How to have an active birth

Active birth positions for each stage of labour to help you have a better birth.

In the first stage of labour, standing and leaning means gravity may help your labour progress.

In the first stage of labour, sitting on a birthing ball gives you support while letting you to move or rock your pelvis with each contaction.

We all want a quicker, easier birth. And the great news is that being in upright positions and moving around during labour can really help. Here are positions for each stage of your labour, and the benefits they can bring you. And don’t worry if you need to have continual monitoring of your baby; there’s no reason you can’t adopt any of these positions close to the machine.


First stage of labour

There are huge advantages to lying flat during the first stage of labour. If you’re in an upright position, your baby’s head puts pressure on your cervix, helping it to dilate, and it encourages him to move lower into your pelvis.

It can also help your baby to rotate into the best position for birth– particularly if you can lean forward with the contraction.

Position to try: Using a chair

Sit facing the back of a chair with a pillow in front of you, leaning forward.


  • Allows access to your back so your midwife or partner can massage you.
  • You can use gas and airwithout feeling too ‘wobbly’.
  • Opens your pelvis, encouraging your baby to move down.

Position to try: Stand and lean

Put your arms around your birth partnerand lean forward. If you don’t want to be touched during a contraction, lean over a work surface or bed on to a pile of pillows.


  • Encourages your baby into a good position, particularly good if your baby 
    is lying ‘back to back’ (ie, with his back against your back).
  • Allows access to your back so your midwife or partner can massage you.
  • Gravity may help labour progress.
  • You may be able to use this position with a mobile epidural.

Position to try: Birthing ball

Sit on a birthing ball with your knees open, or lean over the ball with your knees on the floor. You may find you instinctively rock your pelvis with the contraction, encouraging your baby to move lower.


  • Opens your pelvis, encouraging your baby to move down.
  • Provides support while enabling you to move your pelvis.
  • Allows access to your back so your midwife or partner can massage you.

Mums’ stories

“It felt quite intimate!”

“I found sitting on a chair much more comfortable than the bed. My husband sat in front of me, stroking my hair and wiping my neck with a cold flannel. It felt more intimate sitting together – I didn’t feel like I was on display!”

Christine, 32, mum to TJ, 4 months

“Rocking was the answer”

“The ball kept me active, bouncing gently between contractions and rocking with them.  My midwife said getting a baby through the pelvis is like getting a table through a door – it needs to be rocked from side to side!”

Shulah, 26, mum to Nik, 6 weeks

Find out about active birth positions and the second stage of labour.

In the second stage of labour, kneeling and leaning helps open your pelvis, and is a good position if you have SPD.

Your position during the second stage of labour has a huge influence on your comfort and on how effectively your baby moves through the birth canal. If you’re on your back, your coccyx is unable to move, giving your baby less room.

Position to try: Kneel and lean

Lots of women who give birth at home use this position, often kneeling on the floor and leaning over the sofa. You can adopt it on the bed too, piling up pillows to nestle into.


  • Great for opening up your pelvis.
  • You’ll be less likely to need a forceps or ventouse deliver or an episiotomy.
  • Good position if you have symphysis pubic dysfunction (SPD).
  • You can also adopt it in a birthing pool, leaning over the side.
  • It can help you feel secure and less vulnerable than lying on your back.

Position to try: Standing

If you stand, you’ll need support from your birth partner(s). You can put your arms around your partner’s neck, or have someone on each side of you helping to support you.


  • Makes the second stage shorter, as gravity helps your baby move down.
  • Less pain reported.
  • You’ll be less likely to need a forceps or ventouse deliver or an episiotomy.

Position to try: Lying on your side

Lie on your side with knees bent as your partner supports your upper leg.


  • Good position if you’re getting an urge to push but your cervix is not fully dilated.
  • Comfortable if you have symphysis pubic dysfunction (SPD).
  • Can be used with an epidural.

Position to try: Squatting

Your birth partner sits in front of you on a chair while you squat, facing him and gripping his legs.

This one takes some practice and you might need to build up your stamina!


  • A good position where there has been slow progress with your baby’s head moving through the birth canal, as it opens up your pelvis.

Mum’s story

“Kneeling helped me”

“I instinctively got on to my knees and felt safe with my head buried in the pillows. As Asha was born, my midwife passed him between my legs and I held him with the cord still attached.”


Michaela, 27, mum to Asha, 2 months

Don’t forget to check out the active birth positions for the first stage of labour.

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