Is Lying on Your Back the Best Position to Give Birth?
Every time I watch a TV show or movie with a woman giving birth, she is lying on her back. She is clearly in agony (or acting to be), and I always think, of course she is in agony, she is on her back!
Now why would I say such a thing? Isn’t birthing on your back the more ideal position? If obstetricians ask for women to be in this position, it must be the best position. Right? Well for many, no. And that included myself.
So if this isn’t the most ideal position, then why are women traditionally lying on their backs? Well, historically, women gave birth in a variety of positions. From squatting, standing, kneeling to using birthing stools.
And then there was a moment in time when everything changed.
I want to go back a few hundred years and talk about how a couple of very influential people altered child birth around the world.. It all started when King Louis XIV wanted to watch his mistress give birth (men were not allowed in the birthing room so he hid behind a curtain), so having her lie down made this possible. The practice of forceps was invented, which worked best when the mother was lying down. And lastly, Queen Victoria introduced the use of chloroform as a form of pain reliever, which meant she needed to be lying on her back.
You can see how these changes revolutionized the entire birthing experience, which wasn’t a positive movement for women at large. Today, obstetricians prefer the lithotomy position because not only was this how they were taught to catch babies, but they can stand or sit throughout the birth.
So, if you were to give birth in any position other than lying down, could this affect labor pains? Or could birthing be a bit easier? Yes.
You could decrease pain and make birthing easier. Doesn’t that sound awesome? First, I want to expand on how there are physical changes when you are lying on your back.
When you are lying down, there is compression on your sacrum, restricting the pelvis from opening 30% more. This is important to be aware of because it could be the difference between a caesarean and giving birth naturally. Also, if your baby is positioned posteriorly, this can increase pain.
In addition to compressing part of your pelvis, the weight of the baby is compressing two very important blood vessels: your inferior vena cava, which brings blood back to your heart and your descending aorta, which carries oxygen rich blood (both to you and your baby). There is awareness that compressing these two blood vessels can create issues, so has been given the term: Aortocaval Compression.
Now that you have a bit of an understanding of how lying on your back can alter some of your anatomy, I want to touch on how different positions can assist in helping birth your baby.
So how could being in a different position assist with labor? Simple – working with gravity as opposed to against it.
When you are kneeling or squatting, you are utilizing gravity to help your baby descend, making birthing easier and potentially decreasing labor time.
When I birthed my son, I found leaning over the side of the birthing pool the best position for me. This allowed me to relax during each push and be in a rather comfortable position. Having an experienced obstetrician gave me the freedom to birth however I wanted, which was great since I had no idea what was going to be best for me!
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- Howard BK, Goodson JH, Mengert WF. Supine hypotensive syndrome in late pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 1953; 1: 371.
- Goodlin RC. Importance of the lateral position during labor. Obstet Gynecol 1971 37:698.
- Abitbol MM.. Aortic compression and uterine blood flow during pregnancy. Obstet Gynecol 1977; 50: 293-298.PubMed
- Abitbol MM.. Supine position in labor and associated fetal heart rate changes. Obstet Gynecol 1985; 65: 481-486. PubMed
About the Writer:
Dr. Taylor Bean is a Canadian Naturopathic Doctor who provides complete healthcare by using alternative medicine for both you and your entire family. She recently became a new mother so is passionate about helping women with common pregnancy complaints and raising healthy babies. She currently offers a program specifically developed for laboring mothers to help decrease pain during labor.
You can find Dr. Bean primarily at Selkirk Naturopathic clinic located in Maple Ridge, BC Canada.
Every 6 months Dr. Bean travels to Singapore for 4-5 weeks where she can be found at at City Osteopathy and Physiotherapy located at Guthrie House branch.