Birthing Chairs

Giving birth might be painful but it is the most magical, memorable, and meaningful event of a woman’s life. Practices related to giving birth, are, therefore, definitely important to every mother’s health and well-being. These practices, of course, are important for the successful outcome of her pregnancy and labor.  Ever since the medieval times up to now, birthing chairs or parturition chairs have played a significant role. Most especially when it comes to the experience of giving birth. Birthing chairs were so famous during the olden times. It is because of the reason that giving birth in an upright or horizontal position was extensively practiced. This article would be of great help if you are considering to use a birthing chair. If you are someone who is just interested to learn more about birthing chairs, then don’t hesitate to read on.

What is a birthing chair?

A birthing chair is also known as a parturition chair or birth chair. It is mainly a tool or device to assist a woman during childbirth and labor. This particular chair allows women to be squatting while giving birth. It is specifically shaped to help women to give birth in an upright posture and horizontal manner. This chair is not just a chair for anyone to sit on. It holds a more important function of providing support and balance for mothers in giving birth.

Appearance-wise, the birthing chair just looks like a chair with three or four legs. Except that it has a hole or a space on the center part of the seat to allow a midwife or a birthing assistant to clearly monitor the labor progress and gives space for the baby to slide through. These chairs should be sturdy enough to bear up to a substantial amount of weight and pressure as well. It is also built only up to a certain height, not too far from the ground, for the woman to plant or brace her feet firmly against the ground for a more powerful push. They commonly have armrests or handles where mothers can grip or hold on to for extra leverage.

Nowadays, birthing chairs are not typically found and used in the hospital. They are often used at a birthing center or when you are giving birth at home. Some women still prefer the use of birthing chairs or incorporating the principle of the birthing chair method because they find that it can make delivery a lot easier. According to Dr. Harper, squatting position helps the mother push the baby out more forcefully and you’re allowing gravity to help bring the baby down to the right position. It also helps open your pelvis up.

History of birthing chairs

1450 BCE

The first use of a birthing chair can be traced back to the ancient times in Egypt. Pictures can be seen carved on the walls of the birth houses of Egypt. These pictures depicted an Egyptian Queen giving birth using a birth stool. Most Egyptian noblewomen are often assisted by maidservants. Their birthing chair looks mostly like a short stool just to support during labor.

200 BC

Usage of birthing chairs was also documented and traced in Greece. It was featured  on an ancient Grecian sculpted votive.

100 BC

Celtic items or devices from Britain have  been also found to depict women giving birth in an upright position with the same principle as to what a birthing chair uses.

17th Century

From the ancient times, until the 17th century birthing chairs that looks more like stools have been used. Most of the birthing chairs used during this time were made to be simple and a lot shorter than the ones used during the 18th Century. Although some of them came out with a padded seat, mostly are still crafted as a plain wooden birthing stool.

18th Century

During the 18th century, modifications were made to the traditional and ancient birthing stools. Lying-in clinics became famous during this era, that is why the birthing chairs made during this time were designed with seats that allowed women to sit upright or recline during labor. These chairs are also found to be more comfortable because it has padded seats and leg rests some of which are even extendable. Although the simpler versions from the 17th century were still used during this time.

19th Century

As mentioned, lying-in clinics became famous in the 1800s but as of the late 1900s, these ancient birthing chairs have made a comeback in the modern medicine of childbirth. Some expecting mothers have reverted to the birthing chair for its upright position because it allows gravity to assist in the expulsion of the baby.  Since the 1980s many clinics and birthing centers have begun installing birthing chairs due to a large number of inquiries about them. The birthing chairs during this time looked a lot more like an hospital equipment instead of the homey design the usual birth stools used to have. During the 1930s, wooden birthing chairs were also found to have originated from Africa.

20th Century

Although C-section has been dated to be used back to the ancient times, it has become ultimately practiced during the late 1900s. And in this modern days, most childbirth and delivery has been happening in hospitals and the procedures have been carried out by obstetrician-gynecologist. Still, many women who do not need a C-section, prefer upright birth position because it tends to be a lot easier. Modern birth stools are available in the market today and they can be used even at home under the supervision and assistance of a midwife or any healthcare professional.

Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine by Amanda Carson Banks

If you want to read more about the history of these very captivating birthing chairs. You can get this book from Amazon, and it is truly a good read to provide you with some interesting and additional knowledge.  Available in Kindle, paperback, and hardcover

Book information: There was a time when birth was treated as a natural process rather than a medical condition. Before 1800, women gave birth seated in birth chairs or on stools and were helped along by midwives. Then societal changes in attitudes toward women and the practice of medicine made birthing a province of the male-dominated medical profession.

In Birth Chairs, Midwives, and Medicine, Amanda Carson Banks examines the history of the birth chair and tells how this birthing device changed over time. Through photographs, artists’ renditions of births, interviews, and texts from midwives and early obstetricians, she creates an evolutionary picture of birthing practices and highlights the radical redefinition of birth that has occurred in the last two centuries.

The popularity of birth chairs has seen a revival in the late twentieth century as the struggle between medical obstetrics and the alternative birth movement has grown. As Banks shows through her careful examination of the chairs themselves, these questions have been answered and reconsidered many times in human history. Using the artifacts from the home and medical office, Banks traces sweeping societal changes in the philosophy of how to bring life into the world.

Modern birthing chairs

The reason why many women still prefer the use of birthing chairs is that because being in an upright position can help the baby to be in the best and easiest position for birth, making more space within her pelvis than if she is semi-sitting or lying on her back on a bed. You can bring and use these birthing chairs or stools at a maternity hospital, a clinic, or during a home birth. Two famous products to provide an upright birth position are the Kaya Stools Deverra Birth Stools, and CUB.

C.U.B

The product name CUB stands for Comfortable Upright Position. Instead of the usual wooden and leather birthing chairs, the CUB is an inflatable version. It is a comfortable, versatile and easy to use support that can help mothers maintain the upright position when giving birth. Each of this inflatable birth stools includes a manual inflation pump, terry cotton cover, and a carrier bag for portability. The CUB is created and designed with a double thickness on the top and durability at the bottom to prevent puncture. It has multiple functions that could help a mother during labor. It can be used throughout as a comfortable support, either to sit on, rest on or lean over. The CUB also functions to give birth in an upright position in the most comfortable way for you. 

CUB allows you to have more effective labor contractions. This also helps you adopt and maintain positions that are not only comfortable but physically helpful for you and your baby during labor. This inflatable birthing stool totally makes giving birth easier, faster and super safe. The CUB promotes natural birth positions and can be used in late pregnancy. It can also be used during labor and after the delivery of your baby.

Kaya Birth Stool

This modern birthing stool can be used in different ways and settings of giving birth in an upright position. The Kaya stool is made of a low density, food-grade plastic called polyethylene. It does not contain phthalates or other unsafe additives. Dioxins and other toxic chemicals are not released into the environment during production. This birth stool allows women to respond to their body throughout labor process based on what makes them comfortable. 

The Kaya stools are available for both personal and professional use. These stools allow women to be in an upright position during labor. The positions include squatting, kneeling, lunging, and rocking. They can increase the available space within the pelvis and stimulate more effective contractions. They were also proven to yield the best health outcomes for you and your baby. The Kaya Stool can be used at home for continued stretching and strengthening as your body recovers after birth. Later on, it can then be used as a playful piece of children’s furniture.

Deverra Birth Stools

The Deverra birth stools are handmade by women in Toronto. The design basically pays homage to traditional birth stools, while meeting the needs of modern women and midwives. They look like beautifully crafted wooden seats made to provide comfortable support. The elegant acrylic bases are very durable and easy to clean. Legs and hardware are made from high quality, 316 marine grade stainless steel. The acrylic seats of this birth stool make them ideal for submersion during water births. It also makes them ideal to be used in an institutional setting. Made for convenience, the entire stool is easy to disassemble with a few turns of an Allen key. All Deverra stools come with a canvas shoulder bag for easy transport. Once taken apart, the whole stool can be easily kept inside.

Benefits of upright birthing

1. Law of gravity. By being in a more upright position in labor, you are assisting your baby in moving downwards into the birth canal for delivery. The baby’s head is able to apply pressure on the cervix resulting in its dilation.

2. Widen the “birth”. Standing or squatting widens the pelvic outlet, making it easier for your baby to negotiate the pelvic cavity for birth. By pushing in an upright position, you also widen the vaginal outlet. This means you are at less risk of needing an episiotomy. Episiotomies are a real birthing fear for expectant moms and most will try anything to avoid them.

3. Easy does it. Assuming a more upright position can help ease your labor pain. Many women experience moderate to severe back pain during labor that can be worsened by spending lengthy periods lying down. Get up and move around. It also makes it easier for your birthing partner to help with pain control by giving you a good therapeutic back massage.

4. Do less time. Labor can often be significantly shorter if you are upright and mobile. There is better oxygenation to the uterine muscles and the baby, as your vessels are not compressed. This allows the uterus to have stronger, more powerful contractions. Your baby is less likely to get stressed in labor too.

5.  It is all downhill from here. You will also be pushing with gravity, meaning the need for any interventions is less likely. When you are pushing “downhill”, you are using your muscles to the optimum, so you are less likely to become exhausted in labor and pushing. As a result, you are unlikely to need any interventions such as a vacuum or forceps delivery.

Source: Living and Loving, 2015 

Giving birth is magical

Childbirth or giving birth is a very unique and fulfilling event in a mother’s life.  It is also very unique experience that exhibits the miracle and power of nature. According to Dr. Northrup, having a baby is the true “change of life” and women who go through labor and birth fully supported often emerge from the experience changed forever.

When choosing your method of giving birth, there is no right or wrong. Whether you choose to do it upright or lying down. Or, whether you choose to give birth at home or at a healthcare facility, it is always up to you. What is important is that you remain confident about yours and your baby’s health. Giving birth, in itself, is just a physiological event, yet it is also is one of the most fascinating and magical aspects of medicine. And it is an event that will truly change a mother’s life forever. 

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