Optimal fetal positioning: the key to smooth labor and delivery
Hello there! Today, we’re talking about an important topic that holds great significance for expectant mothers: optimal fetal positioning.
While we have discussed this before, its importance cannot be stressed enough. When a baby is positioned optimally for labor, it can make the entire process smoother, faster, and more manageable. There are various reasons why an optimal position is beneficial, including reduced back pain, decreased fatigue, and improved labor progress.
In fact, at the Santa Clarita Valley (SCV) Birth Center, SCV’s premier birth center, one of the most common reasons for non-emergency hospital transfers is when a baby is not in the optimal position within the pelvis.
Let’s get into it!
Understanding optimal fetal positioning
Believe it or not, there is one optimal position for a baby to be in. In this position, the baby’s head is positioned downward, known as the vertex position. The baby’s chin should be tucked to its chest, with its arms positioned close to the heart while being curled up in a fetal position. This position, where the baby is curled up, head down, with chin to chest, facilitates the baby’s crown (top and rear most part of the head) to present first as it moves through the mother’s pelvis.
Ideally, the baby should be on the left side of the mother’s body, as contractions cause the uterus to contract and open. This contraction helps pull the cervix up into the body of the uterus, facilitating effacement and dilation. If the baby is on the mother’s left side, the uterus’s clockwise rotation will assist in rotating the baby into position as he or she enters the mother’s pelvis.
The journey through the pelvis
As labor progresses, the baby descends into the pelvis. Initially, it enters the pelvic inlet in what is called a “transverse” position, meaning the baby is coming in sideways. However, as the labor progresses, the baby undergoes a rotation to the anterior position, in which the baby faces the front of the mother.
This rotation ensures that the crown of the baby’s head, the smallest diameter, passes through the pelvis smoothly. Once the head delivers, a short period called “restitution” follows, during which the baby pauses to readjust its position, allowing its shoulders to deliver. Finally, the baby emerges into the world, completing the incredible journey of childbirth!
Challenges of suboptimal positioning
We said earlier that the optimal position for a baby to be in when starting its birth journey is to be on the mother’s left side and in the transverse position, but sometimes babies start in less optimal positions.
When a baby starts its journey on the mother’s right side and/or in a posterior position (facing the mother’s front instead of back), it can lead to challenges during labor.
If you have ever heard of the term “sunny side up babies,” that is when the baby is positioned toward the pubic bone rather than the tailbone. This positioning can cause the baby to rotate irregularly, resulting in prolonged and irregular contractions.
It’s not uncommon for first-time mothers to experience contractions that are sporadic, ranging from 5 to 15 minutes apart. The irregularity can lead to maternal fatigue and longer labors, lasting anywhere from 24 hours to several days.
Strategies for optimal positioning
So, how do you actually encourage a baby to be in the optimal position instead of a suboptimal position?
To encourage optimal fetal positioning, several strategies can be employed before labor begins.
Chiropractors and fetal positioning
Chiropractic care during pregnancy is highly recommended (as is chiropractic care in general). It helps align the mother’s pelvis and facilitates the necessary movements for labor.
Acupuncture and fetal positioning
Acupuncture during pregnancy can be beneficial in supporting the positioning process. The acupuncture points for pregnancy and fetal positioning help to stimulate the mother’s nervous system and increase helpful hormone production and muscle movement to turn babies into the optimal position.
Walking for fetal positioning
Walking during pregnancy…sounds fun, right? We know, we know. But seriously, it’s recommended for expectant mothers to go out and go for a regular walk for at least an hour each day. You’re not doing it at this point for its aerobic benefits, but instead because the movement of the pelvis aids in the descent of the baby into the pelvis and encourages optimal alignment.
Other exercises for fetal positioning
Engaging in exercises like cat-cow can help tuck the pelvis, promote anterior positioning, and relieve lower back pressure.
Resting smart during labor and other supportive measures
Labor is hard! The mother will want and need to take a rest from time to time, and proper resting positions play a vital role in promoting optimal fetal positioning.
Sitting on a birth ball or adopting the cowboy style (sitting backward on a chair) helps maintain the pelvis in an open position, encouraging the baby to move forward. Conversely, reclined positions, such as lounging back on the couch or sleeping semi-reclined, may cause the baby to rotate into a posterior position. It is recommended to avoid reclined positions and instead opt for upright or forward-leaning positions during pregnancy to support optimal fetal positioning.
During labor, utilizing positions that encourage the baby’s descent and rotation can be helpful. These positions include hands and knees, lunges, side-lying, and squatting. Changing positions frequently and avoiding lying flat on the back can also aid in maintaining optimal positioning.
Engaging in pelvic tilts and pelvic circles during labor can also help open the pelvis and create more space for the baby to descend. Utilizing a birth ball, a peanut ball, or a rebozo (a long, woven cloth) can provide support and facilitate movement during labor, promoting optimal positioning as well.
Optimal fetal positioning is essential for a smooth labor and delivery experience. Encouraging the baby to be in the vertex position, with its head down, chin tucked, and facing the mother’s back can significantly improve labor progress.
Employing strategies such as chiropractic care, acupuncture, regular walking, and specific exercises can also aid in achieving optimal positioning. Additionally, adopting smart resting positions and utilizing supportive measures during labor can contribute to a more comfortable and efficient birthing process.
Remember, each pregnancy and labor is unique, and there may be instances in which, despite everyone’s best efforts, the baby does not assume an optimal position. In such cases, healthcare providers will explore additional measures to support a safe and healthy birth.
Connect with the SCV Birth Center
Want to learn more about the SCV Birth Center? Get to know us and our SCV Birth Center family on our Your Birth Center page.
Contact us today and take the next step toward the birth of your dreams!