Walking during labor has many benefits! For starters, walking keeps you upright, allowing your body to work with gravity to move baby down and out. Walking can be used as pain relief/coping, to keep labor going, and to better position baby for labor progression as well as birth. Walking during labor is part of the Lamaze Healthy Birth Practices for safer, healthier births.
The when and why of walking during labor varies, and it helps to know when to use walking and for what purposes. Let's take a look.
Walking at Different Times During Labor - How & Why
Early labor - Walking during early labor, when contractions are further spaced and moderate helps keep contractions going and may help bring on contractions that are stronger and closer together. Walking in early labor may help push labor along a bit quicker into active labor (though not always). Most of the time, you will want or need to stop walking during a contraction. It is important not to overexert yourself in early labor by walking in order to "jump start" your labor. The road ahead could be long and you need to maintain energy. Take restful breaks in between activity -- your labor will progress in the right time without walking endlessly.
Active labor - Active labor (dilating from 6-9cm) is when the work of labor ramps up. Contractions are more intense and come more frequently. Taking walks during active labor (breaking for contractions) can help ease the intensity of labor and can help keep your labor progressing by moving your pelvic bones, which helps position baby appropriately for (potentially) a shorter and easier overall birth. You may not feel as much like walking during active labor as you did in early labor. If not, try to remain upright when possible, and take short walks, even if it's just around your hospital/laboring room.
Stalled labor - Stalled labor is rarely an emergency. The length of a person's labor and birth varies widely--healthy babies and parents can labor 3 hours, 12 hours, 48 hours, or longer! However, many health care providers in the United States place artificial time limits on labor in the hospital and may recommend Pitocin or cesarean due to stalled labor (also known as "failure to progress"). If your care provider suggests interventions to speed up labor, be sure to first ask these three questions. You can also try natural techniques, like walking, to get labor moving again.
Back labor - "Back labor" -- times in labor where the pain/discomfort from contractions is felt most in the back and is very challenging -- is believed to be caused by baby's position during labor. Most babies prepare for birth by facing their parent's back, their head facing the pelvis. Some babies face in the other direction-- their head rests on the spine (also known as an occiput posterior or "OP" baby). Because of this "malpositioning" for birth, it's common to experience added discomfort in the back. Walking on uneven surfaces, like stairs or a curb (walk one foot on ground, one on curb), opens your pelvis unevenly, helping prompt baby to move/change position.
Additional Notes About Walking in Labor
Common medical birth interventions (often used routinely), like an IV, continuous electronic fetal monitoring (EFM), and an epidural, can interfere with your ability to walk and stay mobile during labor. Some hospitals may request an IV during labor. You have the option of requesting a hep lock (IV port) in place of a full IV line. The hep lock provides a quick (but closed off) opening to a vein in your hand or arm should it become necessary to attach an IV.
Continuous electronic fetal monitoring has not been shown to improve outcomes. If you do not have an epidural, you can be monitored intermittently every hour while remaining free to move about in between. Some hospitals carry portable fetal monitors to allow maximum freedom of movement.
If you have an epidural during labor, even if it is a "light" or "walking" epidural, you will most likely be unable to walk or not permitted to walk (hospital liability) if desired. That said, there are plenty of positions you can still use to stay upright.
TagsHealthy Birth Practices Movement In Labor Walking During Labor