How To Support Your Partner During Labor
While labor is primarily a mother’s journey, there are a number of things a partner can do to greatly influence her overall experience.
While labor is primarily a mother’s journey, there are a number of things a partner can do to greatly influence her overall experience. Labor can be an incredibly moving and emotional experience filled with love and gratitude and sheer awe. It can be fun and exciting and peaceful. It’s important to know that labor while it can be short in duration, can be a long journey for some, particularly for first time mothers. It is both mentally and physically demanding and a woman needs to relax both her mind and body while maintaining her strength and concentration throughout what can feel like a marathon. For a partner offering support, the objectives are to help alleviate pain and discomfort, facilitate relaxation and to help her pace herself and not tire too early. There are many ways a partner can offer support during this time and in preparation for labor to help ensure the best possible birthing experience for you both. Following are some suggestions:
Familiarize yourself with the route to the hospital or birthing center including some alternate routes to account for heavy traffic. Take a tour of the labor and delivery ward and register early, completing paperwork online to save you the time and inconvenience not to mention potential delays when you arrive in labor. Keep the family car fueled and the baby seat in the trunk as you approach your due date to reduce your chances of unnecessary delays when the time comes. Have your hospital bags packed including copies of your birth plan.
Know the stages of labor
Familiarizing yourself with the different stages of labor (there are three) and what to expect with each stage helps you know how and when you can best assist your partner. You may choose to take a birthing class with your partner or read any number of the informative books or websites available but just knowing what’s involved, means you can take initiative when she may be too focused or distracted to let you know what she needs.
Stage 1 (consisting of three phases):
Phase 1: Early (or latent) labor. This is the least intense phase of labor and can last 8-12 hours. Contractions are mild to moderate and get longer and stronger as labor progresses.
Start timing contractions periodically from the beginning of one to the beginning of the next. You can time them more frequently when they are coming less than 10 minutes apart.
Stay relaxed and help your partner relax. Offer comfort and reassurance. Help distract your partner with a walk, play a board game or watch a movie together. If it’s the middle of the night, help her to continue sleeping by taking care of other children if the need arises. Remember to keep up your strength, too – rest when you can, eat regularly – so that you’re best able to help her stay strong.
Phase 2: Active labor. This phase usually lasts 2-3 hours, but can be significantly shorter or longer. By this time, you should be in the hospital, birth center or en route to one. Contractions have intensified, become longer and occur more frequently with less time in between to rest.
This is when relaxation techniques are helpful as well as encouragement to help her withstand the waves of pain and discomfort. If she’s willing, this is when she might opt for an epidural or another drug for pain relief.
Keep track of the contractions. If your partner is on a monitor, ask the nurse to show you how to read it. You can lend encouragement by announcing when each peak is ending. You can also learn to recognize the beginning and ending of each contraction with your hand on her abdomen.
Keep a peaceful atmosphere in the room with lights low, door closed and sound levels low. Some soft music might be appreciated or a cozy movie. You may have brought scented oils from home that you can diffuse. Remind her to relax in the time between contractions. Continue to practice relaxation techniques if your partner is appreciating them. If allowed, help keep her hydrated and remind her also to urinate regularly (at least once an hour).
Communicate any needs with the medical staff and answer questions on your partner’s behalf if you can – perhaps even outside the room, allowing her to rest and focus. Enquire about equipment, procedures and medications so you can explain to your partner what is happening or what options you have if there is the need to make any decisions.
Phase 3: Transitional labor. This is the most challenging phase of labor and can last a few minutes to several hours. Contractions intensify further and last longer with a very intense peak that lasts for most of the contraction. There may be multiple peaks that can make it very difficult to rest between these contractions. Continue to offer encouragement and remind her that with every contraction, you are closer to meeting your baby. Remind her to try to relax between contractions and help guide her with breathing exercises if it’s appreciated. If contractions seem to be getting closer, or your partner is feeling the urge to push, inform the nurse or midwife as she may be fully dilated.
Stage 2: Pushing and delivery. This stage of active pushing can last minutes to hours and culminates in the birth of your baby. Continue to give encouragement and support and periodically inform her of her progress. Tell her when you can see the baby or when the baby is crowning so she feels she is close. Hold her hand or support her back during her pushes. Don’t be offended if certain things you say or do are not appreciated. At this point, all her energy is focused on delivering your baby. Your presence might just be all the comfort she needs and a whispered “I love you” or “you’re amazing” goes a long way. Stay relaxed and excited, which reinforces the same for her also.
Stage 3: Delivery of the placenta. Once the baby is born, delivery of the placenta lasts about 5-10 minutes. If she’s experiencing the chills, this can be alleviated with a warm blanket. After praising your amazing partner, and holding and bonding with the baby, help your partner hydrate. If it hasn’t already been offered, arrange something appropriate for her to eat. Update family and friends and listen to instructions from medical personnel if being transferred to a new room. Ask questions about newborn tests and vaccines that are administered soon after birth so you can be prepared to make decisions with your partner.
Congratulations on welcoming your baby into the world!
By Ishbel Kerkez