Gone are the days of dropping the laboring mom off at the hospital and Dad waiting for the news that all was well and his new baby was here. Not only are Dads and Partners expected to be in the birth room, but they are also expected to support moms during an experience that they have never had before.
As a childbirth educator, a coach and a doula, I am often asked how Dads and Partners can best support the laboring mom during birth.
Here are my top tips:
Birth is Happening to Both of You
Even though the physical part is happening to mom, you are both affected by the transformation of birth. If you need too, shift your perspective to see this as a journey that you are both on. Doing so will help you both feel more connected through this experience.
The more you learn about labour the better prepared you will be. Take a birth preparation class or natural pain management session to get a clear sense of the stages of labour, how women can behave during each stage, and what you can do to help.
Watching birth videos will help you get comfortable with a wide variety of sounds and movements laboring women make and do. One book I highly recommend for Dads and Partners is The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. This classic is updated regularly and continues tons of great tips and wisdom for before, during, and after labor.
Once you have taken a class, have at least one (if not several) discussions about what your preferences are for an ideal birth AND what they are if things do not go as you hope.
By having a clear sense of what her wishes are you can better support her, especially if a decision needs to be made. I also recommend establishing a code word or signal that mom can use if she is unable to talk and she needs your help.
Practice Makes Perfect
The more the two of you practice different movements, positions, and massage for labour the easier it will be to get into a connected flow during the big day. Pick one a day and practice it for 5 min.
You will get a better sense of where to touch her in a way that is helpful and supportive. And Mom can give you more constructive feedback during practice then she can during regular contractions. Once you both have a sense of what she likes best practice those daily in the weeks leading up to your birth.
Recognize and Acknowledge Your Feelings
Birth is a marathon. You will feel tired. You may be awake longer than you planned. You may have more physical strain than you expected. At times, you will feel useless, confused, and even frustrated. Take a moment to acknowledge your feelings when you are able.
Make sure that you take care of your basic needs so you can continue to support mom. Mom needs to stay hydrated and use the bathroom often during labour. Make sure you are getting short breaks as well. Once Mom reaches the transition stage of labour she will need you by her side so try to avoid taking breaks after that. She is in too vulnerable a place to be alone.
What to Say During Labour
During birth, there will be times that your partner will need your reassurance. If this is your first time attending a labour yourself, it can be hard to feel you can offer encouragement from a place of authenticity.
It’s a good idea to talk with each other before about what she would like you to say to her. I always ask my clients if they are having a tough day what do they want their husband or partner to do to help them feel better. This is a good place to start during labour as you already have these tools in your toolbox.
Be as calm and reassuring as possible when you speak to her. Many partners get nervous and try to talk to moms during contractions. Wait till the contraction is over and then talk.
A word to the wise, don’t ask her if she’s ok. Mom may be many things but feeling like she is ok (especially during her first birth) is not likely. Instead:
- Acknowledge and validate how hard she is working right now.
- Tell her that you love her.
- Tell her that you believe in her.
- Tell her that you are proud of her.
- Tell her she is doing a great job handling this.
- Tell her that she’s going to get through this.
- Tell her that she is one contraction closer to meeting her baby.
Your Own Reassurance:
If you are feeling nervous (and there will be times that you will feel that way), your partner will pick up on that energy and it can affect her. To avoid this, ask your care providers how things are going. They see births every day. They can reassure you that what she is doing is perfectly normal and everything is proceeding well. By doing so you will feel more confident and be able to keep supporting her. If you are worried about asking this while she’s in the room, wait until she’s having a bathroom break.
Don’t Take it Personally
I always tell Dads and Partners that I am giving them a “doula shield” for labour. This can help you remember that anything that she says or does that feels hurtful is because she is in labour. And that it does not have any short or long term ramifications on your partnership.
If she says this something isn’t working, don’t take it personally, let it go and try something else. And if she says worse than that, let it bounce off of you.
Finally, here are a few more tips:
- Know when you should head to the hospital or call the midwife. Typically, if your water breaks or if you are having contractions that are at the 5-1-1 point of labour.
- Get over your inhibitions: make the same noises she is along with her, dance with her, cuddle, do everything you can to help. Don’t worry if you look foolish – in her eyes, you will be a superhero and that’s all that matters.
- Make sure that you are staying close to her often. The more you do so, the more it helps to increase her natural oxytocin, which helps with labour.
- Do your best to be comfortable with her uncomfortableness.
- Never underestimate the power of a cold cloth and/or offering your hand to squeeze (especially during pushing).
- Keep your breath fresh. For real! She won’t be able to focus on the beautiful things you are telling her if you have stale coffee breath. Make sure to have breath mints close at hand and use them.
And if all else fails, consider hiring a Doula! Doulas are trained birth professionals that offer support during this experience. They make sure to include Dads and Partners to feel like they are part of this experience too. Often at births I am spending time helping Dads and Partners to support Momon what to do for Mom to build that support.
If you want to learn more about our Doula services, click HERE
Please Note: Many of the images for this post came from this beautiful collection