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How to Support Your Partner in Labor

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 1 of 18

    1: Take a childbirth class

    Take a childbirth class Many couples find that birth classes are surprisingly helpful to the non-pregnant partners. They learn about the labor process, medications that may be necessary, and tons about how to support a woman during birth. They learn how to communicate with care-providers and understand the benefits and risks of each option. And, perhaps most importantly for a lot of dads, they’ll feel very clear on the question of when to go in.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 2 of 18

    2: Read a good birth book

    Read a good birth book She may have a bedside table teetering with pregnancy and birth books, but somehow the subject hasn’t been as urgently appealing to you. This is perfectly normal. A baby is living in her, so it makes sense she’d want to know more. But when the expected due date comes closer, it’s good to read about how you can participate and help with labor. It’s a great step for showing support. The Birth Partner and The Big Book Of Birth are two great options.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 3 of 18

    3: Talk about birth with her

    Talk about birth with her You can’t control the way birth unfolds — you don’t know when she’ll go into labor, when her water will break, or how long the labor will last. But to make the experience less stressful, you can certainly talk about both of your concerns, wishes, and fears before labor starts. Everyone has something they’re worried about. Think about what she tends to do when she’s in pain — does she want everyone around helping or does she prefer to be alone? Does she oppose drugs? You want to focus on how you can best make choices together.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 4 of 18

    4: Distract her in early labor

    Distract her in early labor In the movies, the water breaks and everyone panics. However, what’s more typical in a first-time birth and even in subsequent births, is that women can experience early labor with mild to moderate contractions for an average of 6-18 hours. If early labor starts during the day, do fun stuff together like watch a movie or go out to eat. If it kicks in at night, give her a foot massage, a warm bath, or maybe a glass of wine (yes, it’s recommended at this point) to help her relax and fall asleep. Though you’ll both be excited because you’re about to have a baby, staying calm will help her reserve energy for when the harder part of labor comes along.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 5 of 18

    5: Bring her water and food

    Bring her water and food In early labor, she can eat as much as she wants. In fact, an awesome meal is a good thing right before several hours of hard labor. Once active labor kicks in, she may not be as hungry, but she could still use some snacks — nourishment and hydration are essential because giving birth is a workout. Some hospitals still have an outdated no food or drink policy and just permit ice chips, but most nurses and care-providers allow women to snack and sip water during labor. Ask your care-provider for an opinion. In general, it’s a good idea to pack a few protein snacks and drinks with electrolytes (i.e., Gatorade), just in case.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 6 of 18

    6: Massage her

    Massage her Not all women love being touched during the harder parts of labor, but certain kinds of touch can make a huge difference. If mom has lower back pain, she will probably love counter-pressure — pressing your hands on her lower back firmly throughout a contraction. In general, firm, full-palm, consistent downwards strokes along the back or lower back are recommended. The best way to learn how to help massage a woman through labor is in a birth class that teaches labor massage techniques.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 7 of 18

    7: Get in the shower or bath with her

    Get in the shower or bath with her Bring your bathing suit to the hospital or birthing center, or have it ready if you’re doing a home birth. Getting into the water during labor can be so effective for pain relief that some women compare it to getting a shot of narcotics. The water eases any pressure mom is feeling and soothes the muscles at the same time. The shower can be similarly relaxing — if mom has lower back pain, a removable shower head can be applied directly to the painful area. If you’re able to fit inside the shower or tub, your company and assistance will be much appreciated.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 8 of 18

    8: Support her in gravity-friendly positions

    Support her in gravity-friendly positions In active labor, women often like to lean forward on someone or something with their knees slightly bent and other legs hip-width apart. This takes the pressure off the lower back, helps put the baby in a better position and opens the pelvis, which in turn can take the edge off the pain. You can be there to literally support her when she needs someone to drape her arms around. During the pushing phase, women who don’t have pain medication often have a strong urge to be in some variation of a squat. And since we don’t squat much these days, she could use some assistance.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 9 of 18

    9: Hold her hand

    Hold her hand Women in labor like to grab onto things, especially during particularly difficult contractions. Offering your hand is a way to show support while also satisfying her urge to squeeze something. But be warned: Women in labor can squeeze unbelievably hard, seriously — bones have been broken. So during very strong contractions, only put out two fingers!

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 10 of 18

    10: Let her vocalize

    Let her vocalize Letting out moans, sobs, and other sounds can be really helpful during labor. Even if she hasn’t taken a childbirth class that has specifically dealt with vocalizing, she might naturally moan through contractions. Often the sounds end up being rhythmic, like labor itself. She may say the same word over and over, sing, or even chant — to distract herself from the pain. If her moans become too panicky and high-pitched, remind her to make low, deep sounds as they will not only help with deeper breathing and relaxation, but they actually help open the pelvis.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 11 of 18

    11: Ask simple questions

    Ask simple questions In very active labor, women are not all that psyched about sorting through choices and options. This is not to say they don’t have opinions; it’s just that making decisions can be overwhelming. “Yes” and “no” questions are much easier to handle. Shall we try the shower? How about we try walking for a bit? I have a pillow, can I tuck it under your cheek? Put a glass of water in front of her; if she drinks, she drinks. If not, take it away. Make everything as easy for her as possible.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 12 of 18

    12: Advocate for her

    Advocate for her Women in labor are extremely aware of what’s going on, but the decision-making part of their brains does not work like it usually does. So, she will have strong desires and concerns, but she won't be able to chat about them endlessly in a perky or polite way — this is where you come in. Let her focus on the labor while you step in as (temporary) director of communications.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 13 of 18

    13: Keep the BS at bay

    Keep the BS at bay Though they often don’t seem this way, women in active labor are very aware of their surroundings. Ideally that environment is one that conveys calm focus, warmth and a sense of security. You can help maintain this calm by keeping the extraneous chit-chat down (this is not the time to talk to a nurse about last night’s episode of Dexter), and if a nosy or unsupportive relative shows up, you can politely escort him or her to the waiting room. TV and movies are great in early labor, but not once the contractions become very strong and fast.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 14 of 18

    14: Get a doula

    Get a doula Couples can be surprised to learn that doctors and midwives are not always there for the entire labor — there can be many long stretches where it’s just the two of you coping. Having a professional labor support person, a doula, there can take some pressure off of you. Doulas make an effort not to replace dad, but to support him in supporting the mom. The doula might suggest ways to help with massage or positioning, for example, or do more of the advocating so you can focus more on your partner.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 15 of 18

    15: Be there

    Be there Sometimes the most important thing a partner can do is just be there, 100% focused the whole time so the woman knows she’s not alone. You don’t have to be deadly serious and on top of her, but simply be by her side. She’ll need you during early labor, active labor, pushing — basically all phases of the process.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 16 of 18

    16: Don’t be there

    Don’t be there Sometimes moms prefer to labor solely with an experienced woman and her midwife or doctor. This is very uncommon in modern American life, but it does happen. Famous French obstetrician Michel Odent found that women tend to have easier labors when there are no men around, partners included. Some religious customs also require that husbands stay away. It’s something to talk about beforehand so you’re both on the same page and happy with the decision either way.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 17 of 18

    17: Believe in her

    Believe in her Many men walk away from labor thinking the female is the superior sex for a reason. It can make a big difference to a laboring woman to know her partner is aware of her hard work and confident in not just her ability to cope with pain, but with the decisions before her as well. If mom says, “I can’t do this,” you can remind her that she’s already doing it exceptionally well.

  • How to Support Your Partner in Labor 18 of 18
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