Why Movement is So Important During Labor
Movement during labor is one of the best ways a laboring Mama can distract herself from the intensity of the contractions and can even help to speed up labor (who doesn’t want that?)
If you’re intending an unmedicated birth, movement and conscious breathing are going to be two key ways to help support that happening and are the tools to help you cope. A third element is your mindset about the pain of the contractions, but we’ll save that for another time.
For Mamas who are unsure and/or are planning to use an epidural, it is still SO important to understand how movement helps you to cope with pain up until you can get one, as well as how it helps once you’ve had an epidural too.
Here are three reasons movement is so important during labor:
It helps you respond to labor in an active way
If you stub your toe, or slam your finger in a window (ouch) are you going to just sit there and do nothing? Probably not. You’re most likely going to hop up and down, move around, (maybe swear) - all of this to help you sort of “distract” yourself from what’s happening.
The same applies to labor. Labor is intense. Laying still while experiencing the intensity of labor (especially as you get into active and transition) can be very difficult and often times can lead to suffering in a laboring Mama. It’s usually why most women who undergo any sort of induction and are relegated to their beds end up getting pain meds and/or an epidural because it’s hard to cope with the intensity of the contractions without the flexibility and room to move in a way that’s helpful.
It allows you to use gravity to help you move your baby down (and closer to out!)
The most ideal kind of movement for a laboring Mama is one where she’s upright, standing, squatting or sidelying (all with the watchful eye of a doula and/or her partner) so that gravity can help to encourage her baby to continue to move down through the pelvis and birth canal. This includes when it comes to pushing as well.
If we talk specifically about stage 1 labor (dilating the cervix from 0 - 10 cm) movement that include the following can help gravity do its thing and encourage that baby to move down:
Dancer’s pose - holding on to each other while Mama rests her head on Dad’s chest and does some gentle swaying
All 4’s (also helps encourage baby to move into an optimal position)
Any positions that allow a Mama to move help increase the size and shape of her pelvis, thus making more room for baby to navigate down and out!
It creates a mindful connection and fosters awareness
Allowing yourself to respond to what you’re feeling during labor by moving, helps to enhance your mind body connection, and truly understand what your body and baby are telling you as he or she moves within you. If you’re unmedicated and can lean in to the movements and follow where your body wants to go, you’ll help your labor to progress and will find yourself going further into the “labor zone” furthering your trust in yourself, your body and the process.
Taking a childbirth class that includes a preparation for labor and helps you “practice” different labor positions can be a great way to make you feel more prepared.
Why is movement important after an epidural?
Once you’ve had an epidural, depending on how far dilated you were and what phase of labor you’re in, often times, an epidural can slow your labor down a bit. You’ll also be in bed and even though there are some ways to sit in bed that create a more upright position, you’re still not as upright as you would be if you were up and about.
It’s important to move a Mama every 30 minutes or so to help encourage room in the pelvis and movement of your baby, just like you would if you were unmedicated. Movement also helps to keep the epidural medication “evenly” distributed as well so that Mama doesn’t experience more or less numbing on one side vs. the other.
Using a peanut ball and having Mama lay on her side with it between her legs to create a more open pelvis, and then rotating back and forth between sides can be helpful. It’s also possible to have Mama sit as upright as possible in the bed, and put the peanut in front of her, with her legs over the top of it to create a kind of “sitting squat.” Ask your Doula to help with this and in some cases, the nurses may also be able to help as well.
It’s important to know that it can be hard to move a Mama back and forth in this manner due to monitors, IV’s, etc. so do your best. Knowing the implications of an epidural ahead of time are important to set the right expectations.
Movement Makes it Possible to Cope with the Intensity of Labor
I want you to know that it is very possible to cope with the intensity of labor using conscious breathing and movement. An environment that supports your ability to rely on those tools, as well as having a supportive labor partner and/or a Doula are key to helping a Mama use these tools, stay in the labor zone and trust the labor process.
If you’re laboring in a hospital, even those that are “baby friendly” and that encourage natural labors, be sure that you prepare yourself ahead of time by practicing movement, mindfulness and your breath, as it will be important in order to stay in the zone in the “hustle and bustle” of the hospital environment.
You’ll never forget the day you give birth to your little one.