It is the most unrecognised form of torture of women today according to Professor of Midwifery Hannah Dahlen.

“We are putting women through torture. Women forced to give birth on their backs described the experience as torture and unbearable pain,” she said.

“They are less likely to have a normal birth and more likely to have a caesarean section or forceps delivery.”

Professor Dahlen from Western Sydney University said physiologically the most natural position for women to give birth in was forwards leaning, such as on their hands and knees, however, over 90% of women still give birth lying flat on their back, shared Kidspot.

President of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians, Professor Steve Robson, said while he wouldn’t use the word torture he did agree with Professor Dahlen that lying on the back to birth should be avoided. He said the weight of the baby in the uterus could block off the blood supply so there were good physiological reasons for avoiding it.

Upright births best for mum and bub

Professor Hannah Dahlen previously told The Conversation that “large reviews of evidence show labouring upright and giving birth upright have advantages for the mother and baby.”

“Apart from the obvious benefit of gravity to help the baby descend, these include

  • more efficient contractions
  • shorter labour
  • better oxygenation of the baby in the mother’s uterus, as the vena cava vein and aorta are not compressed by the pregnant uterus
  • increased pelvic diameter, especially in positions such as squatting
  • less maternal pain
  • greater satisfaction
  • fewer forceps, vacuum births and episiotomies.

So why most Australian women give birth on their backs?

Professor Hannah said, she undertook an ethnographic study (using observations and interviews) looking at how women gave birth in the three different birth settings: hospitals, birth centres and at home.

We discovered that the way we have constructed the birth environment, such as putting the bed in the centre of the room and having little supportive equipment (such as birth balls, birth stools, mats and bean bags) had a major subliminal impact on both the way women and midwives acted.

When the women weren’t directed by midwives or obstetricians, and the environment facilitated their moving about adopting different positions, the majority gave birth upright and forwards leaning – the total opposite to what happens when a woman gives birth on her back on a bed.

Giving women information before the birth and helping them practice different positions also helped facilitate this, as did continuity of midwifery care and creating home-like environments.

Isn’t it all about choice?

I delivered both my children on my back, that was the position I found most comfortable. I had a choice. I was encouraged to walk around and move as much as possible but being curled in the fetal position was all I wanted to do until it was time to push and I was happy to do so on my back.

What did you find more comfortable? Did you have a choice?

Share your comments below

  • My first two kids I had to be on my back as I was induced and had an epidural.
    My third child I found it easier standing or leaning. The only time I wanted to be on my back which is when i was getting tired and sore all I wanted was to sleep. However couldnt as baby was coming out :0


  • I know a Mum who laid on one side except when being examined as during some very strong contractions she was “passing out”. Because of spine problems it was decided not to use epidural.
    Besides if they don’t get it in the right spot it doesn’t help anyway. I know a Mum they had 3 attempts and didn’t get any of them in the right place. Instead she ended up with a painful back – she didn’t have one until they did that.


  • I gave birth on my back, so loaded up with epidural that I couldn’t feel a thing. So… women have been giving birth now for a very long time. At what point, can the experts and professionals work out some guidelines for what’s best and then educate??!!


  • “President of the Royal Australian College of Obstetricians, Professor Steve Robson, said while he wouldn’t use the word torture…”
    Lo, a man has given his opinion so all the women who did describe it as torture can relax and stop being hysterical. *cue massive eyeroll*
    This is further proof that the field of obstetrics is just not interested in listening to women.


  • It is up to the woman having the baby how she is most comfortable.


  • I was given a choice with all of my 3 births. I was encouraged to lean over the bed and squat but I wanted and chose to be on my back for all 3 and I had no complications at all.
    I think every woman should be given a choice and it’s a personal decision which the mother has the right to decide on.


  • gave birth twice on my back no worries, i was comfortable that way


  • I Have to say i whole heartily agree. For me standing was the best thing ever and i hated lying down.


  • My children get bored pretty quickly so I need to find new recess snacks every few weeks.


  • This makes sense and women should be given a choice to see which way is best for them.


  • I was encouraged to stand, move and use a ball but I just couldn’t get up we tried different positions but I found them more painful I just wanted to lay down and push my feet against something.


  • This makes a lot of sense. Actually, giving birth on your back appears to be rather unnatural to me. Which animal gives birth on it’s back ?? It’s possibly the best position for the doctors and midwife to assist with the birth, but often not for the delivering mum.
    I had ceasarean sections and didn’t have a choice but be on my back.


  • Never was given the option of how I gave birth. I would loved to been able to walk around instead of lying on a bed to give birth. My best and shortest birth was when I delayed going to hospital due to no transport and was walking around trying to ease the pain.


  • It’s really not a very natural position. If the woman wants to give birth in a different position they should be able to.


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