Active Birth: that sounds a bit full-on!!

I recently held an Active Birth workshop and I do realise that the name sometimes puts people off.

“Really! I have to do a full-on work out while I am birthing. I thought I could just lie down.”
Well, you can lie down if you need to rest, but just not on your back.

Did you know that lying on our backs for childbirth is a modern phenomenon?

Active Birth

We know this because there are many ancient carvings and paintings showing women in upright positions, and even using primitive birth stools. In fact, birth stools and chairs date back to 2000BC.
There is also a famous Egyptian drawing on papyrus showing Cleopatra (69-30 BC) kneeling to give birth.

The first record of a woman lying on her back was the 17th Century. This is when Louis XIV ordered his mistress to lay down so he could watch the birth. And now this is the way 78% of women in Australia birth. It is no coincidence that forceps were invented in the mid 17th Century.

However, we know birthing in an upright position has the following benefits:
Active Birth


1. Lowers the rate of operative deliveries (forceps, vacuum and c/section) and episiotomy
2. Shorter, less painful labour
3. Won’t restrict the oxygen to your baby
4. Increases you pelvic diameter
5.Increases teamwork



Studies have found that an upright position during the second stage of labour was associated with a significant decrease in the use of interventions.

Research also found that the pelvis opens up when the woman is in a squatting or hands and knee position, allowing more room for the baby to travel through.

Giving birth in an upright position was associated with a shorter first stage of labour. Women who gave birth in an upright position have a first stage that was approximately one hour shorter.

Labouring in an upright position was associated with lower levels of pain during labour.

Being in an upright position also allows for a better flow of blood to your baby. Lying down on your back can lead to a reduced flow of blood and oxygen to the baby by compressing the vena cava vein and the aorta. This can cause foetal distress, resulting in further interventions.

Remember we tell you not to sleep on your back when you are pregnant!

If you use your legs as levers (ie. squat, lunge, use a birth ball, get on all fours or simply walk about) you can increase your pelvic diameter by 25-30 %.

Finally, active birth allows for a lot more teamwork. Your birth partner is much more able to cuddle and support you, and also access your back and body for massage.


So why are so many women still birthing on their back?Active Birth

I blame the bed!!

(And childbirth education classes that don’t discuss the principles of Active Birth)

When you walk into a birthing suite or labour room, what is the first thing you see?


The bed….smack bang in the centre of the room.
Then you look around what else do you see?

Not much else. There is often little supportive equipment, such as mats, birthing stools etc.

So the subliminal message is “Get on the bed.”

But when women aren’t directed by midwives or obstetricians, when there are lots of other options, when the bed is not the centre of the room, women can move about and adopt different positions, they instinctively assume upright positions, because they instinctively know it is better for birth.


My top tips for an active, easier labour and birth are:

1. Learn to love your pelvis.

The female pelvis is perfectly designed for labour. In my workshop, we get to really understand our pelvis and how to expand it using your legs as levers.

2. Keep active for as long as you can

If you go into labour at night then please do rest, but during the day get up and move about. If you get tired rest by sitting down, leaning forward on to a comfy surface (or partner) or lie on your side.

3. Stay off the bed!

I think I have explained this one.

4. Change positions

Do this often until you find one that works. Then if it stops working, change again.

5. Use your support person literally.

There are some great positions you can get into with the physical support of your support person.

6. Check out what options your birth setting provides.

Do they have birth balls, mats, bars over the bed, the CUB, ropes, peanut balls, pool noodles for the birth pool etc? Take your own if they don’t.

7. Let your care provider know you are having an active birth.

Tell your care provider you are planning to labour and birth in whatever position is comfortable for you. Some care providers are used to women birthing on their backs, so they need to adjust their thinking before you arrive at your birthplace in labour

8. Follow your instincts.

Trust your body, trust the process and do what feels right and comfortable for you.


Active Birth

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