Traditionally women didn’t, and still don’t, choose to lie down flat on their backs to labour and give birth unless under pressure (cultural or otherwise) to do so. Labour postures common in all traditional cultures throughout the world include sitting, kneeling, standing, squatting or the hands and knees positions. Sometimes these postures involve the use of aids such as birth chairs, or the physical support of a husband or female assistant. Historically birth was the domain of female attendants , and in fact it was a taboo for men (including the baby’s father) to be present in the birth room.
The first recorded instance of a woman lying on her back during labour was in 1663. Louise de la Valliere was a mistress of King Louis XIV of France. As King he had privileges that did not belong to other men . King Louis XIV wanted to witness the emergence of his baby. In order to do this, his lover needed to lie on a bed whilst he sat behind a curtain with a peephole in it.
Of course, fashion follows what the royals do. Fashionable ladies expected to lie down to have their babies. Giving birth in a squatting position came to be considered very low class.
(Oh, how we all suffer in the name of fashion) !
In 1668 Francoise Mauriceau published a treatise on midwifery that recommended that women lie on their backs for giving birth. This recommendation was made for the benefit of the physician (male) who might want to use forceps which became popular around this time and not for the benefit of the labouring woman herself.
Royal births throughout Europe continued to be a spectator ‘sport’, mainly to authenticate a live birth and the royal lineage. The birth audience consisted mainly of politicians. In fact our own Queen Elizabeth II and her sister Princess Margaret’s entry into the world were witnessed by the then Home Secretary. Queen Elizabeth 11 made sure this practice was abolished by the time she gave birth to Prince Charles in l948.”