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It is important for a mother to be in the correct positions during labour to help the birth progress safely and quickly. Being in the optimum position also reduces the chance of distress and pain for both mother and baby. This article discusses the best birthing positions for the separate stages of labour.
It is helpful to research and explore position options during your pregnancy. Talk to your midwife about the different positions you could adopt to allow your labour to progress, while keeping you relaxed. It is a good idea to practise these positions during your pregnancy, so that they feel familiar by the time you are ready to give birth. It's also helpful to add any favoured positions you have into your birth plan, but be prepared to go with whatever is working best for you on the day.
The best birth position at the beginning of labour
When you go into labour you should try to keep mobile and upright. Being upright means that you're allowing gravity to push the baby's head onto the cervix, which helps it dilate. Gravity then assists the baby's journey through the pelvis. It's also important, however, not to become over-tired, especially in early labour. To conserve energy for the more gruelling later stages, do also remember to take short rests lying or sitting down.
As your contractions become more intense and painful, practise your relaxation and breathing exercises and listen to your body. It's around now that you need to find the best positions to help you cope with contractions.
You may still be at home at this stage, so think about how you can use your surroundings to help you. You might find it comfortable to lean on a kitchen worktop or on the back of a chair. Another option is to sit astride a chair with a pillow across the top so you can rest between contractions. It's not very glamorous, but you could even sit down on the toilet and lean forwards, or sit astride the seat and lean onto the cistern. If the position is making you feel more comfortable, then you won't care about the fact that you are leaning onto a toilet.
Your partner may also be able to help you with positions. You can lean against them with your arms around their neck or waist. Whichever position you are in, get them to massage your back and breathe with you to help keep you focused.
Other positions beneficial to labour are kneeling on a large pillow or cushion placed on the floor, with you leaning forwards onto a chair. Getting onto all fours is another good position and if you have the balance, you could try kneeling on the floor on one leg with the other leg bent.
Whichever position you are in, remember to roll your hips in a circle or rock them backwards and forwards, as these swaying motions will help the baby move through the pelvis.
Birth positions for the second stage of labour
The second stage of labour, also known as the pushing stage, comes when you are fully dilated and start to feel the urge to push. For a first time mum, this stage can last around two to three hours, so again, it's important to get into birthing positions that help get the baby delivered as quickly as possible.
The principle of gravity comes into play again here. This means lying on your back is not the best place to be. One option is to get onto all fours, either on the bed or on the floor with cushions. Use your partner, beanbags or more cushions for support. If you've had backache during your labour, this position might help ease the pain. You could also give birth while standing up. Again, your partner will come in handy here as you can lean on them. Some mothers like to have one foot elevated at this stage. Use a chair, cushions, the bed, or anything nearby to rest your foot on if this feels more comfortable. Another position is to drape yourself over a birthing ball or sit on it, with your partner holding you from behind for support.
Squatting is an effective position for giving birth because it fully opens the pelvic outlet to allow your baby's head through. However, this is a position most of us are unfamiliar with, so you may find it difficult to maintain it comfortably. You could use a birthing stool, which helps by taking the weight from your feet while at the same time holding you in the squatting position. It also allows the midwife good access to see what's going on.
Staying in bed
If you've had an epidural that has numbed you completely from the waist down, then you will have to stay in bed during the pushing stage. It's still important not to lie completely flat on your back as this can reduce the baby's supply of oxygen. Instead, try lying sideways or semi-upright, using wedges or pillows for support. If you still have some sensation left after your epidural and are able to move, your midwife will encourage you to stay mobile and upright. Hopefully, you will have enough mobility to move into a good birthing position when the time comes to push.
Whatever position you are in, stay focused, maintain your breathing and listen to your midwife for guidance and support. Remember, it won't be long now until you become a mum.