Stand and Deliver - A midwife speaks out about birthing positions

Hollywood movies, old paintings (and selfies on Instagram) have taught us that women give birth with perfect hair and makeup in a hospital bed. 78% of Australian women do adopt a lying down position for birthing, but this is far from ideal, or even natural, according to Hannah Dahlen, the Professor of Midwifery at Western Sydney University.

Historical and anthropological literature shows that lying down for birth is a relatively modern phenomenon, as we have moved from a more social to a surgical model of care. As far back as written records, carvings and paintings go, women have given birth upright – whether it was using stacked bricks to create a primitive birthing stool or holding onto leaves and ropes hung from trees.

Birthing upright has several benefits, such as utilising the power of gravity to draw the baby down with each contraction, leading to stronger contractions and a shorter labour. So why are Australian women still taking it lying down?

We discovered that the way we have constructed the birth environment, such as putting the bed in the centre of the room and having little supportive equipment (such as birth balls, birth stools, mats and bean bags) had a major subliminal impact on both the way women and midwives acted. When the women weren’t directed by midwives or obstetricians, and the environment facilitated their moving about adopting different positions, the majority gave birth upright and forwards leaning – the total opposite to what happens when a woman gives birth on her back on a bed.

To read this fascinating article in full go to: The Conversation