Coping with labour

Provided everything has been straightforward during your pregnancy, you are likely to cope better and have less chance of having a complicated birth if you stay at home in the early stages of labour.

Most women cope best with labour if they are free to move around. You may find that different positions work best for you at different times.


Positions to assist with labour and birth

Positions you can try Listen to your body, experiment with different positions and movements and do what’s most helpful for you. Your midwife will encourage you to find a position that suits you

Supported standing - rocking or slow dancing

Swaying back and forth in rhythm with your breathing or to music can be comforting during labour. You can do it while standing or leaning on your birthing partner in a sort of slow dance. Some mums like to stand and rock or pace slowly and then stop and rock when they have a contraction, if you need support you can lean on a wall or your partner.

Standing and walking

Some women like the sense of control they get from standing and walking during active labor. Going up and down stairs sideways will help open your pelvis. During contractions, you can stop to lean against the wall or on your birthing partner

Birthing balls

You may find a birthing ball comfortable. It is a large inflatable ball which you might have seen at the gym. It allows you to rotate your pelvis and helps you to sit at a good angle for childbirth. Birthing balls are available in most birth units and delivery suites.

Have someone there to spot you if you're feeling shaky. Rolling your hips while sitting on the ball can help move your baby in the right direction.  

Kneel on a soft pad or mattress to protect your knees, then lean forward onto a ball, a bed, or your birthing partner's shoulders or lap. This way you can stay upright to keep your labour going while taking some pressure off your back, which is good for everyone but especially those experiencing back pain.

Stand with your feet comfortably wide and drape your upper body over an exercise ball propped on a table. This is a good position for swaying and rocking through contractions, and for encouraging your baby to rotate and descend.

Sit on the exercise ball and try leaning forward onto a stable surface. This position allows you to stay in a squat and move your hips around while most of your weight is supported. If you have back pain, ask your birthing partner for a back massage.

Sitting backward on a chair

Straddle an armless chair (or open toilet seat), facing backward. Place a pillow between the chair back and your belly, and lean into it, resting your arms and head on the top of the chair. This position takes some pressure off your back and makes your back available for your partner to rub or massage, if that appeals to you.

If you've got a plastic or stainless-steel chair or stool, try sitting this way in the shower, letting the warm water pour down your back

Standing lunge

Place one foot on a chair, stretching your muscles and ligaments on that side. This can help if your baby's head is tilted to one side or your labour has slowed. Use this position only if it feels good and doesn't cause pain in your pelvis, hips, or knees.

Lying on your side

This position can give a labouring woman a break, while avoiding the compression of major blood vessels that may occur when lying on the back. Start by lying on your left side, which is preferable for blood flow. Slide a pillow between your knees for comfort.


Sit on the bed or a chair with pillows supporting your back. You can also try to sit leaning forward, which takes some pressure off your back. Or try sitting cross-legged on the bed or floor.

Birth Pool kneel

Warm water can ease pain and relieve some of the downward pressure in your pelvis. If your labour has slowed down, try leaning forward in the water to make more space in your pelvis.

Keep in mind that getting in the tub can slow things down if you are still in early labour.

A very common reaction when experiencing pain is to tense up and hold your breath, but this actually makes the pain feel worse. When a contraction comes concentrate on keeping your breathing slow and relaxed and focus on breathing out. If your partner understands this and breathes with you during a contraction it can help you remember and create a lovely feeling of closeness between you. This doesn’t work for everyone though. Some mums say they can concentrate better on their own.

As you feel a contraction coming:

  • Relax. Think especially about your shoulders, your face and your hands. Make sure they are relaxed
  • Start to concentrate on your breathing, keeping it slow and relaxed. Focus on breathing out
  • As the contraction gets stronger think more carefully about the way you breathe and try to stay relaxed

You and your baby will be checked regularly throughout labour to make sure you’re both doing well.

How your baby may be monitored

Listening to your baby’s heart rate will help your midwife monitor your baby’s health and strength during labour and birth. When everything is going smoothly it is done at regular intervals, but sometimes your midwife will need to keep a constant watch on your baby’s heart rate. This is called ‘continuous monitoring’. If you are being continuously monitored it does not mean you have to stay lying on a bed. A ball, mat, chair or stool may be more comfortable. If you have an epidural for pain relief your baby will need to be continuously monitored.

Checks on you

Your midwife will keep a close eye on you and will examine the neck of your womb (your cervix) occasionally to see how the labour is progressing. This is called a vaginal examination. The thought of this can be a bit scary, because you may never have had this done before. Don’t worry, your midwife will be very gentle and respectful, and explain everything before she does it. For most mums it isn’t as bad as they thought and they really appreciate finding out how their labour is progressing.

When your baby is nearly ready to be born

For most mums the hardest part of labour is towards the end of the first stage, just before the pushing begins. Your contractions will be very strong and you will not have much time in between them to catch your breath and relax. This part is often called transition.

Transition: what you can expect

Transition affects how you feel emotionally as well as physically. You may feel impatient, tired, irritable and even angry and frustrated with the people looking after you. This is a perfectly natural reaction and it means that the birth of your baby is not far off.

  • Try to remember that although it’s hard, it’s normal and your baby is nearly here
  • Make the most of the space that there is between contractions and completely relax – ignore everyone else

For birth partners

Don’t take her behaviour personally, nothing you do will be right! It’s perfectly normal and is usually a good sign that the baby is nearly here.

The second stage

This is the stage where your baby arrives. It begins when the neck of your womb (your cervix) is fully open (to 10 centimetres) and ends with the birth of your baby. With a first baby this stage can last anywhere between ten minutes and two hours, or sometimes even longer. It’s usually easier and shorter with your second baby.

Positions for birth

There’s no right or wrong position for you to give birth in. However, lying on your back is usually uncomfortable and makes it more difficult to push your baby through your pelvis, so it is not recommended. When women are encouraged to do what feels best, they hardly ever adopt this position. If possible, get gravity to help you and stay upright and active.

Supported standing or squatting

This position is good for the birth, it allows your pelvis to open wide and your baby to be born with the help of gravity. You will need support for your upper body to keep your balance. Your partner can support you from behind by holding you under your arms, though they will need the strength to take all of your weight and may find sitting in a chair makes this easier

All fours

This position also allows your pelvis to open wide and can feel very safe and steady as you are supported by all your arms and legs. You can sit back on your heels and take a breather and a sip of water in between contractions.

Supported kneel

A supported kneel will open your pelvis wider than sitting or lying down, while allowing your body to be completely supported.

Leaning on the back of the bed

If you are on the bed this is a great position, it gives your pelvis freedom to open and you have something to lean on. This is a good position if your baby’s heart beat needs to be continuously monitored.

Pushing can be hard work with your first baby and it can take a little while to get the hang of what you’re doing. Your midwife will help you listen to your body and focus your energy so your pushes are effective if you need her to.

The Royal College of Midwives recommends the use of active and upright positions to assist with labour and birth. Click here for their 'Give it a go, it’ll be worth it' leaflet


The birth of your baby

Most babies come into the world head first, so it is your baby’s head that will stretch the birth canal when your baby is very nearly born

The muscle and skin at the opening to your vagina will start to stretch and this can produce a stinging or burning sensation. At this stage your midwife may ask you not to push, or only give tiny pushes to slow things down to give you time to stretch. Very occasionally if the stretching is taking a while and your baby needs to be born quickly, the midwife (with your permission) will give this bit of skin and muscle a small cut. You will have an injection so you do not feel this – and it will all be explained to you. This cut is called an episiotomy.

For your birth partner

This stage is very intense and you can really help your partner if you:

  • Keep calm and tell her how well she is doing
  • Help her be as comfortable as possible
  • Don’t talk too much and make sure she can really relax in between contractions
  • Think about where you want to be when the baby is born. Do you want to see your baby being born, or would you rather support your partner and greet the baby later?

Every birth is unique and special, it may not have been the birth you have anticipated but you will usually remember it as one of the most important moments of your life.

If you and your baby need help

Sometimes you or your baby will need some help during labour. This could be because your baby is getting too stressed, or labour has been hard and long and you have no more strength left. If you need help before you are in the second ‘pushing’ stage, you will probably have an unplanned caesarean section. Once you are in the second stage your doctor or midwife may be able to help using forceps or ventouse.

If you need help with forceps or ventouse

Forceps and ventouse are both instruments that can be attached to your baby’s head so that the doctor or midwife can help you as you push. Forceps are made of metal and look a bit like large spoons for serving salad, a ventouse is made of soft plastic and is like a cup that fits on your baby’s head. You will be given a local anaesthetic – an injection to make the skin and muscle at the opening to your vagina numb and your bladder may be emptied by a thin tube inserted into your bladder – called a catheter and you will probably need a small cut (called an ‘episiotomy’) to allow room for the forceps or ventouse to be inserted. You will probably be helped to lie down on your back and your legs will be raised. Occasionally your baby will have a mark (bruising or swelling) from the forceps or ventouse cup on his head, but don’t worry it will soon fade.

Improving the physical and emotional health and wellbeing of expectant mothers, infants, children and young people throughout Aneurin Bevan University Health Board Area.

(N.B: The Family and Therapies team at ABUHB is NOT responsible for the content on the webpage links that we refer to in our resource sections and linked information to external sites. All information was accurate and appropriate at the time the webpage was created.)

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