9 Labor Positions to Ease Pain While Giving Birth

Did you know the standard hospital labor position (reclining on the bed) isn't ideal for delivering a baby?  For a better birthing experience, try one of these nine labor positions to ease discomfort during contractions.

Rocking Labor Position
Photo: Illustration by Yeji Kim
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Why You Shouldn't Recline During Labor

woman in labor in hospital
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If your car stalled at the bottom of a hill, you certainly wouldn't try to push it uphill. So why does it make sense to fight gravity by lying down during labor? This is just one reason why the standard hospital labor position—semi- or fully reclining—is not ideal.

For one thing, when you're lying on your back, your uterus compresses major blood vessels, potentially depriving the baby of oxygen and making you feel dizzy or queasy. "Most women feel better when they are not lying on their back during labor," says certified nurse-midwife Katy Dawley, Ph.D., C.N.M., director of the Institute of Midwifery at Philadelphia University in Pennsylvania.

In addition, when you're reclining, the baby's head puts pressure on pelvic nerves in your sacrum, increasing pain during contractions.

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The Benefits of Upright Labor Positions

labor and delivery nurse
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When you're in labor, remaining upright and leaning forward reduces pressure while allowing the baby's head to constantly bear down on your cervix. As a result, dilation tends to occur more quickly. "Lying on your side, standing, sitting, walking, rocking—anything that keeps you active can help decrease pain and speed up labor," says Dawley.

Other benefits of upright labor positions include:

  • Reduced need for medication
  • Help in dilating your cervix and widening your pelvic opening
  • Greater sense of self-confidence and self-control
  • Stronger, more efficient, and less painful contractions
  • Aid for the baby's descent through the birth canal
  • Help in bringing oxygen to the muscles in your uterus and to the baby
  • Reduced need for episiotomy or cesarean section
  • Less stress on the baby
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Finding the Best Labor Position

woman in labor hospital bed
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There isn't a single best labor position for you. In fact, it's a good idea to change positions during labor so you don't develop a cramp or strain your muscles. Here are nine effective labor positions—and don't forget to discuss them with your doctor or midwife before your due date. "In the throes of labor, you're not going to be able to advocate for yourself," Dawley explains.

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Squatting

Squatting Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

While this labor position may be less convenient for hospital personnel, squatting is especially effective when you're ready to push. In fact, squatting is sometimes called the "midwife's forceps" because of its ability to work with gravity, enlarge the pelvic opening, and speed the pushing phase of labor.

Try squatting supported by another person or a sturdy chair. You can also squat against a wall or between your partner's legs while they sit.

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Sitting

Sitting Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

Try sitting with one knee bent and the other relaxed. Don't lean too far back. When you sit, your uterus drops forward, improving the blood supply to the contracting muscles and easing pressure on your diaphragm. Use cushions or your partner for support.

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Lunging

Lunging Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

Place one foot on a sturdy chair or stool and lean into that foot during contractions.

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Swaying

Swaying Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

Wrap your arms around your partner's neck or waist and sway as if you're slow dancing. This is a great position for receiving a back rub!

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Standing

Swaying Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

By standing upright, you let gravity aid you. During the first stage of labor, simply walking around can help things progress—but take care not to become too tired.

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Rocking

Rocking Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

Sit on an exercise ball, the edge of the bed, or a chair. Gently rock back and forth to ease pain during contractions.

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Kneeling

Kneeling Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

If you want to remain upright, but no longer feel comfortable walking, try kneeling on a pillow. This can help if your baby is pressing against your spine.

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Hands and Knees

Hands and Knees Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

If upright positions are tiring, or the contractions are too fast or overwhelming, an all-fours labor position can help. It gets gravity to work for you, slows down contractions, and eases back labor, which occurs when the baby is positioned with the back of their head pressing against the rear of your pelvis.

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Lying on Your Side

Lying on Your Side Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

Consider trying a sideways position if you're tired or have had an epidural. It takes weight off the main blood supply to the baby and reduces tension on your perineum.

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