Staying active in labour.
It’s in all the books. It’s in all the movies. Your doctor, your midwife, your doula, your best friend, your gardener, your mail carrier have all told you to stay active during labour.
Okay! So, you are going to be active!
But what does that mean, exactly? Do you need to Zumba your way through contractions? Are you supposed to wrap your legs around your neck like a pregnant Seane Corn (a beatific, skinny, super-yogini…Google her)? What are you supposed to do if you aren’t one of these “swim in the ocean and birth with dolphins” types?
Back off, Flipper- that afterbirth is mine!
As you ride the wave of contractions (which is either the worst ride ever or the best ride ever, depending on who you talk to), moving your body in a way that feels natural and satisfying is not only a great way to cope with any discomfort that you might be experiencing but also encourages your pelvis and cervix to open up so that your baby can get into a favourable position for birth. For example, if your little monkey has decided to try to enter the world in a posterior position (with their spine pressing against your spine…hello there, back labour!), you can convince the booger to ease themselves into the other direction which will not only take some of the pressure off your back, but also shorten your labour.
Studies have shown time and time again that the worst place for a woman to be when she’s in labour is flat on her back and stuck in one position for long periods of time. Why? Well, it really boils down to physics: when you are laying flat on your back, you are working against gravity. Picture Newton sitting under the apple tree and commanding the apple to fly up off the ground and back into the tree branch. Nuh-uh. If you are going to work that baby around and under the pubic arch, it makes sense to be in positions that work with gravity. Further, if you stay in any position for extended amounts of time, your baby could set up camp in a position that isn’t ideal for efficient delivery (see “back labour” above).
Think “view to a pooh” as opposed to “womb with a view” – ideally, your baby should face your spine, not your navel.
Convinced? Sure you are!
Okay, so what kinds of things can you do while you are in labour to surf those surges and get that baby out?
- walking: pacing, hiking, moseying, ambling, promenading…whatever you call it, it works!
- climbing: stairs, walls…you know, whatever.
- lunging: remember when you were a kid and you ran races at recess? You would get low to the ground on one knee and stretch out your other leg behind you as someone yelled, “ready? set? GO!” This is the same idea, except running is totally optional. You can also cheat and do a “Captain Morgan” – stand with one foot on a chair and one foot on the ground. Alternate from one foot to the other and dream about the daiquiris you are going to drink when you aren’t pregnant anymore! Dude – you can totally do this laying down. Lay on your side. Bring your knee up to your chest (or somewhere in the vicinity, nobody’s judging anyone, here). Bam!
- bellydancing: did you know that many West Asian dances are inspired by movements that women would utilize to celebrate and encourage healthy menstruation and childbirth? You don’t have to own a coin scarf to be a bellydance superstar. Simply shimmy your knees to vibrate your hips, isolate your hip area and glute muscles to move your hips up and down (“hip hits”), and undulate your abdomen, hips, and chest. Too complicated? Try swaying your hips from side to side and in figure eight patterns.
- grab your balls – yours or someone else’s: BIRTH balls, of course! As ridiculous as those giant exercise balls are, they are actually useful in labour. You can sit on them, bounce on them, lean on them, prop up your legs or arms with them, or play soccer. They are also a great way to distract any already-born children who may be present.
- rock out: rocking in a rocking chair like your grandmother or on the floor in a corner like your bestie did when “Friends” finally came to an end is considered staying active. This is great for those moments where you are tired from walking the same damn hallway over and over again.
- yoga: no, you don’t have to turn into a human pretzel. There are some simple asanas (postures) that you can do without straining yourself that can ease things along. Cat pose (marjaryasana), extended puppy pose (uttana shishosana), child’s pose (balasana), and side-reclining leg lift (anantasana) are all wonderful positions to experiment with. FYI: I love Yoga Journal’s website for demonstrating asanas and providing lots of information on each one: http://www.yogajournal.com/poses/finder/browse_categories. Be gentle, listen to your body, and don’t force anything. Namaste!
- squatting: for thousands of years, people have been doing most things in a squatting position – washing their clothes in the river, warming their hands by the fire, tracking their game, pooping…and having babies. This is actually an optimal position to labour and birth in because it opens the pelvic inlet and encourages the fetus to sink nice and low. You might find hanging off a partner’s hips or grasping a counter a comfortable way to achieve this position. If your doula or midwife has a birth stool (think of a toilet seat on legs), this also facilitates squatting without taking a toll on your legs and back.
- I’ve been sitting on the toilet, all the live-long day: hanging out on the ‘loo – either facing towards or away from the tank – is also a great way to labour. Bonus: when you are sitting on the pot, you feel psychologically reassured that it is okay for your body to…ahem…release what may need to come out as the baby moves down.
- splish-splash: swim lengths in a pool, float in a birth tub, sink in your bathtub, stand in your shower, sit on a stool under the falling water…yup, that all counts as being “active”. Your rubber duckie is your workout buddy!
So, there you have it! And there were no marathons run, no discs slipped, no hernias to be had. Honestly, most of these movements are intuitive – meaning, you will probably try out at least one or two of them all on your own before you remember your mother-in-law lecturing you about being active in labour as she sprays the crumbs of your baby shower cake all over her leopard-print blouse.
You spent ten hours in a car with her when Aunt Gladys died…ten hours of labour is nothing!
- Beth Murch, MA, CD
Certified Antenatal, Labour and Postpartum Doula
Independent Placenta Service Provider
Associate Doula and Instructor at The Nesting Instinct
Co-Founder and Co-Director of Kitchener-Waterloo Doula Collective