Ambulate in Labor? What the Heck is That?

Posted on: August 3, 2018 | Doula, Doula Training, Labor & Birth Hospital bed ambulate in labor

If you spend a lot of time reading birth related blogs and facebook posts, you might occasionally come across a word that makes you scratch your head a bit. Then you might mozy over to good ol’ Google and see what’s up. So to save you a few extra browser tabs and some typing, to ambulate, literally means to walk or move about.

In the context of birth, to ambulate, simply refers to the movement of the birthing person during labor.

Ambulation has many positive effects on the birth process, but is increasingly harder to achieve in modern birth culture. With the prevalent use of epidurals, continuous fetal monitoring, IV hydration, and other routine hospital protocol, it is sometimes difficult for the birthing person to ambulate at all.

Movement, makes it easier to manage the discomfort of labor, helps the baby move down due to the influence of gravity, and can decrease the need for instrument and surgical deliveries.

There are ways to help keep a laboring body and pelvis in movement, even when tethered to an IV pole and monitor. Below are some ideas to consider.

Intermittent monitoring

Some providers might be okay with only tracking the baby’s heart rate for a certain number of minutes each hour, rather than continuously. This will give your client more opportunity to ambulate between monitoring sessions.

Wireless monitoring

Either a telemetry monitor they can carry around with them, or the stick-on Monica monitor will allow your client to ambulate while also reassuring their care provider that the baby is doing fine.

A saline-lock

This will allow the birthing person to have an open vein if medication must be administered in an emergency, but does not require that the tube be constantly connecting the birthing person to the IV pole.

A birth ball

The client can sit on a birth ball close to the monitors and IV pole so that they may ambulate while being monitored.

A peanut ball

If the client has an epidural, the peanut ball can be great for helping them ambulate and keep the pelvis open. Your client can move every thirty minutes or so from one side to the other with the ball between their legs or in the throne position with the ball under one leg.

For more ideas, see ​this ProDoula blog​ on peanut balls with a free printable handout!

The hospital bed

Hospital beds are ​SO versatile​. The bottom usually moves independently of the top and can help clients achieve many different positions with added support so they don’t get tired. Many also have additions such as squat bars to facilitate more upright positions.

Movement is an ​important part​ of the labor process and there are many ways to achieve this goal. Get creative and utilize what’s already available in the space if a client is experiencing restrictions. If the client isn’t tethered to anything, good old fashioned walking can be a great help.

Gravity and an open pelvis are a birthing person’s best friend. Well, aside from a doula who knows what it means to ambulate!

Tiffany DePute
Co-Owner, ​Houston Birth & Baby, ProDoula Infant Feeding Specialist Trainer