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

Going to antenatal classes will also help.

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.

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
  • don’t cross your legs
  • don’t put your feet up when sitting down
  • sleep on your side
  • swim with your belly downwards - don't do the 'backstroke'

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 significant 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