Background: Hands-and-knees positioning during labor has been recommended on the theory that gravity and buoyancy may promote fetal head rotation to the anterior position and reduce persistent back pain. A Cochrane review found insufficient evidence to support the effectiveness of this intervention during labor. The purpose of this study was to evaluate the effect of maternal hands-and-knees positioning on fetal head rotation from occipitoposterior to occipitoanterior position, persistent back pain, and other perinatal outcomes.
Methods: Thirteen labor units in university-affiliated hospitals participated in this multicenter randomized, controlled trial. Study participants were 147 women laboring with a fetus at >or=37 weeks' gestation and confirmed by ultrasound to be in occipitoposterior position. Seventy women were randomized to the intervention group (hands-and-knees positioning for at least 30 minutes over a 1-hour period during labor) and 77 to the control group (no hands-and-knees positioning). The primary outcome was occipitoanterior position determined by ultrasound following the 1-hour study period and the secondary outcome was persistent back pain. Other outcomes included operative delivery, fetal head position at delivery, perineal trauma, Apgar scores, length of labor, and women's views with respect to positioning.
Results: Women randomized to the intervention group had significant reductions in persistent back pain. Eleven women (16%) allocated to use hands-and-knees positioning had fetal heads in occipitoanterior position following the 1-hour study period compared with 5 (7%) in the control group (relative risk 2.4; 95% CI 0.88-6.62; number needed to treat 11). Trends toward benefit for the intervention group were seen for several other outcomes, including operative delivery, fetal head position at delivery, 1-minute Apgar scores, and time to delivery.
Conclusions: Maternal hands-and-knees positioning during labor with a fetus in occipitoposterior position reduces persistent back pain and is acceptable to laboring women. Given this evidence, hands-and-knees positioning should be offered to women laboring with a fetus in occipitoposterior position in the first stage of labor to reduce persistent back pain. Although this study demonstrates trends toward improved birth outcomes, further trials are needed to determine if hands-and-knees positioning promotes fetal head rotation to occipitoanterior and reduces operative delivery.