Childbirth is often compared to running a marathon and for good reason. The physical and emotional demands are not dissimilar. A recent study showed that childbirth put an equivalent level of stress and trauma on the body as running a marathon.

So I thought I’d take this comparison a step further and explore the kind of messages that women are frequently subjected to when pregnant and see how those same messages might look if she was putting herself forward for a marathon instead.

This is to highlight the ridiculousness of what pregnant women have to put up with and to show how our culture encourages fear among women when it comes to birth.

run in heels TW

Doesn’t this woman look ridiculous?

If you were running in a race, you definitely WOULD NOT be dressed like that. Those heels are bound to cause you some hardcore foot injuries, not to mention adding a bucket load of hours to your marathon time. And who starts a marathon crouching on the floor, anyhow? All of it is nonsense, and we know it. In fact, we all know it so well, that you would NEVER see this. Not even in a comedy that featured a woman running a race. Imagine watching a reality TV show about marathon runners and seeing the coaches advising the women to do this. IT WOULD NEVER HAPPEN!!!

And yet when it comes to birth, this is what we’re seeing … EVERYWHERE! And don’t even get me started on a certain birthing reality show! In fact we see it so much that women just think that when you give birth you lie on your back. That’s just how it happens. WRONG!

The problem with making women think that you give birth on your back

This is a problem. A HUGE problem. This alone feeds a ton of fears in women when it comes to labour and birth.

Things like;

Loss of control

When you’re heavily pregnant, lying down on your back is a nightmare for lots of reasons. But I’d say the main one is this; feeling a total loss of control. If you’ve never been pregnant, you wouldn’t understand but let me try to help you. Imagine you’re in bed and a large St Bernard dog has fallen asleep right across your body. Now try to move; get out of bed, turn over, sit up… NOPE! Not happening! You’re stuck.

In my last month of pregnancy, to get out of bed, I needed to swing my legs sideways to get some momentum going in the hope that my back would get up in response. It’s crazy thinking that’s based on having some kind of core strength to draw against (core strength that has disappeared now that you’re pregnant!), So as expected, this typically failed and instead I’d have to call my partner to pull me up. When I was having ultrasound scans, it was the nurse that needed to pull me up.

Now imagine going through that but you’re in labour. WHOLE DIFFERENT STORY and a few thousand notches UP the I feel outta control scale.

Fear of losing control is a very common among pregnant women and this myth feeds it beautifully.


Lying on your back, with your legs in the air and having a bunch of strangers looking at your wootsy is GUARANTEED to make you feel vulnerable. Just the thought of it when you’re not pregnant is bad enough, but when there’s a St Bernard dog lying on top of you weighing you down too, it doesn’t bear thinking about. Childbirth is already a vulnerable time for a woman, and what she needs more than anything is to feel safe, secure and loved. THIS is what helps labour keep moving at a pace that’s right for mum and baby. When she feels vulnerable and not in control, feelings of safety and security are out the window, and fears come rushing in… this is very bad news for labour!

Loss of respect

I don’t need to labour (!) this point too much as it’s easy to understand how lying on your back with your legs akimbo and strangers, (including men) are looking at your ladybits, is going to make you feel. And respected isn’t it.

So, having already established how damaging it is mentally and emotionally for pregnant mamas to think that you give birth on your back, let’s take a closer look at how bad it is for labour itself.

Why giving birth on your back is bad

Lying on your back is super bad for a host of reasons;

  • Giving birth on your back usually makes labour MORE PAINFUL!

This reason is enough for it to never recommended but let’s carry on…

  • When you’re lying on your back, you’re quite literally pushing uphill. The birth canal curves upwards when you lie down, so you’re going against gravity.
  • Birthing on your back can make labour last longer because the body has to work much harder to eject the baby.
  • Being on your back reduces the pelvic opening by up to 30% compared to other positions such as standing or squatting.
  • Birthing in this position increases your risk of experiencing an assisted or medicalised birth.
  • Laying on the back constricts blood vessels, meaning baby and mother won’t receive the optimum levels of blood & oxygen.
  • If baby is in a non-optimal position (such as posterior), then the baby is less likely to shift into a better position while mama is on her back.

The tragic irony is that lying on your back increases the need for the very interventions that the doctors and consultants want you in this position to check for. Now don’t get me wrong, sometimes it works for mums, and that’s fine, but let mum decide if it feels right for her. DON’T PRESSURE HER.

As I write this it strikes me how utterly absurd the myth of birthing on your back is. The emotional impact of laying on your back is bad enough given how important the emotional state of mind is when it comes to giving birth. But the fact that it also makes labour longer, more painful, more difficult, more risky and less healthy all adds to up a ton of VERY GOOD REASONS why it should be avoided as much as possible.

Why are we seeing it everywhere?

Who are these badly educated people who are pulling together these films, dramas and documentaries? If they were portraying the trials and challenges in the life of a gay person in Russia, you’d expect them to at least carry out some research and chat to a gay person in Russia and not portray gay Russians based on a brief chinwag to an American heterosexual.

So, why do we continue to see women being shown birthing on their backs?

I created a petition against the media here in the UK for them to portray childbirth in a more balanced way, to make it less fearful. A key element of this is to portray birthing best practice and not just feature the drama and horrors of birth. If you’d like to add your support, I’d be very appreciative! Just sign here.

If you think this is a crazy state of affairs, here’s what you can do;

When you see a bad case of birthing on the back, call up the TV show or film producers – Tweet them! Most of them have Twitter accounts these days.

Let me help you make a start with that.

Here’s a Tweet for the UK show One Born Every Minute that you can send right now

[Tweet “Hey @C4OneBorn. Stop showing women birthing on their backs. It’s WRONG and BAD for women to think this is how we birth.”]

Another thing you can do is BLOG OR VLOG about it and join me in making some noise about the absurdity of all this. If you do, keep me posted so that I give you an internet high 5!

Get your 9 Steps to a Fearless Birth

What do you think about we always seem to see women birthing on their backs? Do you agree that we need stop this craziness? Or do you think it’s a fabulous way to prepare mums for the realities of birth? Tell me in the comments below!

And stay tuned for the next installment in the If childbirth was a marathon series.

Alexia Leachman
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