What You Need to Know About Movement in Labor

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November 07, 2021

First of all, the laboring woman is rushed to the hospital at the very first contraction or after a dramatic water breaking scene.

Hey Mama! Have you started to think about what you want your labor to look like? Where you’ll birth your baby, a pain management plan, labor preferences and after birth procedures are all good things to start thinking about BEFORE you are welcoming baby into the world. It’s true–you may not know exactly what you’ll want until you’re in the thick of it, but it’s helpful to look at your options from all angles to know what you’re “signing up “ for.

Today, I want to specifically touch on incorporating movement in labor!

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movement during labor

When it comes to the movies, Hollywood has a stereotypical way of showing birth.

Second, she’s probably screaming and yelling for an epidural.

Third, she’s usually depicted as being flat on her back.

Now Mama, there’s a lot that Hollywood gets wrong, but unfortunately many laboring Mamas do go through labor flat on their back and stuck in their hospital bed. And of course they are gonna scream and yell. Who wouldn't right?

Let me tell you this: It doesn’t have to be this way!

I actually advocate against the whole “Mama strapped to the bed on her back, unable to move” way of doing things.

Why? A few reasons…

First, movement keeps things moving.

It sounds like a cliche thing to say, or an old wives tale, but it’s the truth! 

Early labor? Keep moving to help you redirect your attention.

Want labor to pick up? Go for a walk.

Labor slowing down or stalled? Get moving with curb walking or other movement.

Movement is your friend when it comes to birthing your baby!

woman in labor moving around room

Another great reason to keep moving during labor: Pain relief. 

When it comes to pain management during labor, the simplicity of movement should not be ignored!

Moving during labor will allow you to find a position that’s comfortable for you when a contraction comes on. It may be bending, squatting, sitting on a birth ball or leaning up against a rail. There are countless positions that Mamas find themselves moving into during labor!

What’s really cool is that there is actually research to back up the idea that moving during labor and being in active positions can be beneficial in your labor. This is why I created our Purposeful Positioning course. It begins with movements during pregnancy to help the baby get into proper alignment, and ends with movement for both labor and pushing.

According to Evidence Based Birth, one study found that for those who were upright or moving around during the first stage of labor (aka gearing up to being ready to push) shaved off an average of one hour and twenty-two minutes from labor! Additionally, these women also were less likely to request an epidural and less likely to end up having a c-section. 

Pretty compelling reason to keep moving!

There’s another reason I’m a huge advocate for incorporating movement in your labor…

Ready?

Gravity.

Yep. Gravity! Does it seem too simple? Or not science-y enough? Sometimes we just have to go back to basics! 

When you are up and moving during labor, gravity naturally encourages baby to move lower into your pelvis and settle into the birth canal. 

Additionally, movement encourages the pelvis to be nice and open–which you know is key to having your labor progress and pushing baby out!

When you are flat on your back, your pelvis is not open. Not only can this add time to your labor, it can also result in a higher risk of tearing or baby not being in an optimal position and needing intervention.

Once again, Evidence Based Birth shares the research to support why movement is key in birth.

“For people without epidurals, pushing and giving birth in an upright position is linked with lower levels of pain and higher satisfaction.”

Lower levels of pain? Higher satisfaction? Two things we love to hear when it comes to bringing babies into the world!

No matter how you shake it, incorporating movement into your labor is nearly always beneficial.

Positions to Take Note Of

If you’re feeling empowered by the thought of moving during labor and want to have a few go-to moves to help you avoid ending up on your back, then take note of these positions to try out while you’re laboring.

  • Sitting on a “birth ball” to take weight off your back
  • Sitting backwards on a chair–or even the toilet!
  • Walking, whether it’s your neighborhood or the hospital halls
  • Squatting, either on a squat bar or just on the ground
  • Leaning, Kneeling or Standing to let gravity help you

There are undoubtedly many more positions to try to keep you moving, but these are great positions to have “ear marked” for when the time comes in case you draw a blank!

Now that we’ve talked about the benefits that come with incorporating movement into your labor,  you may be wondering “Why would you not want to keep moving?”

Let ‘s chat a little bit about the circumstances that may cause a Mama to end up flat on her back for labor or pushing.

Continuous Fetal Monitoring

If you’re giving birth in a hospital, it’s likely that the policy is to continually monitor your baby’s heart rate. Why do they do this? Doctors and nurses want to be notified if there’s a sudden and unexpected drop in your baby’s heart rate, indicating they may be in distress.

Modern technology is an amazing advancement when it comes to catching problems and issues. However, it’s not always the most convenient, which is true of continuous monitoring.

laboring woman on monitor movement in labor

Continuous fetal monitoring often requires a mom to be hooked up to a machine in her room, which leaves her unable to get up and move as she pleases. 

But there is an alternative: a Wireless monitor or Mobile Unit. This allows Mama to still remain mobile while having baby’s heart rate monitored. 

It’s also important to know that you do not have to consent to continuous monitoring if you don’t want to. YOu are able to opt for intermittent monitoring, which then would of course mean you have full mobility.

Epidural Got Ya Down?

While many Mamas love their labor experience with an epidural, the downside to this pain management option is that it limits your ability to get up and move at your leisure. 

Epidurals numb the lower half of your body and make it so that you are unable to walk around. Even if you are not completely numb, it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to move freely due to the catheter that is in place to deliver continuous medication. Even if you get a “walking epidural”, you most likely won’t be up and moving.

This is something you should consider ahead of time, before you decide on this route of pain management!

Not Knowing You Have the Option to Get Up!

It may sound funny, but many Mamas don’t realize they have the option to get up and move around once they’re settled into their room simply because it’s never made clear to them. 

So Mama, if you find yourself lying on your back in a hospital bed after getting checked by your doctor and wondering if you can get up, the answer is YES.

If you feel restricted by wires or any other device being used, let your nurse know and they can help you get up and moving!

movement to help make birth easier

As a Labor & Delivery Nurse for many years, I can attest to the magic of movement when it comes to birthing your baby! From keeping moving in the early stages of labor to opting for an upright position that uses the benefits of gravity to help you along, the importance of movement cannot be downplayed!

My advice to you, Mama, is to think about how you can incorporate movement in your labor before it’s go time! Whether that means skipping the epidural (Psst! I have a blog post just for you!) or just trying to squeeze in lots of opportunities to move before you have it administered, any time you can let movement work for you will certainly benefit you!

Oh and P.S. If you haven’t hopped on the waitlist for my Calm Labor, Confident Birth course, I would love to “see you” in class and support you in whatever you choose! 

Rooting for you, Mama!

This group, board, and guidance have been absolutely invaluable.

I was extremely comfortable asking questions, making decisions and even though nothing went according to my "plan", I couldn't be any happier with the way everything went!!!
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- Stacy A.
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