Moving During Labor

The second Healthy Birth Blog carnival is up on Lamaze’s Science & Sensibility blog. It is a great collection of links to posts about the importance of Healthy Birth Practice #2: Walk, Move Around, and Change Positions During Labor. For the blog carnival I contributed a post/handout I made last year called How to Use a Hospital Bed Without Lying Down. We spend quite some time on the subject in my classes and I encourage my clients to treat the bed like a “tool,” rather than a place to lie down. I also encourage strategizing about ways to both meet the needs of the hospital staff for “confinement” as well as the needs of the birthing woman for mobility (so, sitting on birth ball right NEXT to the bed and monitor, instead of lying back in the bed—both sets of needs can be met this way).

When reading through some of the other links in the blog carnival, I particularly enjoyed the one at The Unnecesarean about Women Describe Walking, Moving and Changing Positions in Labor. In the post, Jill points out “For first time mothers who have had no exposure to a birth, the time between, ‘I felt a contraction!’ and ‘I have to push!’ is often a total mystery.” How true is this! How many birth documentaries and shows (even very good ones), essentially only show a few minutes in early labor and then the baby being pushed out? What happened during the other 12 hours?? Obviously, we can have an episode or documentary that lasts 12 hours and shows every single detail, but I do think this gap means it is hard for first time mothers to really get a “vision” of what labor and birth is really like—the “long haul” picture.

Of course, that post made me think about my own births and how movement played an important role in both of them. I think it was equally significant/important for both, but since I was in labor longer with my first baby I used movement much more. In early labor, I sat on the floor cross legged with my back straight (working to keep the baby in “optimal” fetal alignment :), while I ate dinner and watched a movie. Then, I walked in the hallway to see if walking would stimulate any increased contractions. I also sat on the birth ball. As labor moved on, I ONCE tried lying down on my side in bed to “go to sleep” (at the suggestion of my doctor and doula) and that was IT. I had one contraction lying down and it was the worst contraction I’ve ever experienced (both babies). I never laid down again during either birthing! No possible way! When I got tired, I did kneel on the bed with a pile of pillows in front of me and rested my head/arms on the pillows. I also spent a lot of time kneeling by the side of the bed with my head resting on my arms on it. (This was my own bed at home.) I sat and rocked in the rocking chair with my eyes closed. I sat on the floor (briefly) with the rice sock under my belly and husband sitting behind me.When I went to the birth center, I sat in the rocking chair (oh wait, I did lie down one more time, for my sole cervical check of either pregnancy/birth). I also went back to kneeling on the floor with my head on the bed. Then I gave birth to my first son in a semi-sitting position on the birth center bed with my husband behind me/to the side. (Not the position I would have instinctively chosen, I think I would have actually birthed him kneeling by the side of the bed, but I was encouraged to get up into the bed. See his birth story.)

With my second baby, I walked around (again, “testing” out whether labor was “real” and going to intensify) in our kitchen. I squatted down several times (again, “testing” and trying to “make it bigger“). Then, I sat on my birth ball in the living room. I only stayed there for a few contractions and then stood up and wanted something to lean on—I leaned on the back of the (too rocky) recliner. Then, I ended up kind of hanging on my husband for a while—my arms around his neck and my legs dropping kind of outward. I then felt “driven to my knees” and got on my hands and knees on the floor with my arms and head on my birth ball. I quickly decided I didn’t want the ball and got just on my hands and knees with my husband in front of me with his arms around me. My son was born while I was on my hands and knees in this way.

I think when women think about “active birth” or “freedom of movement throughout labor,” sometimes they think this means walking the whole time or squatting up and down and up and down, or literally being *standing up* and moving around “aggressively” throughout labor. My own experiences were “active birth,” but the freedom of movement includes being able to sit in a rocking chair and “meditate” through contractions, or resting on your knees with your head on the bed. The “activity” we’re really talking about is really not lying down-–having the body upright/torso above the pelvis.

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