Who's to Blame for Birthing on Our Backs?
France’s King Louis XIV is responsible for millions of women adopting a birthing position that goes completely against every ounce of anatomical sense. Known for his womanising, Louis fathered 22 children with his wives and a swathe of mistresses. At the time it was normal for women to birth using a birthing stool - a type of chair which allowed the woman to maintain an upright position and take advantage of gravity to help move the baby down the birth canal. For King Louis, this just wouldn’t do. He became increasingly frustrated by the obstructed view posed by the birthing stool. If history is to be believed he wanted to see his offspring being born, quite literally!
Being the King meant his demands were quickly met for the stool to be abolished and replaced by a ‘birthing table’ replete with stirrups to yank the woman’s pesky legs out of the way and make for much better viewing. The King’s new birthing method made childbirth far more painful because lying on a table reduces the space available in the pelvis by an incredible 28-30%. That space is crucial. Lying on your back to give birth essentially means the mother is pushing uphill against gravity while the stirrups lock the lumbopelvic girdle as tight as a chastity belt at a point in time where mobility is king, not the perve watching on.
Despite this being the worst position for a woman to give birth in, it became popular as lower classes began to hear of the upper class adopting it and assumed it was a sign of nobility and prestige. It’s no surprise that it was around this time that instrumental delivery began, with the invention of forceps. Pain relief also became more widely used. When Louis threw out the birthing stool he also threw out the role that gravity and movement play in helping the baby move effectively through the birth canal.
Many women who are likely to be new grandparents today will be reading this and possibly grimacing at the memory of having to birth on their backs. They may have had pain relief, but epidurals were not in wide use so they had little choice, but to assume this position despite it possibly being against all of their natural instincts.
Today many hospitals and birthing parents recognise the importance of movement, gravity and positioning for labour and birth. When birthing in an upright position the baby is 54% less likely to become distressed, emergency c-sections are reduced by 29%, episiotomy rates are reduced by 29% and there is a reduced need for pain relief such as epidurals. Many women who choose to have epidurals are also being encouraged to use side-lying positions to create more space in the pelvis.
If you’re likely to be birthing soon, remember to work with your baby, your body and gravity. And if Prince Charles invents a new birthing apparatus - tell him to stick to his royal duties and leave the birthing to the women.
Natalie is a qualified Hypnobirth Practitioner, passionate about preparing women and their birth partners for their birth no matter what turn it takes. More info at www.preparedtobirth.com.au