pregnant women bent over
Louise Broadbridge
Louise Broadbridge

Labour positions

When you are in labour, it’s really important to listen to your body and find positions which work for you.

It can be challenging to feel comfortable during labour and you may have to try different positions at different stages to help you cope with the pain. If possible, it is best to try to stay mobile and change position when you feel you need to. Your midwife will do what she can to help you find a comfortable position which works for you.

Should I give birth lying down?

If you’ve seen characters give birth in films or TV shows, you might think the standard position to deliver a baby is lying on your back in a hospital bed. Don’t be fooled by these fictional depictions of birth!

Lying on your back can be very uncomfortable during labour and is likely to slow things down. Your baby will have to work against gravity to get through your labour so labouring on your back can feel like hard work.

Even in the early stages of labour, lying on your back isn’t a great idea as it can reduce the blood supply getting to your baby.

If you do need to lie down because you’re tired or have mobility issues which make other positions more challenging, try lying on your side instead.

What positions are best for early labour?

The early stages of labour are when your body is preparing to give birth, your cervix is getting thinner and starting to dilate. This can be a slow process so you will need to pace yourself.

In the early stages of labour, you are likely to still be at home and without the support of a midwife. Staying active at this stage will help keep things moving and walking around, sitting in the bath or sitting on a birthing ball are all things which might help you cope with your contractions.

Many women find they feel more comfortable standing up and rocking or swaying. This swaying movement helps reduce the pressure on your pelvic area and can actually help encourage your baby to move into the right position for delivery. You may want to bend over onto something supportive while standing.

You are likely to need to change position multiple times during early labour. Try whatever feels right to you. If you need to rest, lie on your side or sit with your feet up.

What positions should I use in active labour?

Once your cervix has dilated to at least 4cm, you are considered to be in active labour. This can seem more intense and you will have less time to rest in between contractions.

There are a number of good positions which will help you cope with your contractions. Experiment with what feels most comfortable for you and switch positions when you feel you need to.

Upright positions help your baby get into the right position and move down the birth canal. It can also help your labour progress by encouraging your contractions to become stronger, which can lead to a quicker birth.

Upright positions will also help you manage your pain and make it less likely that you will need an epidural or medical interventions like a ventouse or forceps-assisted birth. 

Kneeling is a great position during labour and you can lean forward to rest in between contractions. Some women find it helpful to kneel and lean on a bed, chair or birthing ball for support or if you are in hospital, you can kneel on the adjustable bed and use the headboard for support. You may also want to go on all fours and rock your pelvis.

If you want to sit, try sitting on a chair backwards so you are astride it and then lean forward to rest on the chair back using something comfortable like a pillow or cushion for extra support. You may also want to sit on a birthing ball which will allow you to rock or bounce.

Sitting on the edge of the bed or on a chair leaning forward can also be helpful.

Supported standing or squatting can help open your pelvis wide and use gravity to help your baby be born. You will need some support so you don’t become unbalanced so ask your birth partner to hold you from behind. Make sure your knees stay lower than your hips.

What position should I actually give birth in?

When you reach the second stage of labour and you are pushing your baby out, you will probably find your instincts take over. Listen to your body as well as your midwife, who will make sure you are in a good position for giving birth.

Staying upright will help when it comes to pushing and can reduce the amount of time it takes. If you are in bed, try kneeling, getting onto all fours or lying on your side with your top leg in a bent position.

Will I always be able to choose my own labour position?

Sometimes things will happen when you are in labour which may restrict your freedom of movement. If you choose to have an epidural, you will often find your legs feel numb and heavy so you will probably be advised to stay on your bed.

However, some hospitals do now offer epidurals which allow you to stay mobile so talk to the medical professionals on the labour ward to find out if this is an option for you. Your movements may also be restricted if your midwife or doctor needs to monitor your baby’s heart rate at any point.

There are also times when you may be asked to lie on your back by your midwife or doctor. This will usually be so they can carry out a vaginal examination so they can check how your labour is progressing. However, it may also be necessary if intervention like an episiotomy, forceps or ventouse are required to help deliver your baby.

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