Powerful or Purple?

So, what’s it like to push?”

This is a question I get a lot, especially from first-time moms, who can never seem to feel quite ready for this “labor thing” that will happen to them in a matter of months. It’s a question I love to answer!

For me, personally, this was the most wonderful, empowering part of labor, other than the moment my children were placed on my belly. It felt so euphorically relieving to finally do something other than lay there and just take all those ridiculous contractions! Pushing brought relief from pain during my contractions – it doesn’t for all women – and an incredible sense of raw power coursing through me.

There is simply nothing like it.

And I attribute that to one thing, and one thing only.

I was never “coached” to push during any of my four births. None of that flat-on-my-back-knees-at-my-ears-holding-my-breath-while-everyone-counted-to-ten nonsense!

I got to choose my position based on what felt right, and caused me the least amount of pain. I preferred pushing on hands and knees for awhile, but always flopped onto my side to finish, and pushed with each contraction as I felt my body tell me. And boy, did it TELL me!!! These positions are aided by gravity, and serve to help bring babies down quickly and safely.

I was marvelously well-supported by my mother, husband, and midwife. No coaching, just encouragement, and sometimes a reminder to breathe. Yes, I forgot sometimes! The only things I heard around me were statements like:

  • “Way to go! You’re moving that baby down!”
  • “Do you have one more in you, or are you finished with this one?”
  • “You are AMAZING, Honey!”
  • “What a good pusher you are!”
  • “Take it easy, and only do what you feel you can do.”
  • “I’m not in a hurry, rest if you want.”
  • “Oxygen to the baby.”
    (Said to remind me to take a nice deep breath or two when I finished a contraction, and at the start of each.)
  • “You want to push? Go for it!”
    (Said to me when I told my midwife I needed to “puuuuUUUUSH!” before she had time to check my dilation.)

The most “coaching” I ever got was during my first labor, when my midwife gently placed her finger just inside of me and encouraged me to push her finger out to help me understand where to focus. After that, smooth sailing!

Surrounded by such good support, I could not help but succeed! That adrenaline-fueled second wind during my pushing stages was made stronger and more efficient by the fact that I was allowed to birth in a position other than lying on my back, legs in the air, and because I was allowed to push according to my body’s signals (which felt “shockingly rectal” to me), and not according to some arbitrary pattern set for me by the people around me.

However, for most women in the US, pushing is not this spontaneous. Against good research, and even common sense, care providers are still utilizing the lithotomy (on the back) position far too widely, as well as “purple pushing.”

What research does say is that spontaneous pushing in positions other than lying on your back helps shorten labor, prevents severe pain, and lessens your chances for tears/episiotomies, among other benefits.

Before you go into labor, have a conversation with your provider about pushing positions he or she is comfortable with, and why. Ask for research to back up their particular position, especially if they indicate that back is best. If your provider is adamantly opposed to any other position, consider swapping. It’s almost NEVER too late to change providers to find one who is willing to compromise more. Also, consider midwifery care, and even homebirth, as most midwives are trained to “see with their hands,” and are more comfortable than most obstetricians in catching babies in alternative positions.

Whether you have a powerful pushing stage or a purple one is up to you. Entirely. Own your choices, and know your stuff.

Happy Pushing!!!

For more information, be sure to visit the Lamaze Healthy Birth Care Practices #5: Avoid giving birth on the back and follow the body’s urges to push., as well as all the amazing posts included in Science & Sensibility’s 5th Healthy Birth Blog Carnival.


  1. […] at Birth In Joy shares some of the encouraging words from her labor support team: “Way to go, you’re moving the baby down!” “I’m not in a hurry, rest […]

  2. Kristen on April 16, 2010 at 2:58 pm

    I love how you’ve recounted the ways in which “coaching” during pushing can (and should) mean nothing more than *encouragement.* I wish all mothers could hear these sorts of empowering words when they are pushing their babies into the world!

    Indeed, Kristen! I really do believe this is a major factor in why my birth experiences were so empowering for me. ~Tiff

    • faerylandmom on April 17, 2010 at 12:57 pm

      Indeed! I am positive this is one major reason my birth experiences were so empowering for me. Tiff