Preparing your body for labour and birth

There are a number of things you can do to prepare your body for labour and birth.

You can:

  • try positions that may help with labour
  • do perineal massage to reduce the risk of damage to your perineum area during birth
  • keep active to help your baby's position

Going to antenatal classes will also help.

Breathing and self-help techniques for labour

Your baby's position

At the start of labour the best position for your baby to be in is with their head down and their back faced outwards, towards your tummy. This is called the occipito-anterior (OA) position.

Sometimes babies may be head-down with their back facing your back. This position may lead to a longer labour time. This is called the occipito-posterior (OP) position.

Occipito-anterior and occipito-posterior position
Occipito-anterior and occipito-posterior position

‘Optimal foetal positioning’ is a theory developed by a midwife called Jean Sutton. This is about the movements and positions of a mother during the final weeks of pregnancy. She found that this could influence the baby’s position in the womb.

Some mothers use these movements and positions during the final weeks of pregnancy, because they believe this can change the position of the baby and make labour quicker and easier.

There is anecdotal evidence (individual stories) and testimonials, but not many clinical trials have been done. The techniques recommended are non-invasive and safe.

Labour Hopscotch

Labour hopscotch is a visual tool used in some maternity hospitals. You may hear about it through your midwife or physiotherapist. It was designed by an Irish midwife. Ask your midwife about labour hopscotch if you're interested in using it as a visual aid.

It has 7 parts. Many of these are about tilting your pelvis to improve your baby's position. This can help your baby move down through your pelvis during labour.

You can tilt your pelvis by doing squats, lunges, or walking sideways on the stairs.

The 7 parts of labour hopscotch have names to help you remember the exercises and relaxation steps.

They are called:

  • Mobilise - this includes positions to tilt your pelvis that you can do during pregnancy, and during your contractions when you're in labour.
  • Toilet - this step is to relax your pelvic floor muscles and remind you to pee so as not to block your baby's head from descending.
  • Stool - this includes using a birthing stool to tilt your pelvis.
  • Water - this includes staying hydrated during labour, and using water therapy to relax.
  • Mat - this includes getting on all fours on a yoga mat.
  • Birthing ball - this includes leaning on a birthing ball, or sitting on a birthing ball and moving in a 'figure of 8' to tilt your pelvis.
  • Alternative therapy - alternative methods of pain relief, including aromatherapy, massage, acupressure, homeopathy (tell your hospital team if you are using alternative therapies).

Labour hopscotch also encourages using:

When to do labour hopscotch

You can start these positions from around 20 weeks of your pregnancy. Check with your midwife or obstetrician that you can start these exercises.

You can also use these exercises and tips while you are in labour, during your contractions. They will help your baby have more room to move through your birth canal.

Learn more about Labour Hopscotch

Movements and positions to use

From 34 weeks onwards:

  • spend a lot of time kneeling upright, sitting upright, or on your hands and knees
  • kneel on the floor while watching TV
  • keep your knees lower than your pelvis when sitting
  • keep a wedge cushion in the car, to tilt your pelvis forward
  • sleep on your side
  • swim with your belly downwards - do not do the 'backstroke'
  • do not cross your legs
  • do not put your feet up when sitting down

Perineal massage

The perineum is the area between your vagina and your anus. Sometimes this area can be damaged while giving birth. Massaging your perineum from 34 weeks of pregnancy onwards may reduce the risk of damage.

A good time to try perineal massage is after a bath or shower, as your perineum will be softer.

You can use an organic oil (such as grape seed oil) to make the massage more comfortable. Do not use scented or synthetic oils.

It may help to use a mirror when doing a perineal massage.

Follow these steps to massage your perineum:

  1. Get comfortable.
  2. Place a thumb inside your vagina, against the back wall. Rest your forefinger on your bottom.
  3. Press down a little towards your rectum (back passage).
  4. Gently massage by moving your thumb and forefinger together in a “U” shape, inside your vagina.
  5. You should feel a stretching sensation. This should not be uncomfortable or painful.

Aim to do this for 5 minutes.

Tell your midwife or physiotherapist if you had a perineal tear in a previous pregnancy.

Do not do perineal massage if you have:

  • genital herpes
  • thrush
  • bacterial vaginosis
  • any vaginal infections

Page last reviewed: 27 March 2019
Next review due: 27 March 2022