As my pregnancy progresses I have been reminded time and time again just how little I know about the business of growing a baby.
At my 34-week checkup, my midwife did some probing around and found that our little one is positioned head down. Great, right? I went happily on my way, cheered that our baby was not breach (feet down).
A week or two later at Lamaze class, our instructor began talking about the importance of not slouching and sitting up straight from 34 weeks to prevent a “sunny side up delivery.” Cue clueless stares from everyone in our class…
Rest assured, most expecting mothers are pretty clueless about their first pregnancy. Two of my friends had the good grace to get pregnant around the same time as me and more often than not our baby-related convos begin with the phrases, “Did you know …” or “I had no idea…”
What’s the Difference Between an Anterior and Posterior Baby?
A sunny-side up baby has the skull against the back of your pelvis and the face pointed up toward your abdomen. More officially, this is known as the occiput posterior position, or simply the OP or posterior position.
Our instructor showed us how in this position, the baby’s head is more likely to get stuck against the pubic bone and press against the sacrum of one’s spine, making for a more painful and drawn-out labor and delivery. This pressure on the base of one’s spine can also lead to dreaded back labor.
An OP baby increases the risk one will need an assisted vaginal delivery (think forceps or a vacuum) or a cesarean-section. It also increases the risk of a perineal tear. A sunny-side up birth is also associated with greater odds of short-term complications for the baby.
That said, many babies are born sunny side up with no issue and for some labor may even be “easier” than the preferred face-down position. Every birth is different.
But generally speaking, a face-down birth is preferable. This anterior positioning (AKA, sunny side down) allows your baby to curl the back and tuck the chin against the chest, making for an easier squeeze through the pelvis.
First and foremost—do not stress if you’re nearing full term and your baby is not in the “ideal” position. Odds are you have plenty of other things to fret about… I hope I’m not the only one who still needs to narrow down our name choices from 20 to 2 (we do not know whether we are having a boy or girl), chug through a lengthy list of pre-baby home improvement projects, and ambitions of squeezing in as many “dates” with my husband as possible before baby makes our nights kayaking or out for supper more challenging.
While as many as half of babies are posterior when labor begins, just 4% to 10% are in that position at birth, according to Baby Center. The latter figure is higher among first-time moms, however.
Babies often turn during labor (they inherently “know” what to do), and it is better for both you and baby to go into labor relaxed. Plus a doctor or midwife can reach in and manually turn the baby in some cases.
There are also steps you can take to help get your baby into the preferred anterior position before labor begins. And what expecting mom is not in favor of making labor as smooth, painless and fast as possible?!?
So What Can You Do About It?
The human body is an amazing thing and your “natural” posture is best for getting your baby lined up properly. This means standing with the shoulders rolled back, the head back and the weight of the body grounded in the heels so that the pelvis is flared out slightly behind you.
On a similar note, the body is meant to move. Walking about is not only a great form of exercise while pregnant, but it also allows the hips and pelvis to move naturally and in proper alignment so your baby can slide into an optimal position.
Standing and walking a lot have been essential pain relievers throughout my pregnancy. Low back pain set in early for me—late first trimester. I quickly found that sitting heightened my discomfort, while standing and walking provided relief.
Unfortunately, my career requires a lot of time on my butt in front of a computer. Using good posture has helped to mitigate pain, and I’ve been especially conscious of this now that I’m aware it can make a difference as to my baby’s positioning heading into labor.
Good sitting posture includes keeping the feet planted squarely on the floor (or footrest for my fellow vertically challenged ladies), the shoulders and neck back and the back straight.
Tools for Coaxing Your Baby into the Best Position for Labor and Delivery
There are also some tools out there that can help prevent you from mindlessly slouching. For one, wearing a posture brace is an easy way to make sure you are keeping your shoulders rolled back when drumming away at a keyboard or settling in for a night of Netflix.
Simply sliding a figure-8 posture brace around the shoulders for an hour or two a day can help to retrain the muscles and tissues of the back to assume this more pleasing posture. Plus, if you’re the picture of posture perfection along the upper body, you are more likely to keep the pelvis in good alignment.
An exercise ball is another great way to force your body into good alignment for baby positioning when seated. Even attempting to slouch on them is a struggle that requires some abdominal strength and balance that I simply did not have in the third trimester.
Besides keeping your pelvis well aligned, sitting on an exercise ball also keeps your belly tilted slightly forward, creating a “hammock” that your baby can snuggle into.
And I don’t know about you, but the elastic nature of an exercise ball usually has me bouncing around or swaying my hips in no time. Such gyrations are also great for encouraging your little one to slide down into the pelvis.
I am struck again and again as to how much our unborn baby is already calling the shots in our lives. The same will likely be true regarding his/her grand arrival. But in the meantime, I am going to sit up straight and keep moving in hopes of making that day (hopefully singular) go as smoothly as possible for the both of us.