Often when we see mainstream images of women in labor, they are lying on their backs in bed. So when you start to feel the intensity of labor contractions, your first thought might be that you need to lie down. Or when you get to the hospital, they may ask you to lie down so that they can check you, and you may assume that you have to just stay put there (you usually don’t.)
Sometimes, especially during a long early labor, lying down can have its place. Resting between contractions can sometimes help give you the strength you need to keep going, and it will be easier to do that if you aren’t having to get up and down between each one.
However, there are many, many benefits to remaining mobile and upright throughout your labor. Keep in mind that with the help of an experienced labor support person, you can typically stay mobile even if you are hooked up to an IV, being monitored, or limited in your movements due to pain medication. Your options of how you stay mobile might be fewer, but the benefits of doing what you can will remain.
1. It will help distract you.
If you are mostly in bed throughout your labor, you really only have the next contraction to focus on. When you can move around, you can more easily distract yourself with small goals such as, “I’ll take three more steps before the next wave comes” or, “I have just enough time to turn to my other side.”
This not only helps pass the time, but it brings the focus back to those rest periods between the contractions, instead of keeping your mind engaged in anticipating what is to come.
2. It can help with the baby’s positioning.
Labor is a dance between Mother and Baby. Baby needs to move through some pretty tight spaces, and if we keep our hips moving by walking, shifting positions, or bouncing on a birth ball, baby has more space to make the small shifts needed to descend. Different movements move your pelvis in different ways, so switching things up and keeping gravity on your side as much as possible can keep things moving and encourage baby’s descent.
3. Rhythmic movement can help you cope with pain.
Getting to the place during labor where endorphins can kick in to help with the pain takes a release of conscious thought and an acceptance of what is happening at a deeper, more instinctive level. Rhythmic movement can help you find a more open state of mind and allow your body to move while your brain lets go a little.
Often women will rock back and forth, shift side to side, or move their arms and legs in a rhythmic way during contractions, and then become still during the space between them. This type of movement often happens spontaneously during an unmedicated birth when the woman is allowed to move freely and encouraged to do what feels natural to her.
4. Staying upright allows you to work with gravity.
Whether it is walking, kneeling, or squatting, an upright position helps make use of your friend gravity. Baby needs to move down the birth canal, and upright positions often make it easier for that to happen.
A skilled provider will be able to recognize if you need to use a different position to help encourage baby to rotate or shift instead of being upright. Sometimes hands and knees or side-lying are better options. Be sure to listen to your body and your baby as you change positions.
5. It provides you more autonomy.
This is your birth experience. No one should ask you to assume any position solely for the purpose of making things convenient for themselves. If unrestricted movement in labor is important to you, make sure to ask your provider how they handle situations where the woman is giving birth in an upright position. Will they discourage this? Do they ask women to lie down to push? Or will they be willing to allow you to move how you want and work around your desired birthing position?
Depending on what is important to you during labor, the ability to move around without having to argue for your right to stay mobile will be a huge part of having the birth experience you desire. Make sure your partner, doula, and birth team know your desires regarding movement during labor, and make sure to understand the options available to you at your chosen birthplace.
A great way to re-frame how you view movement during labor is to watch some birth videos that include free movement of the laboring woman. Look up things like “hands and knees birth” “squatting birth” or “upright birth” and try to see if you can detect rhythmic movement of the woman, or notice how the provider accommodates the birth position.