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Here's How To Help Your Partner During Labor (Without Making Things Worse)

My husband wanted to help me when I was in labor with our first child. He really did. But here's why it's important to figure out how to help your partner when she is in labor ahead of time: Instead of giving me ice chips, he nervously chomped all of them — and left me none. At one point, the OB needed to ask him something (it was a very long labor), and he left the washcloth flat on my face and walked away. And when it came time to push, he yanked my neck so hard as he, the OB, and the labor and delivery nurse counted (I had a hard time keeping my chin tucked to my chest) that he wound up putting me in traction for three days postpartum. So while you might have the best of intentions, it's easy to mess with your sweetie's labor.

“Giving birth is an exciting, and sometimes overwhelming event," Shelly Taft, Licensed Practical Nurse (LPN), Doula, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC) tells Romper in an email. “Partners especially can feel overwhelmed and unsure of how to best support the laboring parent.” While surprises can (and will happen), having an understanding that you are there to support, guide, and love your partner through the process can make all the difference during delivery.

These strategies below can help soothe your partner during labor and help make her more comfortable as you welcome your new baby into the world.

1
Have A Discussion Ahead Of Time
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There are opportune (and very inopportune) times to ask your partner if she needs something while she’s in labor. That’s why you should have some basic ideas down in advance, such as how she would like to be supported, says Taft. “You should find out things like, ‘Does the birthing parent enjoy massages, and are they reassured by touch? Do they prefer verbal support and encouragement?’” Although things might turn on a dime during labor, having a previous understanding can help both of you feel reassured in your roles.

2
Don’t Ask Too Many Questions

Sure, you want to be a good partner and offer her choices, but there might be a point (especially during the later stages of labor), when your partner isn't able to pick between options. “During the birth, many birthing parents will reach a point in the labor when they withdraw into themselves and can no longer communicate well,” says Taft. “So don’t overwhelm the birthing parent during this time with too many options; their brains can’t process that information when they are concentrating on birth.” So even though you just want to know if she wants apple juice or water, just follow her body cues (i.e. a nod of the head), and don’t rely on a verbal answer.

3
Advocate For Your Partner

As labor progresses, there might be a point where bigger decisions need to be made. And if your partner is in a lot of pain, she might not be able to think clearly. That’s when you’ll have to advocate for her. For example, if the doctor is about to perform an episiotomy (and your partner was previously against it), ask her if that’s okay, advises Taft, who says: “It’s all about protecting the birthing space."

4
Be Supportive… And Flexible

Although you and your partner originally opted for a natural birth, there might be a point where she’s begging for an epidural. As her partner, it’s up to you to support (and not challenge) her choices. “Remember that minds can change when in actual labor,” says Taft. “As the partner, you can remind the birthing parent of their original goal and offer encouragement, but if they continue to say they want an epidural, for example, then support that choice.” And don’t make your partner feel guilty if she decides to go in a different direction during delivery.

5
Validate Her Feelings

Birth can be a rollercoaster both physically and emotionally, and sometimes, it doesn’t always go as planned. So if things suddenly switch and your partner needs an emergency C-section, for example, you should be there to support her feelings. “When things don’t go as we want it to, it can be very upsetting and a lot for the birthing parent to process,” says Taft. Instead of saying something like, “You and the baby are healthy, and that’s all that matters,” listen and validate your partner’s feelings without criticism. You might find that you need to process your own feelings, too.

6
Offer Reassurance
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Everyone wants to feel like they’re doing a good job, especially a mom-to-be in the throes of labor. “One of the best ways for a partner to support a laboring mother is to continuously provide reassurance and tell her how great she is and how strong she is, and to always ask for feedback,” registered nurse Jamie O'Day, RN, tells Romper in an email. While you don’t have to applaud every push, be sincere in your reassurance and look to your partner to see her reaction.

7
Ask For Feedback

Yes, your partner loves back rubs, and they might have been helpful between contractions. But it’s always a good idea to check in with her to ensure that whatever you’re doing is helping — and not hurting. “Sometimes the massage that felt good 10 minutes ago will no longer feel good in the present moment, and it's not personal!” advises O’Day.

8
Become A Massage Maven

To offset the pain of labor, massage can help a momma to feel better during delivery. Thing is, you don’t want to rub your partner the wrong way—literally. O’Day says that you can offer an awesome massage by doing the following: During contractions, follow the patterns of the contraction, meaning that when the contraction starts, the partner will start with their hands on the shoulders with light pressure, and then gradually move their hands down the back applying more pressure on the back as the contraction continues. Says O’Day: “The most amount of pressure being applied to the lower back should happen at the peak of the contraction, and then as the contraction eases up, partner moving their hands back up the back and lightening the pressure as they go.”

9
Serve Drinks With A Straw

Even if your partner is thirsty, she might not be able to handle a cup, particularly if she’s in pain or in an awkward position. That doesn’t mean that she should go thirsty, though. “Offer her water with a straw, by placing it by her mouth,” says Murphy. “She will drink if she wants to.”

10
Make The Room Comfortable

Even though birthing rooms have come a long way, they can still feel somewhat sterile. So help your partner feel better during labor by making the room to her liking. “Be sure the temperature is good, light battery-powered candles, dim the lights, or even use a diffuser to set a calming mood,” Melissa Murphy, a doula in New York City, tells Romper in an email. It can help her to relax and have a better birthing experience.

While your partner might be the star of the show while she’s in labor, you still play a very important role. Supporting, advocating (and yes, loving) her during this difficult time can help make her delivery easier — and allow you to both meet your newborn baby sooner.

Experts:

Shelly Taft, licensed practical nurse (LPN), doula, and International Board Certified Lactation Consultant (IBCLC)

Jamie O'Day, RN, IBCLC, registered nurse and co-founder of Boston NAPS

Melissa Murphy, certified doula in New York City