Search icon

Labour + birth

02nd Oct 2021

Midwife says making women give birth on their backs is “putting them through torture”

Trine Jensen-Burke

midwife claims giving birth on your back in more painful

The most widespread, accepted and unrecognised form of torture of women today.

Anyone who has ever given birth, will no doubt tell you that while it is an incredibly empowering experience with the most amazing outcome, there is no denying that giving birth is, indeed, pretty darn painful.

But as it turns out, the position we give birth in could actually be making things far worse than they have to be.

According to Professor of Midwifery Western Sydney University in Australia, Hannah Dahlen, the practice of encouraging women to give birth on their backs on a bed is ‘the most widespread, accepted and unrecognised form of torture of women today.’

“We are putting women through torture,” she explained recently to “Women forced to give birth on their backs described the experience as torture and unbearable pain, and are less likely to have a normal birth and more likely to have a C-section or forceps delivery.”

However, in most Western countries today, most women still give birth on their backs.

Physiologically, Dahlen explains, the most natural and effective position for giving birth is by leaning forward, as if you are leaning over something, or if you are on your hands and knees.

“The stranded beetle position is the most common position we see in delivery rooms. Imagine trying to do a poo on your back and a baby is much bigger than a poo.”

The professor and her team wanted to investigate how women give birth in different settings, and sat in on births taking place in birthing centres, hospitals and many home births too, studying women’s every move as they laboured and gave birth.

Dahlen said their main observation was that women giving birth at home or in birth centres moved constantly and would lean forward with contractions and roll their hips side to side during contractions and when it came time to birth they would instinctively drop down on to their hands and knees.  However, and this is interesting, those giving birth in hospital delivery rooms almost never birthed this way.

“We interviewed women afterwards and what we found was that the ability to move made them feel more powerful,2 she explained. “They experienced less pain and felt more in control of their birth experience. Those free to move described birth as powerful.”

I mean; when you think about it, it makes sense. By remaining more upright, you are working with gravity, not against it, as such.

“There are significant advantages to both mum and baby with the most obvious being gravity,” Dahlen says about giving birth in a more upright position.  “Contractions are more efficient, the pelvis diameter is increased and can expand, there is less pain and less need for epidurals, fewer forceps deliveries and less tearing.”

And Dahlen is not the only one who thinks women should avoid giving birth on their backs. In fact, most midwives will argue that finding a position where you feel comfortable is key.

“I think it is entirely about what is comfortable for the woman,” Professor Steve Robson of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians told “For most women, where things are going in well in labour, lying down should be avoided.”

What way did YOU give birth? Did you feel supported in your choice? Were you given options? Let us know in the comments