The good news is that childbirth is not an emergency. More good news: there are LOTS of effective ways to prepare. Even though you can’t predict your precise birth experience, you can learn enough to feel more confident in your ability to provide support, no matter the situation. The best way to prepare for supporting someone in labor and birth is to take a quality childbirth class (like a Lamaze childbirth class) where you will learn an in-depth understanding of the many kinds of ways birth can unfold, and what to do in different situations.
In the meantime, we have a short list of tips for providing support during active labor. Active labor is the phase of labor when contractions are in a consistent pattern and are generally intense enough to require concentration and coping through each one.
- Observe and learn – Watch your partner during contractions (and in between). What are they doing naturally to cope? Is it working? When it comes to supporting your partner, follow their lead. If they are coping well, maybe just stay close and be present. If it looks like they could use some support, offer to help with one of the coping techniques you’ve learned for labor.
- Attend, but don’t disturb – Sometimes your partner may be coping great, using rhythm and rituals all on their own during contractions. If this is the case, stay close but don’t interrupt their flow.
- Offer and suggest, but don’t insist – Sometimes it’s helpful and desired to have new coping and comfort measures offered or suggested. But if your partner isn’t feeling what you’re offering, don’t take it personally. Go back to following their lead and remaining present.
- Honor the space during and between contractions – During a contraction is not the time to have outside conversations or ask your partner questions. They are in a moment of deep concentration. Between contractions, keep questions simple (yes or no) and conversations quiet and to a minimum.
- Be interactive when desired – Your partner may need or desire more than your presence and prefer that you actively support and comfort them during and between contractions. Talk with your partner in advance of labor to find out about their preferences, then reassess during labor and birth.
- Just be present – At times, your presence is all that’s needed. And that’s perfectly fine!
- Encouragement is always welcome – Actively encourage your partner by telling them they’re doing a great job, that birth is unfolding just how it’s supposed to, etc.
- Gentle reminders – Depending on what you’ve rehearsed or learned for coping in labor, you may offer gentle reminders if they appear to forget or want suggestions.
- Talk to caregivers privately about concerns – If you have concerns about your partner or your baby, it’s best to speak initially with caregivers privately so as not to distract or cause anxiety for your partner.
- Work together with your doula – If you have a doula, work together with them to support your partner. The best support comes as a team effort!
- Don’t leave – The best support is also continuous. If you have to leave, be sure there’s a back up support person devoted exclusively to your partner, if possible.
To learn more about specific comfort measures, take a childbirth class and read a good book on labor support, like The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin.
Photo by Hussein Altameemi from Pexels