Why do the Side-lying Release?
- For more pelvic mobility
- To release muscle spasm (easier to sleep in pregnancy and less sharp contractions in labor)
- To ease pain in pregnancy and birth
- To make room for the baby to turn into a better position
- For longer, softer pelvic floor muscles for the baby to move through during birth
- It can be repeated every 4-6 hours, since the benefits are temporary
- Anyone can do this technique! It’s not just for pregnant or birthing women. If intercourse or elimination is painful due to a tight or twisted pelvic floor, give this a try
How to do the Side-lying Release
This is a technique that benefits from a helper. A person can do this alone with less precision, but an assistant can help make sure the pregnant person’s hips and shoulders are stacked.
The pregnant person chooses which side she feels more comfortable with first, but be sure to do this on BOTH sides so the pelvic floor is more even. This is very important!
Use a firm surface that’s as long as the pregnant person. The edge of a couch, bed, heavy table, or counter will do. A hospital bed works wonderfully too when raised a bit, during labor in the hospital.
Please read the instructions below carefully. Doing it incorrectly won’t help you.
- Begin on your side of choice. Make sure your head is level on a pillow, not tilted. Your neck should be straight as well.
- The helper should stand in front of them, with their leg or hip firmly against the edge to keep the pregnant person from tipping off.
- Holding a chair or table near the edge of the couch, the pregnant person scoots their hip right up to 2 inches from the edge. A 3rd-trimester pregnant belly will extend beyond the edge.
- The helper curves both palms around the edge of the pregnant person’s hip (front and top). The helper must prevent the pregnant person’s hip from leaning forward after their leg hangs.
- Slightly rock the hips to help relax the muscles. This is so slight, as if to put a tiny baby to sleep.
- The pregnant person then straightens their lower leg, but the helper must not pull the leg straight. Toes should be up (flexed) toward their knee.
- When the helper is steady and in place (but not before), the pregnant person slightly lifts their leg up and over their thigh and then lets it slowly hang down in front of her. Wait 2-3 minutes or until the leg hangs slightly lower. Do both sides so you don’t make the pelvis unstable.
- The pregnant person should then get up and walk around the room in each direction, or down and back in a straight line, depending on the space available.
Situations to note
Check: Is their back straight? Use a box or another flat object along their lower back to line up the hips (see below). Only use the box for a second to check your alignment – but don’t let go of the hip!
Is the top shoulder directly over the lower shoulder? She can hold a chair, a table, or a helper, but the top hip must stay over the lower hip!
Helper: Don’t let their hip lean forward! Let the full weight of the top leg hang free. Avoid the pregnant person’s thigh so it can hang freely. The pregnant person breathes deeply and slowly, and as their belly relaxes, their leg relaxes more too.
In pregnancy: Their leg should hang for about 2.5 minutes. It’s okay to try it longer, but it’s vital that it’s done on both sides. A few people have reported holding each side for up to 20 minutes to flip a breech, but this length of time is not required for head-down babies. Explore for yourself and see what feels best for each situation.
In labor: Let the leg hang through 3 contractions, then switch sides for another 3 contractions. Sometimes a rest comes after 2 contractions and the uterus stops contracting for a few minutes to an hour. You will see regular contractions that are more effective either immediately or after the rest period. If contractions strengthen but then slow again, assess and address engagement or a locked sacrum, then repeat SLR and see the labor progress.
Learn step-by-step how to do the Side-lying Release by watching Gail Tully teach it to pregnant parents in our Spinning Babies® Parent Class video. Parents across the globe are using these techniques for comfort in pregnancy and easier birth—and they’re working! Available on DVD or digital download.
How to do the Side-Lying Release by yourself
If done alone, the woman needs to brace herself with their arm while holding a heavy table, for instance. She has to consciously keep their hips stacked one above the other as well.
- Lay on your side, close to the edge of the couch. Have a coffee table in front of you.
- Lay your head on your lower arm. Hold the table with your other hand.
- Make sure your hip is right on the edge of the couch, so that you feel that tipping forward would make you fall off (but please be careful not to actually fall).
- Straighten your lower leg and keep your top shoulder over your lower shoulder as best you can while holding the table (move the table first to make this easier). It’s very important to keep your top hip over your other hip!
- Let your top leg hang forward into the air, allowing the full weight of the leg to hang. Keep your lower leg straight. Breathe deeply and slowly and let your belly relax.
- Let your leg hang for 2.5 minutes in late pregnancy. If you are doing this in labor, let your leg hang through 3 contractions.
- Repeat on your other side immediately, for just as long (1-2 minutes in pregnancy and through 3 contractions during labor).
You can also check out how to do a Diaphragmatic Release from an article in Midwifery Today. Remember, this is a complementary technique.
How often should you do this?
- Twice a week in pregnancy for a better fetal position
- Once in early labor to reduce future labor pain and the time the labor takes
- Again in labor if there are strong contractions but no progress
How does the Side-lying Release work?
If one side of the opening is tighter or higher than the other, the asymmetrical tension can pull the pelvis out of balance. The baby can then be tipped and/or rotated into an unfavorable position.
Even if the pelvic floor is evenly tight, fetal rotation or descent can take longer than usual. The strong pelvic floor of a dancer or horseback rider may lengthen labor considerably.
Common habits of modern life can make the pelvis tight on one side or even twist the hips. Simple things like driving a car, crossing our legs, sports accidents, and falls on the head or bum might all affect the pelvic floor.
Tension or torsion in the pelvic floor makes labor longer. An uneven tightness in the pelvic floor may make the baby’s head tip, causing an asynclitism (tipped head) that makes labor longer and increases the need for a cesarean or vacuum (ventouse).
What’s the solution?
The Side-lying Release can help labor progress, reduce pain, and calm a tense birthing woman. Try it in the presence of a posterior, brow, or asynclitic fetal presentation. It is also helpful when labor is taking longer or feels sharper than expected.
What should one be feeling while doing the Side-lying Release?
Some feel a subtle stretch of muscles, while others feel nothing at all. Pain means either you’re on too hard a surface or some part of the person is not lined up properly and needs to be adjusted. This technique stretches several muscles and muscle groups:
- The pelvic floor
- The piriformis and other Deep 6
- Iliotibial band
- Round ligament
Not all women feel something stretch, but most people do feel genuinely more relaxed afterward.
Who benefits from a Side-lying Release?
- First-time pregnant persons benefit from releasing spasms in the pelvic floor once or twice in late pregnancy.
- Ballet dancing, horseback riding, and daily running strengthen the pelvic floor so much that fetal descent can be slow and birthing can be much longer. This technique may shorten labor for these women.
- Women who have had previous cesareans for “failure to progress” or transverse arrest, may benefit from a pelvic floor release in late pregnancy.
- Women who have had posterior, breech, or other less than favorable fetal positions in previous births, or who have a baby in an unfavorable position in their current pregnancy.
- Women on bed rest may do this technique as part of a gentle stretching routine on their couch or bed (with a helper).
When should you do it?
- When labor is overdue
- If a stall in active labor is overcome and labor picks up again
- If you’re experiencing annoying or sharp hip, back, or pelvic pain
- If the baby is in a breech, oblique, or posterior position (this only supports other necessary techniques)
- When there’s contractions with no progress
- When the baby’s head is tipped, tilted, or asynclitic
- If there’s Deep Transverse Arrest (The baby remains facing a hip at 0 station, midway down the pelvis. Follow with side lunges.)
- When contractions are more painful than expected and the pregnant person is beyond their ability to cope
- If the baby hasn’t engaged by 38 weeks gestation
- When labor stalls at 5 centimeters or later
Please note: As with any technique, there are rare complications. Use with the understanding that there could be an adverse reaction. Occasionally we see spontaneous membrane release in active labor following fetal rotation during the Side-lying Release. Typically there is a rapid return to progress however. I have never known SLR to begin a labor before term.
When should you not do it?
- Avoid if you notice non-normal bleeding
- Avoid if the pregnant person is experiencing cramps that are not clearly related to childbirth or pooping
- If the labor is progressing well, there may be no need for SLR
- Don’t bother if labor is progressing fast (though if fear or panic is present, SLR may provide necessary comfort)
- If you’ve had a recent hip surgery and the bruising/stitches haven’t healed fully
- If the pregnant person doesn’t want to (it’s their choice after all!)
Please note: You should ask your care provider if there is any other medical reason not to do the Side-lying Release before you attempt it.
Are there any good alternatives?
If the baby is high in the pelvis or above the pelvis, a Side-lying Release may still help. But more specific to a non-engaged baby is the Abdominal Lift and Tuck through ten contractions (not in between).
If Abdominal Lift and Tuck doesn’t work, or if a heavy epidural is in use, do brim-opening Walcher’s position through, and between, three contractions. These help the baby into the pelvic brim when the baby is -3 or higher (-2 is worth a try with Walcher’s too) and contractions are not able to bring the baby into the pelvis. If the baby is already engaged, Side-lying Release will likely help when the baby is at or near 0 station.
Warnings, contraindications, and guidance–PLEASE READ!
Older people or people with tight legs may feel a pull on the outer leg. If it’s sharp, stop and address the muscles on the outer leg with a massage stroke. If it’s still painful, stop the SLR and address the muscle before repeating.
Please pay attention to a pain that persists more than a few minutes. Report any abdominal or shoulder pain to your provider.
Stop these or other exercises immediately if the baby begins sudden, vigorous, frantic movements during the new position. Don’t get upside down or do the Side-lying Release after such vigorous movements and have the baby’s heartbeat assessed immediately.
Frantic fetal movement or placenta pain is an unusual occurrence in any event, and extremely unusual at Spinning Babies®. Listen to your body and check out unusual symptoms with your physician before trying these exercises. Thousands of women are getting mild or dramatic benefits from Side-lying Releases, but it’s important to always put safety first.