Why Do Women Give Birth Lying Down?


If you’re like me, your social media is
filled with pictures of beaming parents, and cute babies. But in the midst of that postnatal glow, I
bet you haven’t stopped to wonder: when did women start giving birth lying on their
backs? Now I’ve heard a slew of pregnancy related
myths, from the position of the baby bump predicting a newborn’s gender, to the size
of a mother’s nose indicating the imminent arrival of a bouncing bundle of joy. But I have to admit, the idea of women delivering
in any position besides lying on their backs never occurred to me as a particularly hot
button issue. Perhaps it’s because most women in the US
give birth in hospitals, where being in a bed is considered the standard procedure. And if most of us think about every birth
scene we have ever witnessed, either in popular media or in real life, we probably conjure
up images of a woman in a hospital bed with nurses and doctors positioned at her feet,
ready to catch a new baby as it enters the world. But it turns out that this wasn’t always
the case. And that’s because male doctors weren’t
always involved. Because while women have been having babies
since…humans, they weren’t usually going to the hospital for births until the 20th
century. So if you’re like me and secretly addicted
to the series Call the Midwife, then you’ve probably wondered: What were women doing during childbirth before
hospital births were commonplace? Well before the hospital, home birth was the
norm, with most women being attended to by midwives and female family members. And that’s because people’s suspicions
of hospitals were pretty well founded. According to Professor Melissa Thomasson at
the University of Miami (and our previous video on US healthcare!) hospitals functioned
primarily as almshouses for the poor until the 20th century. This included 19th century maternity hospitals
that were primarily used for poor women, whether married or unmarried, and women in urban locations
who needed a place to deliver. By the 18th & 19th century, physicians (primarily
men) were being trained in delivering babies, and introduced the use of forceps, ether,
and chloroform to speed up deliveries and reduce pain. Which side note never use any of these near
a pregnant woman. So although maternity hospitals provided essential
services to poor women, they also served as places where doctors used women from vulnerable
populations to examine “difficult births” as case studies for future work. But because of cross contamination in many
hospitals, you had as much chance of getting out of there alive as an unattended teen wandering
into the woods durings a horror movie. Early medicine relied heavily on an apprenticeship
system, where a young student would work under a practicing doctor and receive training before
eventually graduating to taking care of patients of their own. But by 1910 with the release of the Flexner
report on the status of medical schools in the US, medical training improved through
standardization, increasing the number of well trained and qualified physicians. As for birthing positions, these varied based
on time period and location. According to ancient historian Valerie French,
when Greek physician sora-nuss reported on the practices of childbirth and midwives in
the 2nd century AD, he noted that women often gave birth in a chair sitting up. And this was a special chair with a crescent
shaped hole in the seat to…well you get the picture. Birth stools with a similar designs were used
until as late as the 18th century. And many home births encouraged women to use
various squatting, sitting, standing, or upright positions. That’s because the same muscles used to
squat are pretty much the same muscles used to push out a baby, and some argue that our
old friend gravity can play an important role in moving things along. Oddly enough these are the same muscles used
for a much less joyous occasion: bowel movements! This gross fact is probably why giving women
in labor enemas was considered common practice in the early to mid 20th century, although
it’s mostly considered unnecessary and unhelpful today. Other positions for childbirth included curling
on your side, and yes, lying on your back with knees brought up towards your chest to
help with birth. But the lithotomy position, the phrase used
to describe being on your back with your feet up in stirrups, wasn’t the only standard
for women in labor. It varied from delivery to delivery based
on the needs of the women in labor and their newborns. So giving birth was a pretty every day procedure
that took place mostly at home, not the hospital. And most women were attended to by midwives
and female family members, not male physicians. But that all changed in the 20th century. In 1900, only 5% of all births took place
at the hospitals in the US. By 1939 around 50% of births were taking place
in hospitals around the country. But in the early days of childbirths shifting
from homes to hospitals, it’s not entirely clear if this reduced or increased the risk
of fatality for either mothers or infants. In fact, until the late 1930s, outcomes for
mothers and babies stayed relatively the same as they were before the hospital became the
norm. So that brings us to our next question: Why did women start flocking to hospitals
for a procedure that used to be largely confined to the home if the outcomes weren’t much
different? And why are most of them lying down? Seems like the answer here is one part improvement
of medical intervention and one part convenience but not for who you’d expect. In 1937 sulfa drugs (the first successful
antibiotic before the use of penicillin in the 1940s) saw a marked improvement in outcomes
for patients who delivered in hospitals. With this innovation, hospital births started
to become safer than at home births, and the improved outcomes drew more women to deliver
there than at home. In their book Lying In: A History of Childbirth
in America Dorothy and Richard Wertz write about the shifts in American childbirth practices
after the Civil War and into the 20th century: “…Doctors were on the lookout for trouble
in birth…In line with that perception, doctors increased their control over the patients
during labor and delivery, rendering them more powerless in the experience to participate
in birth. Women acceded to the doctors’ increasing
control because they also believed that their methods would make birth safer.” (Wertz and Wertz 136) So as childbirth in hospitals picked up speed
in the 20th century, doctors had more say and control over what happened in the delivery
room. The lithotomy position was originally used
for the removal of bladder stones. In 17th century France, obstetrics and lithotomy
were combined and it’s postulated that this is when the reclining position was incorporated
into some births. But it wasn’t necessarily because this is
the easiest position to give birth, but rather a hangover from a few different practices. When male physicians and surgeons began attending
to female patients during labor in the 18th and 19th centuries, modesty was a huge concern
for both parties. As a result, some physicians had women lie
on their backs and covered their patients’ legs, so they could feel what they were doing
but not actually see any sensitive parts. But the literature on birthing positions remained
unclear even into the early 20th century, with many relying on either the lithotomy
position or positions where women are lying flat on their backs because this was what
a lot of doctors recommended. But in the latter half of the 20th century
women in the US began to push back (for lack of a better term) and other birthing positions
began to be adopted once again, including women sitting upright, lying on their sides,
or squatting. And because births are varied and unique,
some positions work better for some women than others. It’s all a matter of the right fit. So how does it all add up? Well if we look at the timeline, the lithotomy
position emerged as a concern for modesty mixed with medical intervention in the 18th
& 19th centuries. But hospital births, and thus lithotomy, didn’t
become the norm in the US until the early 20th century. And that’s because as women started looking
to hospitals and physicians as a safer alternative to home births, physicians gained more control
in the delivery room. And so while most representations of childbirth
today focus on women either lying back or sitting up in bed, women haven’t always
considered that the only position. But this is a video about medical history,
not medical advice, and so you should definitely rely on the advice of trained professionals
when deciding which birthing option works best for you. So what do you think? Have any more research on childbirth to share? Drop the comments below and we’ll see you
here next week!

100 Replies to “Why Do Women Give Birth Lying Down?”

  1. I asked an obgyn if I could squat or be on my hands and knees. She said, "what do you expect me to do, bend down?"
    I switched to a midwife and home birth after that. Had all three kids at home, great experience and great care.

  2. Rely on the advise from your body . Squating is more natural than laying on your back. The comfort of natural herbs and women and family members is better than a room full of physicians experimenting on you, training other physicians and just trying to speed up your birth for a paycheck. All our ancestors knew what's up .

  3. When I had my first baby I was given an enema and was shaved. Horrid. Second not shaved nor enema. Third was in a hospital settling but midwive was used. Nice experience.

  4. Is YouTube reading my mind because u literally I started thinking about why women give birth laying down and not standing up as seen in some videos yesterday and then I get this video recommended.

  5. I wanted to give birth on all fours but A I had an epidural and B I didn’t want my poo to come flying out everywhere 😂

  6. Well…This is not wrong but not the entire story…This video has skipped academic arguments,discussions,researches and surveys…This is one of the disadvantages of social media in which someone brings up a scientific subject to be judged by non-academic people…Regretfully,a sort of populism!

  7. At the beginning natives had childbirth inclined on their feet and pulling aomething above. But when European culture influenced natives the only form they had developed were the beds for the ill and so thats the only option they had.

    Then in the 70s aprox, the beds in hospitals begun to change for chilbirth. They were inclined and with bars to help women.

  8. Quite refreshing to have a video on youtube that is somewhat entertaining AND adequately researched. (I'm sure more research can be done, but hey nowadays it's so easy to make up storylines with a certain angle and no research). You even include quotes and with source! Thank you!

  9. Naturally you want to give birth standing aor squating. Its recommended in the Netherlands. Midwives generally deliver babies even in the birthing centre which is part of the hospital.

  10. I can't believe that while pushing a human being out of your vagina you could possibly still give a crap if the doctor is seeing it even though he's hands in delivering the baby literally wut lol

  11. Laying on your back to give birth sounds uncomfortable but I guess giving birth in general sounds uncomfortable 😂

  12. You missed a whole lot if you go into other cultures then just European and American there have been not doctors as we know him but people who knew how to usually female doctors are midwives but they even did operations like C-sections and much more in ancient times you didn’t go back that far and you didn’t go that far out from the European and American areas

  13. I’m pregnant and the recommendation now are to avoid giving birth on your back as there’s increased risk of labour complications. Now they have birthing chairs, birthing pools and standing. Yeah because of epidurals women often end up in that position

  14. Due to my line of work I get to speak candidly with many professional people. During a convo with a labor and delivery doctor he said that laying on your back is just more convenient for the doctor. Any other position is better, on hands and knees being the best.

  15. uhhhh, вєcαuѕє thєч αrє вєíng wrαckєd вч pαínful cσntrαctíσnѕ? αnd ѕtαndíng wσuld вє díffícult? вєcαuѕє thєч αrє trчíng tσ pαѕѕ α вσwlíng вαll thrσugh α ѕmαll hσlє?αnd ítѕ єíthєr lαчíng вαck σr crσuchєd σvєr ríght. Juѕt ѕpítвαllíng hєrє….

  16. I had my baby with no drugs, and squatting. it worked well. well, I had to have ptosin to bring on the labor after the water broke. but no pain meds.

  17. A colleague off mine was telling me that when she was choosing the hospital she wanted to give birth in, the hospital gave her a tour off the delivery room. In it they were different stations to give birth. One for the water birth, one to squad, one with ropes that you hold on to while standing, one on the bed. They told her that she will choose the station that she feels more confortable with the day off the delivery. She ended up choosing the water birth. Apparently it went so smoothly with music and pink and blue lights. Her husband was in control off the music, but when the doctor felt like the baby was reacting to a certain music he told her husband to play it again.
    I was amazed by her birth story. She had no pain she said. She did follow classes prior to that called something like hypnobirth. I’m not sure about the name. I just wish that all women could experience such a plaisant delivery.

  18. Before I got the epidural I was on my knees and elbows and rocking back and forth. After the epidural, I was on my back but kept getting the urge to roll over.
    Next baby I’m gonna try to go without the epidural again! (I caved at 8cm this time) and hopefully doing what’s comfortable to me

  19. They should give birth in a twerk-like pose. It times for ladies to put on their big girl underwear and make things interesting.

  20. With my first child, I gave birth squatting and the nurse that was with me wanted me to lie down on my back while I was pushing, but I told her no! I listened to my body and felt it more right to push while standing and squatting. It hurt less too! My doctor came in and told the nurse that if that’s how I wanted to give birth it’s ok. My doctor was so proud of me and she actually told me after that I must have researched about birth positions lol and I told her yes! I did research while I was pregnant about best way to give birth. So I’m glad I listened to my body. Ladies, listen to your body and research and also you can try to practice and lightly exercise to help you when in labor and make it easier to give birth. I know it will be different fir all women but I recommend to give birth standing/squatting. It hurts less. I didn’t use epidural as well. So giving birth was a positive experience for me and easy thank God! But for my second kid I had to have emergency c section cause son was breeched. So that sucked and so painful 😢 so to all mommas out there you are amazing and strong for giving birth ❤️

  21. Herr in Germany a doctor isn't allowed to deliver a Baby without a midwife in place if it's no emergency. On the other hand a midwife is allowed to do it alone. Unfortunately the number of midwifes is decreasing because of expansive insurances for them.
    Most women here go to a hospital to deliver but most hospitals offer a lot of different positions for the women to choose from.

  22. Thankfully Irish hospitals are midwife led. And many OBs are female. You can give birth in whatever position you want.

  23. How is hospital births a safer alternative when you said that the survival of the baby and the mother didn't differ from home births? I'm lost…

  24. I really wanted to give birth on all fours. It felt RIGHT and lying on my back HURT. They kept telling me to turn around so I did and welp, I broke my coccyx

  25. I’m kinda glad I gave birth laying down. My cord was wrapped around my babies neck so a standing position could have been extremely dangerous to him. I did most of my labor on my knees. My nurse was open to anything and so was my male Obgyn. You have to be open and tell your nurses what you want. I had to be induced so I had to be in a bed to receive the necessary meds.

  26. A lot of hospitals don’t really do the big nursery thing these days! They do a lot of baby in the room with you mainly to keep them safe from baby snatchers and being switched at birth! Also a way for moms and babies to bond more!! Especially when you have family in and out!! One of my cousins when she had her last c section was so worn out the nurses would only bring the baby into the room to nurse! I had one friend whose baby was in the room with her the whole time she was there! If she needed to go to the bathroom or take a shower the nurses told her to take the baby in the plastic crib with her in the bathroom! Not even call a nurse or have a family member watch the baby

  27. This complete ignores so much history. First of all in the US the reason we have them in the hospital is actually a political thing. Most midwifes were black at the time and all people generally white or black had them delive their children however white men saw black midwives as a threat to their authority so they politically destroyed the image of these black midwives calling them uneducated and dirty even going so far as to creat a movie about it to educate ppl against midwives they lied and said hat hospitals were the safer more clean way to give birth but we know their practices on hospitals were barbaric and characterized birth as a medical emergency instead of a natural experience. Drs force women to do things they don’t have to because it saves them time and money and lowers the hospitals risk not because it’s safer not because it progresses birth. You know those women who give birth quickly…like the baby just seems to fall out. It’s because of their pelvis shape. .

  28. Number one, right off the bat, it's sex, not gender. Gender is not between your legs…fyi, you have been through this before, right?!?!

  29. 1 minute in: I predict it will go something like:

    "Patriarchy yada, yada, yada. White Men yada, yada, yada. Oppression, yada, yada, yada. Religion (christian), yada, yada, yada"

    You know, I really should stop hate watching all this propaganda disguised as education. It's not good for my mental state.

  30. haha I came here after binge watching “call the midwive”. Somehow I feel able to deliver a baby….😂😂😂

  31. I pushed on my back for an hour and a half and was not making much progress. I kept telling the doctor and nurses I didnt feel like I could push effectively in that position. None of them suggested a new position and I thought maybe it was because my blood pressure was high and I had to stay laying down or something. But then my doctor said it was taking too long and I needed to do a csection. I said no. He got mad and asked how long I wanted to push and I said until I had a baby. She wasn't in distress and I felt fine. I said I wanted to try another position. He threw his hands up and said "fine try and and knees but I'm only giving you half an hour and then we go to surgery!" Then he sat down across the room. Best decision I ever made. I could actually push with purpose. She was born after 4 or 5 good pushes! Doctor didnt even get up to catch her, she fell out onto the table. My husband was pissed. Poor thing had a bruise on her head from hitting against my pelvic bone when I was laying down. More doctors need to try thinking outside the box and trying new positions before jumping on the chance to do a surgery! I'm glad I spoke up for myself!

  32. I have always been curious about c-sections in olden days. Like what if the baby is 10 lbs and the cervix or canal is small for the baby to pass.
    Please make a video on that.
    Or anyone who has any idea please respond

  33. For centuries, physicians believed that birthing was beneath them, and so was surgeries. Midwives delivered babies, and barbers handled surgery. Doctors dealt with diseases, setting broken bones, and mixing medications. (No pharmacists in those days)

  34. Now I think it’s more common because most women get epidurals so they wouldn’t be able to do any positions that would require them to use any muscles on the bottom half of their bodies

  35. I saw a video where a woman gave birth squatting in a creek and got back up a few minutes later. Pretty sure the "norm" of pushing while on your back causes a lot more damage, which is why mothers who give birth in hospitals usually stay bedridden for days. Squat births should be normalized again.

  36. Can you do a video on epidurals? Really, I thought the whole reason for lying on your back when you gave birth had to do with the epidural.

  37. So many people saying not allowed. Yeah my mom also wasn't allowed to deliver exactly how she wanted. She couldn't do it on the toilet. But kept going to the toilet cause it felt good.

    She wasn't allowed to birth me in the toilet and had to get back to bed. So i didn't fall in the fucking toilet.

    No there was no birthing stool available, which would habe been the equivalent. She wanted to go to the hospital. But was too fast, so too far along so she couldn't.

  38. Women's bodies were made to squat or be upright at an angle. Even ancient people knew this! It's so dumb how doctors figure laying on your back is good for giving birth. Hell, laying on your back with a 5-10 pound full term baby in you is going to press down on major organs and arteries and prevent blood flow to vital areas… smh

  39. That's cute. Hospitals were first places that rich people never entered because it was where poor people went because they couldn't do any better… Now, poor people can't afford to go to hospitals.

  40. Honestly, giving birth in that crescent-shaped chair from hundreds of years ago seems more logical… Or being on all fours.

  41. My mam had me while doing a handstand. She had all 14 of her kids that way. It's a traditional Welsh birthing method.

  42. Being a doc who has attended births, the best outcomes are from moms doing what comes naturally and instinctually, not dominated by others (basic freedom). Often, birth attendants, like most docs, have control issues, being obsessed with being in control, not knowing what the mother is feeling. How outdated is that? Would you like being forced to eat liver when you ordered fish?
    Working with nature and gravity helps. Man is the only mammal who resists natural gravity during birthing. No wonder it can be painful. Cooperate with nature and squat for a good outcome . Hospitals are for disease, trauma and death…not a good way to begin life. Well trained attendees birthing at home in the mother's home, (which is a comfortable, familiar, nest …free from other people's diseases) and cooperating with the inclinations of Mom, leads to the best outcome,…… even a pleasant , orgasmic birth…, verifies this witness,. Birth can feel better than the pleasure which originated this miracle.

  43. The horse doctor we got was the worst event in my life. Terminated my spousal bonds and marriage and family. And he said…" don't say you had a bad experience, you got good medical care!" About all I can do now is go fertilize his grave.

  44. I recently had a baby and I actually had to get a c-section. I also was induced which I wonder if that contributed to me having a c section. After that, I’ve decided that the next baby I have, I want to deliver naturally and I really want more control ( as much as one can have) in the birthing process.

  45. Some women panic when they come to the realization that it is "TIME" and they really don't know what to do when the pain hits them consistently that's why it's really important for the doctors, nurses and family to be calm and supportive in every way when a woman delivers her baby every time but especially the first time, because she has no idea what she's in for…

  46. A friend of mine was living with Amazonian native Americans in Ecuador. There was a pregnant young woman in the bamboo house. One day, she said she was not feeling right, so she stayed at home while everyone else went to work the fields and fish. When they came back, the baby was born and the food cooked. It should be as simple and painless as that. You put a lot of banana leaves besides a post in the house, you wrap the post with your arms, you squat and you push a baby into the world.
    Of course something can go wrong and in those cases modern medicine can save your life. But the medical industry makes too much of a fuss, pushing you out of your nature to make more profits. But also, things go wrong a lot more often in this sedentary, no squatting chair sitting culture full of poisons and bad nutrition.

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