Background: For centuries, there has been controversy around whether being upright (sitting, birthing stools, chairs, squatting) or lying down have advantages for women delivering their babies.
Objectives: To assess the benefits and risks of the use of different positions during the second stage of labour (i.e. from full dilatation of the cervix).
Search strategy: We searched the Cochrane Pregnancy and Childbirth Group trials register (16 April 2003).
Selection criteria: Trials that used randomised or quasi-randomised allocation and appropriate follow up and compared various positions assumed by pregnant women during the second stage of labour.
Data collection and analysis: We independently assessed the trials for inclusion and extracted the data.
Main results: Results should be interpreted with caution as the methodological quality of the 19 included trials (5764 participants) was variable. Use of any upright or lateral position, compared with supine or lithotomy positions, was associated with: reduced duration of second stage of labour (10 trials: mean 4.29 minutes, 95% confidence interval (CI) 2.95 to 5.64 minutes) - this was largely due to a considerable reduction in women allocated to the use of the birth cushion; a small reduction in assisted deliveries (18 trials: relative risk (RR) 0.84, 95% CI 0.73 to 0.98); a reduction in episiotomies (12 trials: RR 0.84, 95% CI 0.79 to 0.91); an increase in second degree perineal tears (11 trials: RR 1.23, 95% CI 1.09 to 1.39); increased estimated blood loss greater than 500 ml (11 trials: RR 1.68, 95% CI 1.32 to 2.15); reduced reporting of severe pain during second stage of labour (1 trial: RR 0.73, 95% CI 0.60 to 0.90); fewer abnormal fetal heart rate patterns (1 trial: RR 0.31, 95% CI 0.08 to 0.98).
Reviewer's conclusions: The tentative findings of this review suggest several possible benefits for upright posture, with the possibility of increased risk of blood loss greater than 500 ml. Women should be encouraged to give birth in the position they find most comfortable. Until such time as the benefits and risks of various delivery positions are estimated with greater certainty, when methodologically stringent trials' data are available, women should be allowed to make informed choices about the birth positions in which they might wish to assume for delivery of their babies.