that being mobile during labour not only helps to ease the pain, but it also facilitates labour. By being upright, gravity can help draw the baby down through the cervix, and a rocking motion will also nudge the baby along. Your partner can also massage your back during the contractions to provide relief. These are all good reasons to be mobile during birth, but possibly the two biggest benefits are that a shorter labour means Mum will still have energy to push when she needs to, and that there may be a decreased need for medical intervention due to foetal distress caused by an extra long labour.


In an ideal world, the professional staff who are supporting you in labour will guide you on the best position for each stage of your labour, as each position has its own set of particular benefits. Fortunately there are a growing number of professionals who do advise women, but otherwise, it is up to the mother to educate herself and her partner beforehand, and lead the way when the big day comes. Nothing is ever as easy as it could be!


Assuming that you will be delivering in a hospital that will allow you to lead the way, you can start your education now. Here are five common positions that can be used during labour.



Stay on your feet

As explained above, the upright position helps move the baby through the birth canal and a rhythmic motion such as walking or rocking, will help even more. Putting aside the benefit of distraction as you stroll around, contractions are usually less intense when you are upright. As your labour progresses, walking may become difficult but keep on your feet for as long as possible to keep things moving. Alternate between walking and sitting down. A supportive birth partner always comes in useful here.



Take a seat

Sitting down allows you to relax while still allowing gravity to play its part. Using a birth ball, which has a little give, puts less pressure on your perineum. Alternatively, you can take a seat on the toilet while facing the tank for support; sitting backwards on a regular dining chair is OK too.




Squatting is an excellent position for opening up the pelvic girdle but unless you are well practiced at this, you will need your birth partner’s support.



Lean in

As things advance, you may move onto your hands and knees, or lean onto your birth ball or a bed while on your knees. This position eases backache as it takes the pressure of the baby off your spine, and is gentler on your perineum. If your baby is in the posterior position, a position where the baby’s spine is against yours (often results in a more difficult labour), leaning forward may also help rotate the baby. This is also a good position for giving birth as the midwife or doctor can ease the baby out with less pressure on the perineum, and therefore lessen the chance of it tearing.



Lie on your side

Sometimes you may just want to lie down, and that’s fine too, but try to lie on your left side as this prevents the compression of the major blood vessels in your back and make you feel more comfortable. As the baby is no longer pushing down directly onto your cervix, this position can also help reduce the urge to push if your cervix has not fully dilated yet and your doctor or midwife asks you not to push.


There are a very few instances where being mobile might not be the best thing for you and the baby. Some hospitals will discourage mobility, saying you need to be monitored continuously, that is, strapped to the monitor, but this is generally only necessary with serious medical conditions, such as preeclampsia or if you have a full epidural. Some monitoring is, of course, a good idea. However, even if you are stuck to a monitor, you can still be upright and moving.



Whenever possible, ensure that those taking care of you during labour have the same outlook as you. Attending antenatal classes, preferably with your birth partner, will also allow you to feel confident when the time comes for you give birth.




About the Author

Hulda Thorey

Hulda Thorey

Hulda Thorey is a registered nurse, midwife and director of Annerley, The Midwives’ Clinic.

Mother of four and founder and head midwife at Annerley, Hulda Thorey has 20 years of experience as a nurse and midwife and has an invaluable insight into working with families and hospitals in Hong Kong. As well as supporting mothers and mothers-to-be through Annerley, she is a guest lecturer in midwifery at the Price of Wales Hospital and a valued speaker at international conferences.

Click here to find out more about Annerley.

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