A birthing stool — also called a birthing chair — is a type of furniture intended to support a birthing parent upright while they give birth.
While birthing stools typically feature a cutout portion of the seat to allow attending midwives or physicians to catch the baby from under the parent easily, standard chairs can also be used for labor and birth.
Read on to learn everything you need to know about birthing stools and chairs to decide if you'd like one at your birth.
What Is a Birthing Stool?
A birthing stool is a backless stool that often has a cutout in the middle of the seat. A birthing chair is similar but typically features a back to support a leaning parent.
Birthing Chair History
Birthing stools and chairs have been used for thousands of years. There are records of Babylonian birthing chairs dating back to 2000 B.C., and the use of birthing stools is documented on Egyptian papyrus.
Most cultures have historically used upright birthing positions such as sitting, standing, or squatting, and birthing chairs and stools supported the birthing parent in this upright position.
As physicians replaced midwives as the primary birth attendants in Western cultures, birthing stools fell out of use in favor of birthing beds. This idea may have come initially from good intentions. Jacques Gillemeau, a French surgeon credited with formally introducing a lying-down position, thought birthing beds would be more comfortable and help induce labor. However, birthing beds remained in widespread use mainly for the doctor's convenience.
Are Birthing Stools Still Used?
Birthing stools and chairs have made a resurgence in recent years and are offered at many birth centers and hospitals.
Birthing Chair Advantages and Disadvantages
Using a birthing chair or stool to labor and birth upright has many advantages for a birthing parent, such as:
Facilitating Better Positioning for Birth
Upright birthing positions take body weight off the lower part of the spine and allow the pelvic outlet to open wide, and gravity can help move the baby downward.
Reduces Unnecessary Interventions
Upright positions may reduce unnecessary interventions by shortening labor. Birthing upright may shorten the first stage of labor by as much as 80 minutes, which helps prevent birthing parents from becoming exhausted and overwhelmed. Birthing parents who labor upright in the first stage are less likely to need an epidural or c-section, and their babies are less likely to be admitted to the neonatal intensive care unit.
Upright positions also shorten the second stage of labor. Laboring upright increases the effectiveness of uterine contractions. It encourages a better position for the baby, allowing them to move through the pelvis faster.
Birthing parents without epidurals may reduce interventions like forceps delivery and episiotomies by birthing upright.
May Improve Birth Safety for the Baby
Birthing parents who labor upright are less likely to compress their aorta, providing a better oxygen supply to the baby and reducing cases of hypoxia and acidosis.
Some disadvantages to birthing upright include:
Increased Likelihood of Perineal Tears
While the chance of a severe tear doesn't seem to be increased, more birthing parents may experience perineal tears in an upright position.
Parents birthing in an upright position may be more likely to lose 500 mL of blood or more. However, this may be skewed by the accuracy of the methods used to measure blood loss.
How To Use a Birthing Stool
In the first stage of labor, using a birthing stool or chair can help keep the birthing parent upright during contractions and allows gravity to help the baby move down.
Many laboring parents choose to sit backward on a chair in the first stage of labor, where they can lean forward against the back of the chair during contractions. This position allows a partner or doula to massage your back or provide counterpressure during contractions.
In the second stage of labor, a chair can help stabilize you during a deep squat, increasing the diameter of your pelvis.
Birthing chairs and stools allow you to push in a position that you're familiar with, as it's similar to sitting on the toilet. Using a birthing chair or stool, you can sit upright to push during contractions and then lean back against the back of a chair or a partner for rest between contractions.