9 Labor Positions to Try While Giving Birth

Did you know the standard hospital labor position (reclining on the bed) isn't always ideal for delivering a baby? There are nine labor positions you can try to ease discomfort during contractions.

Doula works with pregnant woman on birthing ball

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01 of 12

Reclining May Not be Right for Everyone

woman in labor in hospital
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While everyone is different, for some people, the standard hospital labor position—semi- or fully reclining—is not always ideal. For instance, the simple act of gravity and being more upright may help the baby move down the birth canal during labor.

For another 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, which could increase pain during contractions. Again, everyone is different and the standard position may be perfectly fine, especially if you have a full epidural, but if you're not feeling comfortable, let your delivery nurse know so you can try other positions.

02 of 12

The Benefits of Upright Labor Positions

labor and delivery nurse

Some people may find staying upright is more comfortable during labor. And as a bonus, it could even speed up labor too. This is because 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
03 of 12

Finding the Best Labor Position

woman in labor hospital bed
Arkom Suvarnasiri/Shutterstock

That being said, it's important to remember that isn't one 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 you can learn about now so you're more prepared to try them if you'd like during labor. And don't forget to keep in mind that moving around is generally only possible if you don't have an epidural; people who use an epidural for pain management may be more limited in the positions they can choose during labor.

04 of 12


Squatting Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

Squatting can be 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.

05 of 12

Sitting on a Ball

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.

06 of 12


Lunging Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

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

07 of 12


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 also a great position for receiving a back rub!

08 of 12


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.

09 of 12


Rocking Labor Position
Illustration by Yeji Kim

Sit on an exercise ball, the edge of the bed, or a chair. (Ask your nurse if the unit has a rocking chair you can use if you'd like!) Gently rock back and forth to ease pain during contractions.

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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. If you are having a lot of back pain during labor, you can also ask your partner to apply gentle counter-pressure to your back to relieve pressure from the baby's head moving down. (Have them make a fist, cover that hand with their other hand, and apply gentle pressure with both hands on your back where it is hurting: labor and delivery nurse tip!)

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