Birthing position options for each stage of labour

Most of us don’t get to see what a real birth is like, so it’s almost impossible to know what to expect when the time comes. Movies and TV shows usually only portray women giving birth on their back, and then a few minutes of screaming and pushing before their baby arrives (usually looking like they’re about three months old already!).

Women may have once given birth on their back many years ago in Western countries, but prior to the last 100 years, they would have given birth in an upright position as many traditional cultures do.

Thankfully, things have changed a lot in recent years. Now you get to choose the birthing position that is most comfortable for you. Unless you’re having an epidural, you have an electronic monitor around your middle that restricts movement, or forceps or a vacuum is required, you’ll be encouraged to walk around and find the position that feels instinctively right for you, and then continue to change positions as you move through each stage of labour.

Here are some position suggestions you could consider during each stage. It’s a great idea to practice these positions during pregnancy.

There are three stages of labour: the first stage includes early labour and active labour. The second stage is giving birth. The third stage begins after your baby is born.

Position options for early labour

During the first stage of early labour, you might still be home. This is when your cervix softens and dilates to about 3 cm. This stage can go on for hours, or even days. You may feel nothing at all, or you may feel some pain and discomfort, and contractions will be irregular.

Now is the time to try and conserve energy (you’re going to need it later!), so rest as much a as possible, and try any of the following to ease pressure on the pelvic area and encourage your baby into position:

  • Stand in the shower or have a bath
  • Lying on your back is not recommended because it can reduce the blood supply to your baby
  • Go for a gentle walk
  • Keep changing positions to prevent muscle fatigue
  • Stand or bend over, and rock or sway

Position options for active labour

As your contractions become stronger and more frequent, and your cervix dilates from 3 cm to 10 cm, you will have moved into active (established) labour. This is when you need to call your hospital, and they will advise whether it’s time to come in yet or not.

Whether you’re at home or the hospital, you can choose some positions that will help to open your pelvis, allow for your baby to get into position, bring on stronger contractions, provide some pain relief, and reduce the likelihood of needing an epidural or a forceps or vacuum-assisted birth.

Here are some position suggestions that your medical team will probably suggest. If you have a birth partner, they could massage you or support you in these positions:

  • Standing or moving in the shower
  • Leaning forward over the bed
  • Kneeling on hands and knees
  • Kneeling, using a chair or birthing ball (which is a yoga or fit ball) for support
  • Squatting, using a birthing ball, stool, or bar for support
  • Using a peanut ball while side-lying
  • Lunging with one foot on a chair
  • Sitting and rocking on a chair on the edge of the bed
  • Swaying while holding onto a support person during a contraction
  • Sitting on a chair leaning forward
  • Sitting or kneeling in the bath

Position options for Stage 2 of labour

It’s go time! The second stage of labour is when your cervix is fully dilated and you’ll start to push as contractions happen, so your baby can move through and out of your vagina.

Find what feels most comfortable for you, but here are some position suggestions for giving birth:

  • An upright position can make it more comfortable for you to push. It can open and tilt the pelvis to help the baby come down, leading to a faster delivery.
  • Kneel or go on all fours on the bed or a mat on the floor. This can particularly help if your baby is posterior or lateral.
  • You can lie on your side with your top leg bent.
  • You may choose to birth in water if it is available and considered safe for you and your baby.
  • A semi-recumbent position (where the woman is angled partly upright) on the bed or on a mat on the floor is a popular option, and is what’s often used if an epidural is administered.

Stage 3 of labour

Once your baby is earthside, you will need to deliver the placenta and membranes. You may have more contractions, and you could be asked to gently push as your midwife or obstetrician pulls on the cord.

At this point, you’ll be finally lying down and holding your precious newborn. Congratulations, mumma, you did it!

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