With your home birth approaching, now is the time to read and learn as much as you can about the childbirth process.  You’ve already made the decision to birth in your home, so you know your space will be calm, relaxing, and optimized for the birth you desire.

As with most things in life, knowledge is power.  And preparing for your home birth is no different.  The more you can erase about the unknown of your home birth and the more you can visualize in terms of laboring options, the better!

One great way to help visualize your labor and home birth, and know more about laboring options available, is to learn about various labor and birth positions to use on your big day.  So whether you’re planning a land or water birth, today we’re going to talk must-know positions for your labor.

You can’t know ahead of time which position will bring the ultimate relief to discomfort or feel the most natural, but knowing as many options as you can, will help your body find that feel-good position faster.

What are the best labor positions?

Back is definitely not best when it comes to birth

Watch any show or movie in which a woman gives birth and you’ll no doubt see her laying on her back on a hospital bed, feet up in stirrups.  Ask any of your momma friends who’ve birthed in a hospital and you’ll find the overwhelming majority of them birthed on their back, with their feet in stirrups, too.

Laying on your back to give birth is the standard in most hospital settings, but is a far cry from optimal when it comes to pushing out a baby.  The practice wasn’t the norm prior to births being moved to hospitals in the 1900s, when it was encouraged because it is more optimal for the care provider and fetal monitoring (source).

Listen and trust your body’s ability to labor and birth

Now, not all of these women necessarily had to spend the entirety of their labors on their back (at least I hope…).  You can approach your labor and birth with an arsenal of positions that really will optimize your contractions, baby’s position and their ability to get down low in your canal for pushing.

During your labor, more than anything, follow your intuition.  Your body is designed to birth a baby and will know what positions innately feel best and promote dilation.  Knowing options can and will help with this.  We’ll be looking at specific positions for labor and birth below.

Find a rhythm between movement and restful labor positions

As your labor enters the active stage, and your contractions are coming every few minutes and lasting a full minute try to develop a pattern to your labor positions.  Ideally, you want to alternate between moving positions and resting positions.  I’m not saying you’ll be doing jumping jacks– but even slow, gentle movements will make your contractions more and more productive. 

Adding in positions of rest regularly will help keep up your endurance and, of course, help with your exhaustion.  And remember– even in these resting positions, your body is still working hard! So if you’re at the point where even gentle movement feels impossible, make an effort to switch between various “resting” positions.  The change in positions is optimal for your comfort and baby’s ability to get positioned for birth.

Best positions for active labor

Like I mentioned above, listening to what your body wants to do during labor will be your ultimate guide.  But there were points during my own labor where I felt mentally stuck.  What I was doing wasn’t comfortable anymore but I was paralyzed to the next move.  Having my husband and midwife there to suggest a new position was really helpful. 

For this reason, be sure to discuss labor positions and options with your partner so that they can suggest and prompt changes.  And let your midwife know what positions are especially appealing to you.  For example, if you’ve been practicing prenatal yoga, you may find your body loves sinking into certain yoga poses.  She will want to know this ahead of time to best support your birth.

Standing or upright positions

Standing positions are wonderful because they best utilize gravity during your labor process.  When you are upright in labor baby can naturally move deeper into the birth canal.  These positions are definitely considered more active, because standing and moving takes considerable effort while in labor. 

You may like standing while supporting your upper body on a high backed chair or other piece of furniture.  Try standing in a hugging or slow-dancing position with your partner.  Swaying and dancing are wonderful ways to incorporate more hip movement into your standing labor positions.

Squatting positions

Squatting is another position that is a more active labor position that really utilizes gravity to help move baby down while you are dilating.  Squatting on your own can feel good, but can also become exhausting quickly.

As an alternative, you can try some supported squatting positions.  Some great ways to achieve this are by:

  • Going into a “yogi squat” with your bottom supported by a yoga block, firm cushion, or small step stool
  • Sitting on the toilet, in a chair, or on a stool and using bathroom toilet stool (like the Squatty Potty) to lift your legs into a squat.  Bonus is that the toilet is a place that our muscle naturally open and relax and works really well for some women in labor
  • Having your partner support you in a squatting position
  • Using a squatting rope or birthing bar to hold yourself up with your arms while in a squat (these are tools your midwife or doula may have access to and can help facilitate)

Squats are a wonderful exercise to use throughout your pregnancy and in the third trimester to help get baby in the optimal position for a home birth.  In fact, attempting squats for the first time during labor is not advised.  So be sure to incorporate some squats into your routine as you prepare physically for birth.

Sitting positions

Sitting during labor is great because it can be active and incorporate subtle movement or be more passive and restful while still utilizing gravity.  There are many different ways you can incorporate sitting into your labor positions:

  • Sitting on a birth ball
  • Sitting on a birthing stool
  • Sitting on the edge of a chair or bed
  • Sitting on the floor in a cross-legged or butterfly position
  • Sitting with your partner behind you for support
  • Sitting in bed with pillows propped behind you
  • Sitting on the toilet (seriously!)

Side-lying position

When you are at the point in your labor where you need rest, lying on your side is the best option.  It continues to promote dilation in a way that lying on your back does not.

When you are lying on your side, open your legs up by placing pillows, a peanut ball or a birthing ball between them.  Ask your partner and doula for help finding comfort on your side and be sure to switch sides periodically.  Even those subtle changes will promote more productive contractions while you are resting.

Child’s pose

This is a resting pose in yoga and will provide you with rest and some relief during labor as well.  Child pose during labor may be most comfortable if you have your upper body supported by a pillow and cushion.  You should have your knees wide and your bottom resting on your heels.

Child’s pose is a good position for your partner or doula to provide counter-pressure on your hips or low back.  It’s also an ideal position to utilize massage therapy.

Hands and knees position

Going on all fours during labor is the perfect way to stretch your back during labor and find movement in a more supported and grounded position.  You can try rhythmically arching and rounding your back with your breath and waves of contractions.  You might also like swaying your hips, lifting your legs or moving into a lounge.

A variation of the hands and knees position is to be on your knees and support your upper body with a birthing ball, stack of cushions or low sofa.  Like child’s pose, being on your hands and knees is the perfect time for your partner or doula to provide counter-pressure or massage during your labor. 

Check out our article on pain-relieving strategies for birth, like massage, to learn more techniques.

Lunging positions for labor

Like squatting, lunging isn’t something you should try for the first time during labor.  However, if you’ve been incorporating lunges into your physical preparations for labor and practicing prenatal yoga, lunges can actually feel really good during labor. 

Like many of the other suggestions on this list, lunging helps move baby down, opens your pelvic floor and utilizes gravity.

Walking and Stair climbing during labor

When your labor first begins, and especially before you are in active labor at all, walking and climbing stairs is a good way to get things going.

During your active labor, walking and climbing stairs may be suggested if your labor seems to stall or little progress is being made.  Some mommas naturally feel the urge to move and really take comfort in walking around their house or slowly moving up the stairs.  Stairs give the opportunity to incorporate lunges, squats and supported sitting as well.

Adapt any of these positions for the shower, tub, or birth pool

Many of these positions can be adapted and utilized in the shower or tub.  Adding warm water at any point in your labor can bring fabulous relief. 

Use towels to pad your knees in the tub or shower for kneeling positions.  Invest in a shower seat or stool to use in various ways in the tub or shower during your labor.

And what about positions for ‘pushing’ or birth?

Once you’ve reached 10 cm of dilation, you will feel the natural urge to push out your baby.  If you are planning a water birth, it’s important that you have been in the water for your active labor leading up to the point of pushing.  If you are planning a land birth but have been laboring in the tub, you’ll need to get out, dried, and warmed up for pushing.

Best birthing positions on land

In terms of pushing positions, using gravity to your advantage becomes more important than ever when it comes time to birth your baby.  Many mommas like birthing in positions where their body has a place for counter resistance to help with their pushing.  For example, on their hands and knees or using a squatting/birthing bar. 

Just like with your labor, you will likely instinctually want to go into positions that are best for pushing.  So listen to your body and what it wants to do.  Change positions if you have the urge and follow your body’s lead.

Positions that are great for birthing on land:

  • Squatting
  • Supported squatting (by your partner, or a squatting rope/birthing bar)
  • On hands and Knees
  • Reclined/Semi sitting
  • Sitting on the edge of the bed or on a birthing Stool
  • Using a birthing bar to squat or push against while on your knees

Best birthing positions for a water birth

While in your birth tub, many of the same positions as a land birth can be used.  You can lean on the sides of the tub or use a shower stool in your birth tub for support.  When choosing your birth tub, you might also pick one that has handles built in.  To add padding to your knees or bottom, don’t hesitate to put rolled or stacked towels on the bottom of the birth pool.

Most common is an upright sitting position in which your back is supported by the birth pool, or your partner if you choose for them to be in the tub with you during birth.  But some women may push in a squatting position, on hands and knees, or supported hands and knees in the water as well.

Be sure to check out our complete guide to water birth supplies if you plan to go this route!

Use this guide in your birth plan, momma

Now that you’ve read all about various positions to use in your labor, you’re filled with even more knowledge to apply to your birth plan.  Talk about labor and birthing positions with your partner and midwife too so they can weigh in and know your plan.

Throughout this article, I mentioned the wonderful addition of a birthing ball as a variation on so many labor positions.  The thing is, not all birthing balls are alike! Be sure to check out our guide to birthing balls before choose one for your birth.

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