Read about the pros and cons of 11 common labor positions.

By Dr. Laura Riley
November 01, 2009
labor and delivery nurse
Credit: Shutterstock

Researchers have now confirmed what most moms seem to know instinctively: If you move around during labor, or at least sit in an upright position, you can help your baby progress downward. The added pressure of your baby's head on your cervix can help you dilate faster. too. Studies have shown that most women, when given the freedom to labor in any position they choose, prefer to stay on the move when contractions prevent them from resting. They walk, sit, squat, or lean on whatever is available. They rock with the contractions or even get down on hands and knees.

Although there's no need for you to practice labor positions before your due date, it's well worth trying different ones ahead of time to see what's most comfortable for both you and your partner. (This might also help your partner suggest positions when you're in the throes of labor and can't think of anything much beyond the moment.) It's also worth asking ahead of time what your hospital or birth center provides as birthing props. Do they have showers, tubs, birthing balls, squat bars, birthing beds, or rocking chairs? If they don't have something that you find particularly comfortable, like a birthing ball, you can buy one to take with you to the hospital when you deliver.

Ultimately, the labor positions you choose while having your baby will depend on what kind of labor you experience. Here are some you can consider and try out.

Standing Supported Squat


  • Realigns your pelvis to increase the opening by up to 15 percent.
  • Allows you to be supported by your standing or sitting partner, the wall, or a squat bar.
  • Takes advantage of gravity.
  • Makes contractions feel less painful and more productive.
  • Lengthens your trunk and helps your baby line up with the angle of your pelvis.
  • Movement causes changes in your pelvic joints, helping your baby through the birth canal.
  • May increase your urge to push in the second stage of labor.


  • Requires a strong partner.
  • May be tiring for both of you.



  • Comfortable.
  • Good use of gravity.
  • Good resting position.
  • Works well in hospital beds.
  • Good visibility at birth for your support team.
  • Easy access to fetal heart tones for your health-care provider.


  • Access to your perineum can be poor.
  • Mobility of your coccyx is impaired.
  • Puts some stress on your perineum but less than when lying on your back.



  • Good for resting.
  • Uses gravity.
  • Can be used with continuous electronic fetal monitoring.



Sitting on Toilet


  • Helps relax perineum.
  • You get used to an open-leg position and pelvic pressure.
  • Uses gravity.


  • Pressure from toilet seat may be uncomfortable.



  • Encourages rapid descent.
  • Uses gravity.
  • May increase rotation of baby.
  • Allows freedom to shift your weight for comfort.
  • Allows excellent perineal access.
  • Excellent for fetal circulation.
  • May increase pelvis diameter by as much as 2 centimeters.
  • Requires less bearing-down effort.
  • Descent is encouraged by the position.
  • Your thighs keep baby well aligned.


  • Often tiring.
  • Sometimes hard for health-care provider to hear fetal heart tones.
  • May be hard for you to assist in birth if you wish to.



  • Helps get oxygen to the baby.
  • Good resting position.
  • Helpful if you have elevated blood pressure.
  • Fine with epidural.
  • Can make contractions more effective.
  • Easier for you to relax between contractions during the second stage.
  • Can slow a birth that's moving too fast.
  • Your partner can assist in the birth by supporting your legs.
  • Lowers chances of tearing or the need for episiotomy.
  • Good access to perineum.


  • May be hard for health-care provider to access fetal heart tones.
  • No help from gravity.
  • If no one can hold your legs, you must support them on your own.
  • You may feel too passive in this position.




  • Uses gravity.
  • Contractions are often less painful.
  • Baby is well aligned in your pelvis.
  • May speed labor.
  • Reduces backache.
  • Encourages descent.


  • Not recommended if you have high blood pressure.
  • Cannot be used with continuous electronic fetal monitoring.



  • Uses gravity.
  • Helps get oxygen to the baby.
  • Contractions are more effective and less painful.
  • May speed labor.
  • Helps create a pushing urge.


  • Poor control at birth.
  • Hard for health-care provider to see the baby.

Leaning or Kneeling Forward with Support


  • Can help shift the baby if needed.
  • Uses gravity.
  • Birth ball can be used.
  • Contractions are often less painful and more productive.
  • Baby is well aligned in your pelvis.
  • Relieves backache.
  • Easier for your partner to help relieve your back pain.
  • May be more restful than standing.
  • Good for pelvic rocking.
  • Less strain on your wrists and arms.


  • Hard for health-care provider to help with birth.



  • Good for back labor.
  • Assists with rotation of baby, if needed.
  • Takes pressure off hemorrhoids.
  • Good position to avoid tearing or episiotomy.
  • Good delivery position for large baby.
  • Helpful if fetal heart tones are low.


  • Hard for your support team to maintain eye contact with you.
  • Hard for you to see what's going on.


On Back with Legs Raised


  • Works against gravity.
  • Compresses all major vessels.
  • Tearing or need for an episiotomy is more likely.
  • No use of gravity to aid in birth.

Delivery Day Positions with Motion

Rolling on an Exercise Ball

Slowly lower yourself onto the ball with your partner's help. Sit with knees apart, feet flat on the floor. Rock back and forth or side to side until you find a soothing rhythm. (If you're 5 feet 2 inches to 5 feet 7 inches tall, use a 55 cm ball; if you're 5 feet 7 inches or taller, opt for a 65 cm.) 

What it does: Opens the pelvis, helping the baby descend through the birth canal.

Slow Dancing

Face your partner and place your arms around his neck or waist; slowly sway from side to side. You also can have him stand behind you and cup your belly for support while you "dance."

What it does: Helps you relax.

Climbing Stairs

If you have access to a staircase and the hospital allows it, walk up and down the stairs for a few minutes. Otherwise, mimic stair climbing by marching in place.

What it does: Helps the cervix open and encourages the baby to rotate into the birth position.

Getting Down on All Fours

Lower yourself onto your hands and knees and rock back and forth; use pillows for comfort, if necessary. You also can "hug" the exercise ball in this position.

What it does: Relieves the pain of "back labor"; moves the baby through the birth canal.

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