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How to Be a Perfect Labor Partner

The Pregnancy Bible: Your Complete Guide to Pregnancy and Early Parenthood follows every step of pregnancy from conception to labor to postpartum recovery (and even early newborn care). The book, edited by OB-GYNs Joanne Stone, MD and Keith Eddleman, MD, is full of helpful guides, lists and illustrations. This excerpt, “Ways Your Partner Can Help You Through Labor,” helps labor partners prepare for their role in the delivery room.

Keep in mind that the needs of women in labor differ, so tune into what your partner wants. Here are some things you can do that may help her cope better with the process.

According to studies, women in labor have five basic needs: physical care and comfort; pain relief; the constant presence of a supportive person; unconditional acceptance and reassurance; and knowledge of what is happening. The support that a birth partner can offer has numerous positive effects. It has been shown to: decrease the need for medication and intervention; shorten labor; decrease the risk of cesarean birth; and improve outcomes for newborns.

Stay close by. Be aware that some women in labor like to be touched and others don’t. Physical touch can communicate caring and concern and prevent her feeling isolated.

Consider her position. Urge her to change position frequently, as this can help ease backache. Use pillows, rolled blankets, or towels to maximize relaxation. If she’s able to get up and walk, encourage and assist her. Some mothers use “birthing balls,” large air-filled ball on which they bounce to relieve the pain of a contraction.

Keep her clean and dry. Labor may cause a woman to move her bowels or urinate, and at some point her water will break. Help clean her quickly.

Relieve her dry mouth. Use of breathing techniques can dry out her mouth, making it feel uncomfortable, so help her drink liquids, or suck on ice chips, if permitted. Use lip balm to lubricate and moisten her lips. Also, help her brush her teeth.

Keep her cool. Apply a cool washcloth to her face, throat, or other body parts. Spray her face gently with water. Alternatively, make a fan from a washcloth, a piece of paper, or gown.

Apply a warm or cold compress. Contractions may cause back pain or cramps. Help her out by applying a warm washcloth to her back.

Massage her lower back. Ask her to lie on her side so you can give her a back rub, using lotion. This may be particularly helpful if she’s having back labor (when the pain of contractions is felt mainly in the back). However, be aware that she might prefer you to stop the massage during a contraction.

Encourage her to pass urine. A full bladder may slow down labor, so remind her to go to the bathroom often – she should try at least every hour.

Use relaxation techniques. Ideally, practice these before labor begins. One easy technique involves asking her to tighten then relax each muscle in turn, starting with her upper body and progressing slowly down to her toes.

Help with breathing techniques. Learn whatever breathing exercise she wishes to use in advance, and help her focus on it during contractions. It may help if you ask her to take a deep breath and sigh after each contraction to help “exhale tension.”

Promote rest. Keep her surroundings as peaceful as possible, and encourage her to rest to prevent exhaustion.

Assure her privacy. Respect her need – or lack of need – for clothing and draping during labor.

Offer emotional support. Whisper words of encouragement. Praise her for her tremendous effort. Tell her, “you’re doing great!” Compliment her. Use words of endearment, and, if appropriate, express your love for her. As labor progresses, tell her it’s nearly over.

How To Stay Focused On Her Needs

Each woman is unique, responds individually, and has different needs in labor, so it’s important to ask her if a particular measure is helpful or desirable. Be prepared to change tactic or give her a bit of space, if that’s what she wants. Keep in mind these key points:

Consider your purpose. What are you trying to do with your support and comfort measures? Make sure that you focus on what she wants.

Be involved. Your constant presence and attention to how she is feeling and the procedures that are being carried out are necessary to enable you to provide meaningful support.

Be prepared. Pack necessary items several weeks before the due date, and plan your route to the hospital in advance.

Keep up your energy levels. To provide effective support you need to stay energized yourself. Be sure to get something to eat and drink during labor. It’s best to take food and beverages with you. Also, take a break, if possible. Relax in a chair in the labor room or take a short walk on the unit. But don’t leave the unit – you could miss the birth.

Excerpted from The Pregnancy Bible: Your Complete Guide to Pregnancy and Early Parenthood, edited by Joanne Stone, MD and Keith Eddleman, MD. (Firefly Books; 2nd Edition September 30, 2008.)

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