Labour positions that make birth easier
Labour positions that make birth easier

Most experts agree that lying down isn't the best way to give birth. Midwife Claire Friars, who runs Tommy's, the baby charity's pregnancy information help line, says: ‘On TV everyone gives birth lying on their back but that isn't a great position. Even if you're propped up, there isn't much gravity to help you push the baby down.'

Lying down can make labour last longer, increase the level of pain, affect your blood pressure and reduce the amount of oxygen your baby receives. Also, your body's main blood vessels run directly behind your bump, so they take the full weight of your abdomen when you lie back. The resulting reduced blood supply may leave you faint, dizzy or sick, and be bad for your baby.

If you're in an upright position, gravity will help the baby down and your pelvis will be in a better position for him to pass through. There'll be less chance of tearing, too. Claire advises: ‘Go to parent-craft classes and have a go at getting into birth positions with your partner so you know which are most comfortable.'

You can call the Tommy's pregnancy information line on 0870 777 3060.

Here's our guide to the best labour positions:

Stand through the pain of early labour. Spending the first stage of labour upright is, for most women, the most effective way of reducing labour pains and can speed it up. You may get tired and want to change to a more supportive position, but many mums find standing in early labour is the most comfortable position.
What to do: Lean against the wall or on your partner, swaying your hips, or rotating your pelvis. Any backache is likely to ease, because the baby won't be pressing on your spine. You can also move round the room or go up and down stairs. You can even deliver standing up.
Kneeling can help you cope.The easiest way for your baby to be delivered is when you are in a standing, squatting or sitting position. But there's a period called transition when the first stage is complete, your cervix is fully dilated and your baby is about to enter the birth canal. Active pushing hasn't begun, but it can be painful and intense. Kneeling can help you rest while you're waiting to push.
What to do: Kneel with your head on some pillows and your bottom raised. Leaning forward like this will relieve pressure on your lower back and backache. Remind yourself you'll soon see your baby.
Birthing pools help ease the strain. Warm water soothes pain, so it's no wonder water births are offered in so many maternity units. Some women give birth in the pool, but the baby must be brought to the surface within a few seconds of delivery. It is vital your midwife is well trained in water births and is happy for you to deliver in the water.
What to do: Check the hospital has a birthing [pool or that you can set up one. If you want a home water birth, contact Splashdown (08456123405 or visit Inflatable pools start at around £40. Make sure you try it out before labour.
Try using a birth ball. You can sit on this large inflatable ball or use it as an aid to rocking back and forth. Fans of the ball say it gives great support in labour for the upper body, pelvis and legs.
What to do: Order one in advance so you have time to get used to it. You can sit on it while you're watching TV and use it to practise birth positions, relieve backache and support your pelvic floor in late pregnancy. To order a birth ball, contact the Active Birth Centre on 020 7281 6760 or visit An Active Biirth Ball and Power Pump costs £29.95.
Think carefully about a birth stool. Birthing stools are crescent-shaped seats designed to take your weight, relieve the lower part of your back, and allow you to remain upright. But they can make it difficult to see when the baby's head's crowning and the baby's exit can be very fast. Also, one study found that women who used stools seemed to bleed more and they may cause piles.
What to do: Find out if your midwife is happy to let you use a birthing stool and that one is available. Some of them have backs or armrests, which are useful to grip onto during contractions.
Sit propped in a comfy position. Many women prefer the sitting or semi-recumbent position, propped up by pillows or wedge cushions. It's still popular in hospitals, possibly because tired women who've been in labour for hours are attracted to the idea of being in bed!
What to do: Sit on the floor or on a bed surrounded by cushions to help hold you up. Good support is essential to keep backache at bay. Stay as upright as you can while sitting, because gravity will cause your baby to press down onto your pelvic floor. The pressure this creates causes a surge of oxytocin, the hormone that makes your womb contract. This also relaxes your pelvis, making your baby's descent easier.
Squatting can make birth easier. Squatting is well worth trying as it opens up the pelvis and increases the size of the birth canal. Your midwife will be aware that care is needed once the second stage begins, as there is a slight risk your baby could shoot out rather quickly in this position.
What to do: Ask your partner or midwife to support you as you squat. Practise before the birth with your partner sitting on a chair or birth ball while you squat between his legs with you back to him. You may want to lean on him, or squat against a chair or bed. You may also need to change position to take the weight off your feet. If your labour is long your legs may shake and you may be too tired to bear down.
You can be active even in stirrups. No one puts stirrups, forceps, or a ventouse as a must-have on their birth plan, but if your baby does need assistance to be delivered, don't feel disappointed about your birth - especially if it means you avoid having a Caesarean.
What to do: Before forceps are used, you'll be given a local anaesthetic injection into the perineum - the skin between the vagina and anus - and a small cut, called an episiotomy, may be made to stop you from tearing. Forceps, which look like salad servers, are inserted one at a time and pulled gently for 30-40 seconds a few times, until your baby's head appears. If a ventouse is used, you may not need an episiotomy.

What real mums say...

Vicki Croucher, 26, from Warwick, is mum to Benjamin, 5 months.
‘Benjamin was a week overdue so I had a membrane sweep at 11am. By 9pm I was having regular contractions. When they were six minutes apart, my husband Mark took me to hospital. I walked round a lot and knelt on the bed. At 7am I begged for pethidine. After that everything's a bit hazy. My waters were broken, but by noon I wasn't pushing properly and my blood pressure was high. I was given a mobile epidural and an episiotomy. Benjamin was delivered with a ventouse, weighing 8Ib 6oz.'
Becca Clunes, 33, from south-east London, is mum to Asha, 3.
‘I wanted an active home birth but knew I would just go along with what seemed right. I had a show about midday and called the midwife at 8pm. I put on my TENS machine and paced around for a few hours, with the midwife examining me every hour. I also had a warm bath. When my waters broke at midnight, I spent an hour or so leaning against the fireplace and squatting by the bed. When I was almost fully dilated, I got on the bed, had some gas and air, and held onto my partner Neil as I pushed. Asha was 6Ib 4oz and perfect.' 06/04/2006 10:37:00
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