I always tell my Dancing for Birth students to worry less about dancing correctly and more about trusting their bodies, as I want them to do in birth, with one exception — squats.
After I demonstrated a true birth squat in class one evening, a student asked, “Why doesn’t everyone else know this?” I was stopped by her question. It reminded me that many childbirth professionals and educators are still teaching and having mommas squat incorrectly.
Women in correct, parallel squat, as drawn by Vincent Van Gogh
My first response to her question was that many birth professionals have seen a lovely film called The Squat Position in Delivery. This film shows women birthing peacefully in deep squat positions at a Brazilian facility. The film is made by doctor and filmmaker Claudius Paciornik. While Paciornik was researching the gynecologic health of native Brazilian women in the ‘70s, he observed that “to rest they squat, and in this position they give birth.” Birth professionals love this film have have been honoring the squat since the film’s release.
Soon after completing my doula training and seeing this very film, however, I heard that North American women have a higher incidence of tearing in the squat position. With the help of Evidence-Based Birth, I was able to track down some of the research for this statement. But this fact continued to bother me and I wanted to find the connection. Eventually it came to me. Squatting correctly is not only an ideal birth position, but in many countries it is also a comfortable position for sitting on street corners to chat, snack, work and as Paciornik noted, to rest.
For those who have travelled outside of the U.S. and western Europe, you may recall seeing men, women and children sitting in what I will call a parallel squat. Regardless of how deep or shallow the squat is, the individual’s feet are more or less parallel to each other. Most westerners find a parallel squat very uncomfortable. Instead, we find ourselves squatting with heels pointed in and toes pointed out. Like the squat represented in the film, this is in fact the wrong way to squat for birth.
Go ahead, try both squats. How does it feel? Notice that the the heel-in squats pushes the knees out and squeezes the glutes together. And like a clothespin, this position narrows the pelvic opening; the opposite of what we want in birth. Then notice that the parallel squat keeps the pelvis square and open. This is what we want.
Let’s take this a step further, in both squat positions, put your palms against the outside of your knees and push your hands towards your knees while pushing your knees towards your hands. Do this again, this time keeping your pelvis above your knees and lift your tailbone to the sky.
You will find that when you do this exercise with a parallel squat, keeping the pelvis above the knees, that your pelvis will feel much more open. And it is. In Dancing for Birth classes we actually measure the difference, and it is considerable.
So, therein lies the mystery. most western women work and rest in chairs and sofa’s, often in a reclining position. So not only is the squat position not a normal part of their lives, when they do squat, it is typically heels in. Traditionally, non-western women have rested in a squat position and when they do, it is a parallel squat. They are practicing a correct birth squat in their everyday lives.
Woman washing in parallel squat, by Michael Coghlan
So, yes, squatting in birth will open your pelvis and make much more room for baby to descend and enter the world. But, in this case, there is a right and a wrong way. Keep those feet parallel and your pelvis above your hips for a correct squat and a safer, more comfortable birth.
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