Ins and Outs of Squatting Births

Labor Pains

On average, a woman's first labor takes 12 to 24 hours, and subsequent ones last about half as long. If that's not your idea of a good time, stand up -- and then squat! Squatting births can help reduce the length of labor.

By forcing your upper leg bones (the femura) to act like levers on your pelvic bones, you can widen your pelvic opening by 20 to 30 percent, says Alana Bibeau, Ph.D, a doula and a member of the Rhode Island Birth Network Board of Trustees. The position also increases the amount of oxygen brought to the uterine muscles and baby, helps to dilate the cervix, relieve pain, reduce the need for an episiotomy or a cesarean section and lessen stress on the baby. All of that (plus the obvious gravity component) can help speed up the process, too.

But squats can be taxing on your body. "Squatting can strain the ankles, knees and hips," Bibeau says. That's where supported squats come in. A partner, doula or nurse can help hold you up while you squat, so you can focus on your breathing techniques and save energy that you'll surely need later throughout labor and delivery.

Some hospitals also have squat bars that can be set up at the end of the bed, which allow you to lean onto the bar while dropping your legs into a squatting position. Birthing stools and balls are also excellent ways to achieve a squat without the strain, says Kim Wilson-Stephens, an obstetrics nurse at The Christ Hospital in Cincinnati. And remember: The squatting position doesn't need to be held continuously, so take breaks!

Breaks are also important for physicians. When mom lies down, doctors and nurses can monitor the baby's heart rate, says Jonathan Schaffir, M.D., an obstetrician at The Ohio State University Medical Center. Fetal heart rate monitors are typically placed on abdomen of the the mom-to-be, and that can be difficult when she's upright and moving around. While it's less of an issue during low-risk pregnancies, in high-risk pregnancies the physician may ask that the mother stay in bed so the birthing team can closely monitor the baby's vitals throughout labor and delivery.

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