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6 Tips for Supporting a Woman in Labour

Your partner is pregnant! Congratulations! It may be many months or just a few days away, but eventually the two of you are going to go through the birth process together and I’m here to help you make it as smooth as possible. You can’t go wrong with the following six birth doula secrets.

Time Contractions (but just a few)

It’s so easy to get obsessed with timing contractions once they finally start. You’re excited! This is it! However, you cannot be a good support while glued to your phone nor can you get any better sense of what is happening with the labour by timing every single one. Time 3 and then wait an hour. Whatever pattern those 3 fall into is the pattern. No need to time more until it changes.

Remember Food and Water (and bathroom breaks – but not in a frantic way)

Labour burns lots of calories and women need food to keep their strength up plus a dehydrated uterus won’t contract efficiently. Even if she says she feels nauseous, offer suggestions of food and drink regularly. Don’t ask what she wants, offer specific options. Toast with peanut butter? A banana? Water? Coconut water? A straw is always a good idea.

You both need bathroom breaks. You need them because you’ll get fidgety and weird if you hold it for hours on end and she needs them because her bladder and baby’s head will compete for space in her pelvis. Not emptying it regularly can hold the baby up so put that on your checklist of things to remind her.

Be A Calming Physical Presence (but not in a frantic way)

The best advice I can give here is to slow down. I have seen countless partners let their nervousness show through agitated, light-speed petting. Slow down. A steady hand on the back or a firm shoulder massage are plenty. When in doubt ask quietly but clearly if she would like a cool washcloth for her forehead.

Don’t Rush To The Hospital (as long as possible)

Ina May Gaskin has a wonderful chapter in her book, Guide To Childbirth about what she calls “sphincter law”. Long chapter short: the cervix is a sphincter that opens (or doesn’t) involuntarily. The change of venue from your house to the hospital (or birth centre) means a car ride, bright lights, strangers, and poking and prodding. Once labor is really on it’s way, all those things won’t make a difference but at the beginning, the cervix can be skittish. Stay at home where mom can be comfortable until her contraction pattern is strong and regular.

Above All Else, Between Contractions

One of the most annoying and distracting things when a woman is trying to focus in labor is having someone – anyone – talk around her, or worse, asking her to answer questions, in the middle of a contraction. As soon as she begins to grow quiet during contractions (this may start at the beginning of labor or it may only happen as she gets into active labor), you should too. Bonus points if you remind other people to hush up so she can concentrate.

Follow Your Gut, Not The Book

You know your partner better than anyone – what she likes, what she thinks smells bad, what makes her cranky, what helps her relax. Definitely do some reading ahead of time to help familiarise yourself with labour but when the big day comes, don’t worry about finding the right page. Just breathe, remind her to breathe and trust yourself. Remember that while you may not be an expert in labour, you are an expert in her.

The first time your partner goes into labor, you won’t feel like an experienced birth doula. I know that. But I think, in general, partners are flooded with too much information about how to do everything perfectly while being constantly reminded, via not-so-funny cultural anecdotes, about all the times partners have screwed up during the birth process. Try not to worry too much. As long as you keep the above in mind, you’ll be fine. I promise.

 

©photo by Imkemper is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 2.0

Emma Summer photo

Emma is a birth and postpartum doula and blogs about babies, birth, parenting, and food at Your Fonder Heart. She would love to hear your birth story.

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