A woman gives birth in a supine position.
A supine position may be well-suited for many deliveries, but other options are often possible as long as there are no underlying medical concerns. (For Spectrum Health Beat)

If you’re pregnant, you’re probably having some mixed feelings as you anticipate the forthcoming process of labor and delivery.

On the one hand, you’re beyond excited at the thought of finally holding your little one in your arms.

On the other, you may feel a bit of dread or nervousness about what’s to come.

For some women, labor and delivery can be difficult. Fortunately, there are plenty of ways to ease the process, including some helpful steps to take ahead of time.

And when the day actually comes, there are important things to keep in mind.

Movement and position

One thing we know for certain is that, when you’re in labor, you should try to use movement to your advantage whenever possible.

An upright position can help move a mom through labor because it moves the baby into a good position for delivery.

A 2011-12 survey of 2,400 moms found that roughly 2 in 5 moms prefer to walk around once they’ve been admitted into the hospital for delivery.

Most of the moms who participated in that study said they would prefer to move more with their next birth.

When it comes to the actual delivery, cultural practices throughout history have varied, although they’ve typically featured the kneeling, squatting, sitting or standing positions.

Some scholars have noted that the reclining birth position used today first became popularized in the 1600s, at the whim of French King Louis XIV.

Noted researcher Lauren Dundes: “Since Louis XIV reportedly enjoyed watching women giving birth, he became frustrated by the obscured view of birth when it occurred on a birthing stool, and promoted the new reclining position.”

The full effect of the king’s policy is unknown, but it may well have contributed to the popularization of the supine position, according to Dundes.

In the 1800s, women would give birth while on their back, their feet placed in stirrups. This position is credited to William Potts Dewee, the third chairman of obstetrics at the University of Pennsylvania around 1834.

In her historical study on birthing positions, Dundes noted one of the reasons this position proved popular is it eased the delivery process for the provider.

But physically, we know it can be easier for mom to give birth when she is upright. Gravity helps the baby move down for delivery and upright positions don’t place as much pressure on the mother’s aorta.

MRIs have also shown that squatting or side-lying can open up the pelvic outlet, making more room for the baby.

Personal preference

The 2011-12 Listening to Mothers study found that 68 percent of moms gave birth on their backs and only 3 percent used the side-lying position. About 4 percent gave birth sitting or squatting and 1 percent birthed on their hands and knees.

With my last two babies, I gave birth on my hands and knees.

It felt much more comfortable this way because my babies were in a posterior position—or what some call “sunny-side up.” This position takes the weight of the baby off of your back and makes it more comfortable to push.

The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists has noted that, in most cases, no particular position should be mandated—women may use many different positions to push throughout the labor and delivery process.

In childbirth classes, I tell moms it’s OK to use plenty of different positions when they push. They may even push in several positions and give birth in another.

Some things to think about as you prepare for the delivery of your baby:

  • Find out what delivery positions your provider prefers you use.
  • Try various positions ahead of time, holding each one for about 60 seconds. Do not push while doing these—simply get into position and see how it feels.
  • Think about hiring a doula, which the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists recommends. A doula is trained to guide you through the many position options for labor and delivery.
  • Think ahead of time about the extra things you might want at your delivery, such as a birth ball, extra pillows or a rebozo.
  • Take an advance tour of your birthing facility and familiarize yourself with their options.
  • Take a childbirth class to learn about your options and what to expect.