Dancing Through Labour: Movement in Birth


There's a beauty in birth that happens when women find that deeply internal place and flow within their bodies...  


- Amie ~ National Capital Doulas

Woman in labour climbing stairs to keep things moving during Ottawa Home birth with Midwives.

As I step quietly through the front door, the rooms are dark, an incense diffuser casts a foggy light across the filling birth pool and I hear a low, slow moan.  I settle into my corner with my cameras and bags and I hear the floor creaking rhythmically.  The space between the hums and oooohhhhs is filled by the cadence of her hips swaying and his feet moving with hers. 

Woman in labour supported by midwife, doula and husband in candle light during homebirth in Ottawa.

This is it.  

This is labour.

And this is the dance.

With every contraction or rush, the pattern remains steady.  I move quietly toward the bedroom, camera in hand. 

There's a ritual happening - she lifts her head, she inhales, her head bows down, her hands hold her belly, his hands gently settle on her shoulders and on cue, the swaying intensifies for about a minute and with an exhale, her body settles and she rests her head back on his shoulder.  They dance.  Quietly.  Slowly.  

Mom and Dad dance through labour as they bring home their baby beside birth pool during home birth with midwives.

My job is to capture these moments.  I have just reviewed her emails about what she wanted in her images - and this is it.  When labour is moving this way - I take my time.  There's no rush. She's deep enough into each wave that she knows I'm there, but is unlikely to acknowledge me. I will hold space - just as her doula is over on the other side of the room. There is one candle burning in the corner on a desk and a triangle of light shining from the bathroom.  I see the image before I take the photo - I'll wait until they start dancing and then I'll push the button.  

This rhythm, this pulse, the metre of birth - it's beautiful.  

I asked a few local doulas from our community about their experiences, thoughts and knowledge around women's movements in labour.

Danielle from National Capital Doulas shared, "There is so much going on inside a woman's body in labour, the outside movement helps to dispel extra energy and gives a woman something to focus on.  Movement helps to keep the pelvis changing shape and gives baby wiggle room to make his turns and move through her body.  It's easier for babies to move through something that is moving around them.  We love to see our clients moving in labour and especially through contractions, not just between them."

She added, "I channeled my inner 8 year old girl in both my labours and basically hoola-hooped my kids out."  

Labour and birth is a dynamic process - almost a choreography between mom and baby.  Baby instinctively knows what they need and mom responds, moving her body in a way to help baby.

Woman in labour at Almonte Birth Centre sways hips to manage contractions.

Amie also from NCD in Ottawa described, "I used to ride horses competitively, concentrating on dressage.  In dressage there is a delicate, symbiotic communication happening between horse and rider - it's almost 100% non-verbal.  One speaks to the other and the other responds.  Moms and babies do the same."

From behind my lens, I have seen women move is so many ways. Some use the ball and rock and sway, some walk up and down the hallway, some climb stairs, some sway, rock and dance to music.

"From a practical place the cervix is a sphincter.  Sphincters are more easily able to move when the large muscles surrounding them are relaxed and pliable.  Movement facilitates this relaxation. It is difficult to tighten and tense when rocking, swaying and moving the hips," wrote Amie.

Movement helps connect women to their birth.  They are actively participating in it, it's not just something that is happening to them. 

[As doulas], we encourage the partners to move with the birthing woman.  They dance - it's amazing!


~ National Capital Doulas

In chatting with many doulas when I was looking for some comments for this post, I realized how much more in depth we could go with this conversation.  I will write a second "Movement and Labour" post soon and link it here.

And finally from Mary of Maternity Matters who is another doula I have had the pleasure of working alongside many times...and yes, I'll admit it - we ALL danced at this birth shown below.  

Mom and Doula Dance through contractions during Ottawa Home birth.

Women following the rhythm of their body connect with the rhythm of the earth - they go inside themselves to meet the natural contractions and expansions within - allowing them to navigate the intensity of labour.  They are guided to connect with how to move, when to move and to simply move... it's a beautiful thing.

If you would like to learn more about movement in labour a doula, childbirth education classes, your caregiver and other women are great resources to start the conversations.  Amie, Danielle and Mary can be reached by clicking on the links below.