Seeing the person you love working hard to cope with the intensity of labor as she works to bring your baby earth side can be a powerful, and at times overwhelming, experience. Here are 10 practical things you can do:
10. Keep the Birthing Space Comfy
Labour works best when women feel safe, private, and unobserved. Some simple things you can do to help are to keep the lights dim (LED candles are great for this!), keep doors and curtains closed, and keep your voice low, steady, and calm. If lights get turned on, or doors left open, simply turn them off/close them again when you're able.
9. Follow Her Rhythm
Be present with her wherever she's at - don't rush. If mom and baby are okay, then whatever time labour takes is the time it takes. A good way to get in sync with her is to breathe with her. Once you're in sync together, help her slow and deepen her breaths by slowing and deepening yours.
8. Encourage Belly Breathing
Deep breathing can help by giving her something to focus on, as well as increasing the amount of oxygen she (and baby) are getting. Try saying this when a contraction begins (remember speak low, steady, and calm): "Breathe in through your nose and deep down into your belly to baby. Breathe out through your mouth. Goooood, just like that. You've got this. One more, in through your nose...." Repeat as needed.
7. Try the Double Hip Squeeze
This tool is best used during active labour and can provide a great deal of comfort and pain relief to mom during contractions. When a contraction begins, place your hands on mom's hips and firmly squeeze in and up. When the contraction is finished, you can ask mom if she would like more pressure on the next contraction (keep questions simply - she won't have a lot of words available and you don't want her coming too much into her "thinking brain" to answer you). Check out this video to see it in action.
6. Suggest Water
As labour intensifies, offer the shower. Reassure her that if she doesn't like it after 5 contractions, she can get out again (chances are VERY good that she will like it). Have a cup of cool water with a straw outside the shower for her to sip on between contractions.
5. Use the Take Charge Routine
At some point, shit's going to get real. The coping strategies you were doing before are all of a sudden not going to work anymore. She may look and act out of control, she may sob, she may start using words like "can't" "stop" "no more". THIS IS NORMAL. Let me repeat: THIS IS NORMAL! (Doulas actually get really excited about this behavior because it often means baby isn't too far behind).
But what can you do? This is where you get close to her, eye to eye if you can, and tell her (in a firm, steady, confident voice): "You're doing a good job. Open your eyes. Watch me. Breathe with me. It's intense. YOU'VE GOT THIS. I know it's hard. You're doing so good! It's almost over. Stay with me. Stay with it. I'm here. I LOVE YOU. I'M SO PROUD OF YOU." Repeat with every contraction - it seems strange, but she will forget and need to hear it again and again.
4. Keep Her Cool While Pushing
Pushing is hot, hard work. Have a cool cloth ready to wipe her brow, and cold water with a bendy straw to sip (offer sips of water after every contraction). Have lip chap in your pocket. If she's still dressed, this is likely the point when all the clothes will come off. If she wants her modesty protected, have a bikini top for her to wear. Have a little fan or piece of cardboard to fan her with. Use an elastic to put her hair up or clips to hold it back from her face.
3. Be Her Anchor
Labour is a winding, up and down, unexpected turns journey and she needs something steady to hold on to. You can be that. Let her ride her waves, and reassure her she's doing exactly what she needs to. TRUST HER. TRUST HER. TRUST HER. Listen to her instincts and reassure her that you trust her to make the right choices. If you feel uncertain or unsure, direct your questions outwards to your doula, nurse, doctor, or midwife and then come back calm and reassured to your labouring partner.
2. Take Care of Yourself
To be her anchor, you also need to make sure you are taking care of yourself. Have snacks and drinks available for yourself. If she sleeps, you rest too. Take bathroom breaks. This is where a doula can be an excellent resource. Your doula can make sure that you are both cared for without anyone needing to be left on their own.
1. Love Her After Baby's Born
Tell her how amazing she was and how much you love her. Tell her how amazing your baby is and how much you love him/her. If she's planning to breastfeed, encourage her, support her, remind her that it takes time to learn how to do it. Bring her a snack and something to drink. Take pictures!
Remember that the most important thing you are bringing into the birthing space is your love and care for her.
No one else in the world can provide that for her, not the most skilled doula, the kindest nurse, or the most competent doctor or midwife. She will love and appreciate your attentive presence and support.
How did we do? Any tips to add? What do you wish you had known when supporting your partner through labor for the first time?
Christine is a DONA International Certified Birth Doula who brings a sense of joy, excitement, and wonder to her work. She loves to support her clients as they journey towards their own best birth and shares their pride in their accomplishments. Offering deeply intuitive care, she is able to encourage them as they uncover their own inner hopes and desires for their birth, while supporting them with the tools to achieve them.