For most people, labor is hard work. It also can be incredibly powerful and transformative, particularly if both the birther and her partner feel present, prepared and supported. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know that I’m a big advocate for empowered births, and a partner’s role in enabling an empowered birth is critical. Most birthers spend hours laboring at home before going to the hospital, so in most cases, you (the partner) will be the only support she has during that time.
Below, I’ve outlined four ways for a partner to show up and support the birther during labor, directly impacting her physical comfort, emotional state and the overall labor experience.
- Do your homework. It’s so important to understand the phases of labor so that you can best know how labor is progressing and how to support the birther according to what she’s experiencing physically and emotionally. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way by Susan McCutcheon is an amazing resource that describes each stage of labor according to what’s happening physically as contractions open the cervix and prepare the body for childbirth. The book then describes the emotional roadmap of labor, describing the emotional signposts –excited, serious, self doubt — that alert the partner to a very reliable map of the experience of labor that post people have from beginning to end. Understanding all aspects of labor — frequency of contractions, length of contractions and emotional signposts — collectively is the only way to accurately determine how labor is progressing, which is critical to effectively coaching and supporting the birther.
- Be her advocate. I’ve heard so many birthers express disappointment about their birth experience because they felt their wishes weren’t being heard by hospital staff. For soft-spoken or non-confrontational birthers (myself included), that can be a legitimate concern. My husband is direct and fearlessly protective of me, so for that reason and many others, I was relieved to have him by my side during labor. While I was pregnant, we spent a lot of time reviewing my birth plan, not only what I wanted, but what I desperately wanted to avoid. We got familiar with the consequences of routine hospital care like sweeping membranes, epidurals and Pitocin so that we could make educated decisions in the moment. Even if your plans change, you’ll be so glad you had the conversation in advance. I cannot stress how important this simple discussion was for us, particularly after 24 hours of labor at home when my birth plan went sideways.
- Ease her discomfort. There are so many ways to help the birther feel more comfortable and at ease, particularly during the early stages of labor. Foot massages, back rubs, cold washcloths, heating pads and guided breathing seem simple but can go a really long way. Once my contractions got more intense, I was surprised how effective the famous hip squeeze was as counterpressure to lessen my pain. Labor loves movement, so knowing a handful of good positions to labor in can help keep the birther moving and labor progressing. The Doula’s Guide to Empowering Your Birth by Lindsey Bliss is a great, accessible resource on tools like these for labor.
- Talk her through it. Words of affirmation can be incredibly powerful. When I was creating my birth plan, my midwife said that she often asks her clients to write a list of positive phrases that they’d like to hear during the more difficult phases of labor to give them strength and comfort. Meaningful, heart-felt encouragement can go far, especially if “words of affirmation” is the new mom’s love language. Another way to help the birther through discomfort is by guiding her through contractions, either through breathing, guided visualizations (like waves crashing on the shore or a flower blooming) or both. Natural Childbirth the Bradley Way is a good resource for examples of guided visualizations to use according to different stages of labor.