Even before the development of modern obstetrics, controversy existed with respect to maternal position during labor. The horizontal position during the first stage of labor is believed to have been introduced by Mauriceau in the 18th century to facilitate the care of women and the performance of obstetric maneuvers and procedures . The horizontal position was thus incorporated into Western culture as the standard position during labor. Nevertheless, the standardization of this position for labor was never fully accepted, and more than two centuries ago there were those who advocated the value of not confining women in labor to bed . In fact, in most cultures that have not been influenced by this Western custom, women in labor continue to opt for the upright position or to keep ambulating .
Throughout the scientific development of obstetrics, this controversy has been examined several times under different perspectives. From the physiological standpoint, the supine position has been observed to be associated with the compression of abdominal blood vessels and impairment of fetal nutrition and oxygenation . It has also been argued that this position would negatively interfere with uterine contractions . However, upright position during first stage of labor may improve maternal comfort and reduce the need for analgesia . In this context, labor without bed confinement became part of a set of actions involved in promoting the empowerment of women and the humanization of labor. In accordance with these views, an argument was built in favor of the upright position during labor.
On the other hand, over the past twenty years, policy makers, health professionals and even the lay society are progressively using an evidence-based rationale to guide their decisions. A considerable amount of knowledge had already been accumulated on the subject more than twenty years ago, and the remaining facts available today have been acquired over that interval of time. In summary, the purpose of the adoption of an upright position has been the enhancement of uterine contractions and fetal condition, and the promotion of maternal comfort [3-5]. Nevertheless, although the issue has frequently been examined, the optimal alternative remains unclear. For this reason, it was decided to carry out a systematic review with the objective of assessing the effect of adopting the upright position or ambulating during the first stage of labor on selected obstetrical and perinatal outcomes.