The term childbirth positions (or "maternal birthing position") refers to the physical postures the pregnant mother may assume during the process of childbirth. They may also be referred to as delivery positions or labor positions.
In addition to the lithotomy position, still commonly used by many obstetricians, positions that are successfully used by midwives and traditional birth-attendants the world over include squatting, standing, kneeling and on all-fours, often in a sequence.
In the lithotomy position, the mother is lying on her back with her legs up in stirrups and her buttocks close to the edge of the table. This position is convenient for the caregiver because it permits him or her more access to the perineum. However, this is not a comfortable position for most patients, considering the pressure on the vaginal walls due to the fact that the baby's head is uneven and the labor process is working against gravity.
The squatting position increases pressure in the pelvic cavity with minimal muscular effort. The birth canal will open 20%-30% more in a squat than in any other position. It is recommended for the second stage of childbirth. As most Western adults find it difficult to squat with heels down, compromises are often made, such as putting a support under the elevated heels or having another person support the squatter.
This position may be difficult to maintain during the birth process since it can become uncomfortable or tiring. The squatting position opens the pelvic outlet and stretches the perineum naturally, therefore making it easier to push. A further advantage to this position is that there is even pressure on the vagina from the head of the baby.
Some mothers may choose the all-fours position instinctively. It can help the baby turn around in the case of a malpresentation of the head. Since this position uses gravity, it decreases back pain, as the mother is able to tilt her hips.
Side lying may help slow the baby's descent down the birth canal, thereby giving the perineum more time to naturally stretch. To assume this position, the mother lies on her side with her knees bent. To push, a slight rolling movement is used such that the mother is propped up on one elbow is needed, while one leg is held up. This position does not use gravity but still holds an advantage over the lithotomy position, as it does not position the vena cava under the uterus, which decreases blood flow to mother and child.
Other useful information
People have promoted the adoption of these birthing positions, particularly squatting, for Western countries, such as Grantly Dick-Read, Janet Balaskas, Moysés Paciornik and Hugo Sabatino. The adoption of the non-lithotomy positions is also promoted by the natural childbirth movement.
- Olson R, Olson C, Cox NS (May 1990). "Maternal birthing positions and perineal injury". J Fam Pract 30 (5): 553–7. PMID 2332746.
- Engelmann GJ, Labor Among Primitive Peoples (1883)
- Russell JG. Moulding of the pelvic outlet. J Obstet Gynaecol Br Commonw 1969;76:817-20.
- Balaskas J, Using the squatting position during labour and for birth
- Shorten A, Donsante J, Shorten B (March 2002). "Birth position, accoucheur, and perineal outcomes: informing women about choices for vaginal birth". Birth 29 (1): 18–27. PMID 11843786.
- Hastings-Tolsma M, Vincent D, Emeis C, Francisco T (2007). "Getting through birth in one piece: protecting the perineum". MCN Am J Matern Child Nurs 32 (3): 158–64. doi:10.1097/01.NMC.0000269565.20111.92. PMID 17479052.