The Partner's Guide to Labor Support

Paper Crane Birth Services Birth Partner

Birth partners, this one is for you! There's a lot of wonderful information out there for pregnant people and how they can prepare for giving birth - but what about you? You want to be helpful. You want your birthing person to feel safe and secure with you to lean on. You want to help your partner feel like the amazing, powerful person you know they are! But...what if you've never supported a birth before? I see you and I hear you, birth partner, and I'm going to doula you through this! 

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A Disclaimer:

This is NOT a comprehensive guide! It is not meant as a substitute for birth class. This guide is a supplement to any preparations you are already making. All birth partners are encouraged to take prenatal education with their birthing person (read about my birth class offerings here) and learn as much as possible in preparation to support your partner's labor and birth.


Early Labor

What it looks like:  Your birthing person may tell you their water broke, or that they're starting to feel contractions. They'll probably be able to have regular conversations but may need to pause at the peak of contractions

What you can do: Help them alternate labor enhancing activities - rest/relax, distract, and prepare.

Rest/Relax: Encourage your partner to nap or sleep, especially if labor begins in the middle of the night. If it's daytime, alternate rest with other activities. You can also go through progressive relaxation exercises (I love this one) with your partner to help practice staying calm for when things get more intense later. 

Distract: Early labor can feel like waiting for paint to dry. Help your partner take their mind off waiting for labor to pick up! You can watch TV/movies, play games, listen to podcasts, or take a walk. Encourage them to eat nourishing foods and hydrate. You can also lead them in birth affirmations, or help them climb stairs or bounce on the birth ball. 

Prepare: Use this time to do things Future You will thank you for! Double check the birth bag is packed/home birth supplies are set up. Finish up any postpartum meal prep you're working on. Cross off any baby-related to-dos off your list. Make any phone calls letting VIPs know that today is the day!


Active Labor

What it looks like: You'll likely be at the birth place if you weren't already. The birthing person may appear more serious, more focused, or more intense than before. They will probably need more help from you to cope with contractions.

What you can do: Active labor requires active support! You will protect the birthing space by making sure the environment is supportive and in line with the desires of the laboring person, and you will be guiding the laboring person through each contraction, one at a time.

Focus on them: At this point, the focus of everyone in the room should be solely on the birthing person. There should be no phones, music, or television unless the birthing person wants it. Conversation should be limited to what's going on in the birth and making the birthing person feel more comfortable - unless they ask for chit-chat as a distraction. It's good to speak low "yoga" voices. Others will usually follow your lead with these things, but it's okay to ask them specifically if needed. 

Change things up when needed: Now is the time to suggest position changes, or changes in scenery, like walking or going into the bathroom and shutting the door. You can lead your partner in breathing exercises, offer them words of encouragement and talk them through each contraction from start to finish. 

Listen to your partner...and don't take it personally: You will be offering comfort by trial and error. If the laboring person doesn't like something you're doing, they might not be able to tell you so in a gentle way. Try not to be hurt if they are short with you - it is usually the contractions talking! If they reject a suggestion or tell you to stop doing something, accept it and move on to something else. 



What it looks like: The laboring person may become very verbal now, saying things like "I can't do this, I want to go home," etc. They may repeat these things over and over, or they may cry, or moan, or vomit, or just go to "labor land," and seem unaware of what's going on around them. 

What you can do: This is the most intense phase of labor, but it's also the shortest. The birthing person needs a ton of support now. Here's how: 

Help them see the light: At the end of the tunnel, that is! They need to understand they are almost done. If they say "I can't do this," you can respond by firmly saying "You CAN do this. You ARE doing this!" Remind them that they are strong, tell them how proud you are. Validate their feelings, encourage them, and reassure them. You can say things like, "I know you're exhausted/in pain/afraid, but I know you can do this and I'm here to help you through it. You are safe." Learn the Take Charge Routine (featured in Penny Simkin's book, The Birth Partner, which I highly recommend) and use it when necessary. 

Reduce stimulation and give privacy: Continue reducing light and sound according to the brithing person's needs. Reduce/eliminate massage during contractions. A hand on the shoulder or leg of the birthing person might help keep them grounded, but be sure not to rub. If possible, keep the room free of nonessential people. 



What it looks like: The birthing person will announce they feel the urge to push, or say something like "The baby is coming!" Or, a healthcare provider will tell the birthing person they're fully dilated and that it's okay to push. 

What you can do: This is the moment you've been working toward!

The home stretch: Encourage your birthing person in the same way you would cheer on a marathon runner approaching the finish line. Remind them what a great job they're doing, how strong they are, that they're almost done, and how proud you are. Remind them that they can look into the mirror or touch the baby's head while it's crowning - this can help them realize they really are almost done!

Literally support them: Hold up their leg, let them lean against you, or offer your hand to squeeze. 

Keep it positive: Stay away from phrases like, "How are you doing this??" or "This is so gross." Even if your birthing person has a great sense of humor, now is probably not the right time. Be encouraging!

Breathe: Remind them to breathe when they need to and listen to their body. You also need to listen to YOUR body. If you start feeling faint or dizzy while your partner is giving birth, it is okay to ask a nurse or other support person to take your place and sit down for a minute. Passing out in the delivery room isn't helpful to anyone! 



Photo by  sydney Rae  on  Unsplash

Photo by sydney Rae on Unsplash

You can do it!

Birth partners, I really hope you're feeling prepared and excited to support your partner through their labor! If you have any questions or you'd like to talk about how I can support you as your doula, comment below or book a free consultation with me!

Feel a little overwhelmed? I've got you covered! I've created a handy cheat sheet you can download and take with you to the birth place. Get it by filling out the form below!