Stay Upright and Mobile for Labor and Delivery

Couple in labor

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Labor positions are usually thought of as either laying flat on your back in bed, or propped up with pillows in bed. Neither of these labor positions is ideal for giving birth. In fact, the more you move in your labor and delivery experience, the more comfortable you will get and the faster your labor will go. And yet, 71% of laboring women reported in the Listening to Mothers Survey by Childbirth Connection that they did nothing but stay in bed for their birth.

Mothers report that there are many reasons that they wind up staying in bed, even when they originally preferred to move during labor. Some of the most often cited reasons for not getting out of bed include:

Here are some ways to help you ensure that you are able to move during your birth experience.

Choose a Supportive Practitioner

Your doctor or midwife should be not only accepting of moving in labor but supportive. They should be able to do more than give you permission to labor actively but suggest positions to encourage the natural progression of labor. This means both active labor and in pushing—when the movement will help your baby descend and be born.

Find a Hospital or Birth Center That Encourages Movement

A place of birth that encourages movement looks different than your standard hospital. You might take a tour and see birth balls in the rooms, or the early labor garden or lounge where women can walk. Did you notice that women were walking in the halls of the labor area when you toured? Did the rooms have the bed as the center of the room, or simply a part of it? Did you see squat bars, birth balls, and other aids?

Learn Different Labor Positions

Knowing what options are available to you can be of great help. By taking a childbirth class that teaches about maintaining mobility in labor, you can have the knowledge that you need to move in labor. This also helps your partner know what to suggest as well. Be sure that you practice relaxation in upright positions as well.

Hire a Doula or Other Labor Advocate 

Having someone with you can help you choose the best positions for what your labor is doing. This might be a relief to you and your partner at not having to remember which position for labor works best when. A doula is also someone to help you navigate the hospital or birth center system when it comes to advocating for movement in labor.

Minimize Interventions That Prevent You From Moving 

Using the requirements for low-risk pregnant women and electronic fetal monitoring (EFM) or auscultation, you can have more freedom to move without being tethered to a machine. This may not pose a risk to your baby, provided labor can be monitored adequately and safely.

The same is true for a saline or heparin lock versus a full-blown IV. If you need certain interventions or even epidural anesthesia, be sure to ask for help with movement. It is still possible.

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  • Declercq ER, Sakala C, Corry MP, Applebaum S, Risher P. Listening to Mothers: Report of the First National U.S. Survey of Women’s Childbearing Experiences. New York: Maternity Center Association, 2002.

  • Enkin M, Keirse MJ, Renfrew M, Neilson J. A Guide to Effective Care in Pregnancy and Childbirth (3rd ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000.

  • Hodnett E, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. Continuous support for women during childbirth. In: The Cochrane Collaboration, ed. The Cochrane Database of Systematic Reviews (Protocol). John Wiley & Sons, Ltd; 2003:CD003766.