Movement and positions during labour

Trying different positions and moving during labour can make things easier. We share some movements and positions you might like to try.

When people give birth on TV or in films, they tend to spend their labour lying on their backs on a bed. But this is not always the best position. In fact, it may slow labour down. Trying different positions and moving during labour can make things easier. We share some movements and positions you might like to try.

Why is moving around good for labour?

Moving around, staying upright and changing position during labour can:

  • increase your chance of a shorter labour
  • help you feel less pain, and cope better with contractions
  • lead to fewer interventions, including a lower chance of caesarean birth
  • make you feel more in control of your labour
  • result in a better birth experience.

During labour, most people feel a need to move around rather than keep still. You may want to change position as you progress through the first and second stages of labour and your baby moves down ready for birth.

When you reach the second stage, finding a comfy upright position can help shorten the time you need to push for, and reduce your chances of having an episiotomy and assisted birth. Your midwife will support you to get into positions you want to try.   

Some people find being in a birth pool makes changing positions more easy. Labouring in water is only advised if you and your baby are healthy and your pregnancy is at low risk of complications. If you have had opioid pain relief, such as diamorphine, you will have to wait for the drugs to wear off before you can get into the pool.

Which movements and positions are good for labour?

There are lots you can try. Do what feels right for you, and remember that your midwife and birth partner are there to help and encourage you.

You could try:

  • sitting, leaning on a table
  • straddling a chair or toilet, facing the chair back or toilet cistern (the top part of the toilet)
  • standing and leaning on a bed, table or against your birth partner
  • standing, leaning on a birth ball that is placed on a bed
  • kneeling on the floor cradling a birth ball
  • kneeling on all fours (this can help if you have backache)
  • kneeling over the back of the bed or against your birth partner
  • squatting, if you have practised being in this position
  • rocking back and forth on, sitting on, or gently bouncing on a birth ball
  • adopting a lunge position with one knee bent, while standing, kneeling or lying on your side (a peanut-shaped ball can help with this).

Try to walk around during the first stage of labour if you can. If you get tired or your contractions get stronger, you can keep moving by shifting your weight from one foot to the other or rocking your pelvis.

Some of these positions will make it easier for your birth partner to give you a massage or back rub. Massage and soothing touch can help release oxytocin, the hormone that helps labour progress. Massage can also relieve stress, in turn helping your body to release natural pain relief called endorphins. There are lots of other options for pain relief during labour, too.

Rest when you need to, and do not worry about how you look. The midwives have seen it all before. Do what feels right for you.

What if I have an epidural?

If you have an epidural, you may find that movement becomes more limited. This is partly because an epidural may affect your legs. But it’s mostly due to more intensive monitoring and the fact you’ll need an intravenous line (an IV). Your midwife should still support you to move into comfy upright positions during the first stage of labour, if you can manage it.

Having an epidural also increases your chance of needing help to give birth (assisted birth), but this is less likely with modern epidurals.  If it’s your first baby and you’re finding it hard to stay upright, lying on your side during the second stage of labour may help you avoid an assisted birth. 

Read more about pain relief in labour and birth.

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Review dates
Reviewed: 07 February 2024
Next review: 07 February 2027