Best Positions for Labor

Keep moving during labor to help your baby progress downward. Try these sitting and standing positions to keep things moving along.

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 (basically a great big rubber ball like the sort you might see people use to exercise with in a gym), 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. Improvise to make them your own:

Kneel and rock. Labor may be easier with props.Using a rocking chair, a regular chair, or a birthing ball, kneel with your arms resting on the chair or ball for support. You can lean on your elbows or cross your arms and put your head down, as if you're a kindergarten student at rest time. When a contraction comes, rock forward as you breathe in and rock backward as you breathe out. Keep your back flat as you rock. This position takes very little muscle, won't tire you or your partner, and will help make gravity your friend.

Walk and lean. If you're upright and walking, the baby is headed in the right direction, and you'll have something to do to take your mind off labor. Lean on your partner, labor coach, or a nearby wall during contractions. Then take a deep breath and keep moving.

Lie on your side. You can't stay in constant motion because you'll get tired. When you do stop to rest, recline on your side. This can help ease a hard, fast labor during strong contractions. You can also lie on your side between contractions to rest until another one comes.

Sit on a ball or low stool. Sitting on something low that allows you to spread your legs helps open up your pelvis and put gravity to work. You can also sit astride your birthing bed. If you have trouble keeping your balance, ask your partner to sit on a chair in front of you (or stand, if you prefer) so that you can reach out and hold on to his hands or reach his knees with your arms outstretched. If your hospital doesn't provide a birthing ball, bring your own with you; you can buy them at most sports equipment stores.

Squat. This move takes energy and muscle, so save it for more active labor or even until it's time to push and deliver your baby. Ask your practitioner for a squat bar, which most birth centers and hospitals have. This attaches to the birthing bed like a chin-up bar, and you can hang from it while you squat. You can also hang on your partner's neck if he braces his legs the right way. Loosen your abdominal muscles while you're squatting and place your feet a couple of feet apart as you slowly get into position. If you don't have a squat bar and want to get lower to the ground, have your partner sit on a stool and hold your hands while you squat in front of him.

Originally published in You & Your Baby: Pregnancy.

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