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Movement in Labor

Tips for Staying Active

Maternal movement in labor is empowering and can facilitate the descent of the baby.

Imagine you are traveling across the country by car. Up ahead you see a sign on the interstate:

Exit 2 miles. After that the next exit is 60 miles.

It is 11:30 am. You have to stop and think, "Do I want to eat lunch now, or would I rather wait another hour? Would I be more comfortable using the restroom and stretching my legs now, or should I wait and put more miles behind me?"

This is the process of tuning in to your body.

We may not always think, "Am I hungry; do I need to use the bathroom; do I need to move?" These are things we tend to do without a lot of forethought. However, the situation described above is one in which a person needs to assess his or her body’s physical needs.

This is the same thing a woman should do in labor. She should "tune in" to her body's signals. Your body DOES send signals when you need to move, just as it does when you need to eat, drink, or use the restroom. The mother should specifically tune in to those signals.

Benefits of Maternal Movement In Labor

Moving during labor has several benefits for a woman. First, the motion can help with fetal descent. This is particularly true if the mother assumes a position with an open pelvis. Read the section on positions for labor and childbirth for more information on positioning.

Fetal Descent

In addition to the open pelvis, the mobility assists the baby in the synclitic movements which will hasten turning and descent. The synclitic movements are a side-to-side movement of the baby's head which allows it to burrow into the pelvis. You can picture it by imagining an animal squirming to get its head through the bars of a fence. Baby's do the same thing, though over a much greater period of time.

The mother's movement during labor helps the baby descend, just as wiggling the bars of the fence back and forth would help the animal squeeze through it.

Stronger Contractions

Movement in labor also strengthens the contractions. It is common to see women walking in labor in order to make their contraction pattern more effective. Other women have found that gently bouncing on the fitness ball, swaying in their partners arms, or moving in the shower have helped their contractions become more effective.

Labor Rhythm

Moving during labor also helps mothers establish a pattern and rhythm which helps them to work with their bodies through the contractions. Swaying, lunging, bouncing gently on the ball, rubbing with finger tips or palms, rocking, head nodding, and dancing have all been used by women in labor.

It is not easy for a mother to know before her contractions begin what rhythm will work best for her. Sometimes a birth attendant will notice that a woman is unconsciously moving, and help her to focus on developing that movement into a pattern.

Promotes Natural Labor

For a mother who desires to birth without intervention, freedom of movement is critical. There is a high correlation between confinement to bed and medical procedures. Many women who did not want to use pain medication have requested epidurals once they were confined to bed because they were not able to work through the contraction according to their own bodies signals.

Tips for Movement in Labor

Know the 5 Labor Positions

Become familiar with the different labor positions. Five main positions are sitting, standing, squatting, kneeling, and lying down. Ideally, once active labor is motheres spend some time in each position.

Some positions requirement moving, and others do not. Some will feel move natural to you during pregnancy; but even positions that you don't feel comfortable in during pregnancy may seem desirable once labor is established.

For instance, many women report a desire to squat or lunge during labor. This is a natural instinct because those are perfect positions for opening the pelvis. Knowledge of those positions will make it easier for a woman to listen to her body's instincts.

Plan to Be Upright and Moving During Labor

At least spend some of the time upright and moving in labor. Common positions to achieve this include:
  • Walking
  • Leaning into a fitness ball and swaying back and forth or in a circular motion (You can be standing or kneeling)
  • Swaying side to side
  • Swaying in your partners arms (often called slow dancing)
  • Belly dancing (get the music to add more fun)
  • Showering - make stepping motions in the shower
  • Lunging side to side, one foot on a chair. (This opens the pelvis very wide)
  • Plei - a ballet term for bending at the knees (Often done by dancers, but I've seen women who have never taken dance and don't know the term doing this motion in labor.)
  • Walking down stairs (Takes less energy than walking up.)
  • Gentle bouncing on a fitness ball

Differentiate movement between contractions and during contractions

An important difference to note is what women do during their contractions and between them. Some women who walk, will stop and sway when a contraction begins.

Some mothers who are rocking in a rocking chair will stop when they are having contractions. Or, they might rock in time with their breathing.

Once a contraction begins, the mother should assume the position and motion that is instictive for her. While she may not be analyzing it, it is likely a position that facilitates the labor process.

Balance your need for movement and rest

Mothers should keep in mind that it is equally important to rest during labor. It could be counter-productive to decide in advance to walk through all the contractions. She will probably need periods of rest. Again, each mother should listen to her body so she can tune in to its signals for rest and for movement in labor.

Find a birth setting that supports movement in labor

Unfortunately, not all places of birth will allow women to move freely in labor. Most birth centers do, and all home births do. Hospitals vary on their acceptance of women laboring out of bed.

Learn More About Movement in Labor

Lamaze International has listed Walk, Move Around, Change Positions as one of the six healthy birth practices to improve birth outcomes.

Professional Resources

Janet Balaskas is founder of the Active Birth Center and describes importance of active movement and upright positions in her book Active Birth.

You can also visit Janet's Active Birth Website for more information on actively birthing your baby.

By Karen Newell Copyright 2003 - 2012 Better Childbirth Outcomes - All Rights Reserved
Camp Hill, Pennsylvania, USA