Six Reasons Not to Give Birth on Your Back

pregnant woman sitting on exercise ball

The famous hospital bed on wheels with the angry laboring mother lying down screaming through contractions or semi-sitting half up is one scene we have all seen played out. Laboring while on your back is the most popular position depicted in movies, television, and even hospital birthing guides. Women in the United States still give birth in the supine position (lying flat on one’s back) in more hospitals nationwide than any other, and are often restricted in movement, breathing and pushing techniques even when research for successful birthing methods does not support these activities. A growing number of advocates are voicing concern that the reasons for continued standard supine laboring are because it is most convenient for the doctor, not mom or baby. Research indicates that lying on your back is actually the worst position to give birth in. Here are six reasons why:

Discourages Needed Motion

When you are laying face upward and horizontal, you are vastly limiting your ability to move. The lack of freedom to sway, rock and find a rhythm in the process of labor greatly hinders the progression of birth. Some doulas and midwives describe the second stage of labor as a kind of dance move that the mother finds as she progresses. The back and forth a mother naturally motions through during labor often aids the descent of the baby through the birth canal.

pregnant mom leaning over exercise ball

Upright Posture Outranks

Even medical professionals acknowledge that routine use of the supine position during the second stage of labor can be considered to be an intervention in the natural course of labor. This is because several elements offered through upright positions offer better quality to mom and baby. Upright positioning helps a woman’s uterus to contract with more efficient strength. This conserves the mom’s energy and helps the positioning of the baby in the pelvis. X-rays have proven that squatting and kneeling positions help a pelvis to widen.

Against Gravity

Pushing while lying on your back is quite accurately pushing uphill. The way our spines are naturally curved with where our birth canal lines up, means that when you are lying flat on your back, you are working against gravity. Not only can a baby’s position in the uterus vary, but a woman’s pelvic shape and size differ as well. A laboring mom will, if left with the freedom to find flexibility and comfort, most often gravitate to the position that naturally opens up her birth canal in the best way to suit both the elements of baby’s position and her pelvis.

Blood Flow

When a woman is upright, there is less risk of compressing the mother’s aorta. This means upright positions during labor gives a greater supply of oxygen to the baby. When a woman is lying on her back, it constricts blood vessels, which means the optimal level of blood and oxygen may not reach the baby with steady pressure. This lack of consistency in proper blood flow also affects the heartbeat patterns for baby.

mom laboring over birth ball

Spontaneous Pushing

According to, spontaneous pushing is when a woman follows her own body’s instincts for when to push during labor, and it reserves her breathing and energy for pushing only as hard and often as she needs to. Researchers say that benefits to upright and spontaneous pushing include less severe pain, shorter second stage of labor, fewer abnormal fetal heart-rate patterns, as well as stronger pelvic floor muscles several months after birth.

Creative Alternatives Alleviate Mental and Physical Anxiety

Labor hurts. The more you focus on the pain, the worse it feels. Embracing creative positions and movement during childbirth will help moms to alleviate anxiety on a mental and physical level. Birthing balls, swaying rhythms, water in the form of birthing pools or shower can occupy our thoughts, distract us from pain and relieve a lot of built up muscle tension. These are all wonderfully helpful tools for the laboring woman. Get creative, change positions, and conserve your energy for the new life you are blessed to bring into the world.

Don’t allow the popular depiction of a back-birthing woman cause you to endure stress during childbirth. Research the many successful other laboring positions and embrace them. Side-sitting, squatting, birthing stools, swaying rhythms can all alleviate pressure and speed labor progress. When women let their bodies do the natural work of childbearing, both baby and mother benefit during birth.