When you think of giving birth, most people tend to imagine a bed of some kind involved – with the birthing person lying on their back or maybe sitting up. In fact, most films or TV programmes portray birth in exactly this way – and unless you’ve given birth or been present at a birth – that’s how you imagine it goes.
In reality, labour and birth involves a lot of moving around, dancing, swaying, squatting – and very little lying on a bed! A labour in which the birthing woman is upright and active tends to progress better as the changes in position help labour advance.
So what positions are best? Well, that’s UFO – no, not an alien invasion to help you contort yourself into a position for labour – but a clever acronym that’s easy to focus on and has all the essential elements that help with labour and birth.
UFO stands for Upright, Forward and Open – three key positions that you can use and adapt in labour to help with the birth of your baby. And the science proves it too – there is approximately 28% more space in your pelvis when you’re in an upright and forward leaning position, than when you are laying on your back. So, what does this actually mean? Is it one position, or many and how do you know it’s right?
If you’re upright you’re working with gravity, not fighting it. Being upright – standing, sitting up, walking etc – helps your baby move downwards (and outwards) with all the help of one of the most powerful forces of nature – gravity!
If you’re leaning forwards then you’re opening up your pelvic area. In our previous blog, we discussed optimal birth positions and why you should avoid slouching in the third trimester. The same applies in labour too – leaning forward into your bump – either by leaning onto your partner, using a wall to lean on or using a birth ball helps open up the pelvis and encourages baby to move into positions easier for birth. As labour progresses you may find different positions such as being on all fours or leaning over something (bed/sofa) more supportive and helpful. Listen to your body, it’ll guide you on what position it and baby needs you to adopt – don’t overthink it, just naturally go into positions that feel comfortable. Your body instinctively knows the best position to be in, trust your own body.
By being in an upright and forward position your body will automatically be more open. These positions (squatting, leaning over something, on all fours, kneeling) all help by reducing the length of the birth canal. A shorter birth canal means the baby has a shorter distance to go to get to the outside world (and into your arms!).
Moving around, staying upright, and changing position as your labour progresses also help to:
- ease the pain
- make you feel in control of your labour
- increase your chances of a shorter labour
- help you find the best position for giving birth.
Positions to try during labour
There are lots of positions you can try. Do whatever feels right for you and remember that your midwife and birth partner are there to help and encourage you.
Positions to try:
- sitting, leaning on a table
- straddling a chair or toilet, facing backwards
- standing, leaning on a bed, table or against your birth partner
- standing, leaning on a birth ball that’s sitting on a bed
- kneeling on the floor, cradling a birth ball
- kneeling on all fours (this can help if you’ve had lots of backache)
- kneeling over the back of the bed or against your birth partner
- rocking back and forth on, sit, on gently bounce on a birth ball.
Try to walk around too if you can. If you get tired or your contractions get stronger, you can try to keep moving by shifting your weight from one foot to the other, or by rocking your pelvis.
Some of these positions will make it easier for your birth partner to give you a massage or back rub. This will help release endorphins, the body’s feel-good hormones, which can help with the pain. There are lots of other options for pain relief during labour too – which we discuss in detail during our interactive and live antenatal classes, alongside lots of advice and information on the labour and birth process.
Remember to rest too when you need to and don’t worry about what you look like. We midwives are used to supporting women in all kinds of positions and have seen it all before, so do what feels right for you.