Birthing positions, and our ability to move freely during labour was a topic of discussion in the yoga for pregnancy class I was teaching this week. We spoke about how labour is most often portrayed in films and tv by an image of the birthing person lying on the hospital bed, feet often elevated in stirrups. This hasn’t always been the case…
… Interesting fact: the first record of a woman lying on her back during labour was of a lady named Louise de la Valliere. The year was 1663 and she was a mistress of King Louis XIV of France. History books suggest that it was King Louis’s choice to witness the birth of his baby. From this viewpoint, it was easier to see his baby emerge (previous to this, it was serious taboo to allow men into the birth room).
Whether this is the reason that people in labour were routinely moved to the bed, I am unsure. I’m no historian! However, what is apparent throughout history right up to the present day, is that traditional cultures and societies almost always choose upright positions during labour.
Irrespective of where you intend to give birth, it may be useful to know that people in labour need to be able to change position and move around freely. In the early stages of labour, movement greatly supports cervical dilation. Force of gravity also helps to bring baby into the position that will be optimal for the journey through the pelvis and birth canal.
There are so many benefits associated with upright positions in labour including:
Better use of gravity
Optimal circulation between you and your baby as there is no compression of baby’s weight on your major blood vessels
Better alignment for baby as they pass through the pelvis
When I am working with couples or facilitating hypnobirthing classes, one of the hypnotic suggestions I continuously use is: ‘trust your body, it knows what to do’. This was true for me during my second labour. In the first stage of labour (even whilst knowing that movement is optimal), I felt the need to rest. I lay on the bed and breathed through each of the surges as they came. This was right for me at that moment.
As soon as my body transitioned into the second stage of labour, I felt a sudden rush of energy. At that moment, I could have rivalled any Olympian for height as I leapt off the bed and landed gracefully (or at least it felt that way!!) into a squatting position using the raised bed as a support for my arms and head.
A swift thirty minutes later, and with gravity very much on my side, my beautiful little bundle Alannah Maeve arrived into the world. My body, in all its primal instinct, knew exactly what it was doing even if my ‘thinking’ brain was lagging behind.
Here are my top tips:
It is not uncommon to feel restless during the first stage of labour. Sitting on your birth partner’s lap, a birthing ball or even the toilet can help.
Work with your body and trust its messages. If you are not comfortable in a particular position, change it
In some hospital rooms there is, what essentially could be described as a pole dancer’s pole in the corner. These are fantastic to grip onto during labour. This gripping also supports cervix dilation
There are so many lovely labour positions to choose from but can include, ‘polar bear position’, ‘the leaping frog’, garland pose, supported stand position (squatting whilst supported underarms by birth partner) and hands and knees position
It is also worth practicing these in advance of labour as a sort of birth rehearsal. The polar pose in particular is very helpful to spend time in, in the later stages of pregnancy; it encourages baby to move into optimal position prior to labour
But most importantly of all, trust your body. It knows what to do.