Childbirth is beautiful and miraculous, but for many women, it’s also the most physically demanding experience of their lives. Good support is invaluable to a laboring mom. But if you’re not prepared, it can be easy to feel helpless and unsure of how to best lend a hand. Fortunately, there are many simple, practical things you can do as a partner to provide rock solid support for mom in labor.
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The Importance of Support for Mom in Labor
According to the World Health Organization and numerous studies, women who have prepared, consistent labor support report more positive perceptions of their birth experiences (1). And well-supported moms also have shorter labors, less pain, and don’t need as many labor interventions (2). With this in mind, The American College of Gynecologists and Obstetricians recommends that in addition to nursing care, all women have “continuous one-to-one emotional support” during labor (3).
Isn’t it incredible that having good support can make such a significant difference? And YOU can be that type of support for the mom in your life, just by educating yourself and coming into the experience prepared.
Support for Mom in Labor: Physical
You may feel like there isn’t anything you can do to help a laboring mom from a physical standpoint. After all, you can’t stop contractions or snap your fingers for instant dilation. But while discomfort and yes, even pain, will still be a part of the birth process, there are ways you can help ease some of it.
Touch and massage are powerful tools you can use to support mom during labor. Massage her throughout the contraction to ease the discomfort of tense, sore muscles. At the same time, your massage will provide some amount of distraction from the pain of the contraction by drawing her attention to other parts of her body. Massage her hips, back, hands, feet, legs…whatever she wants! Let her guide you!
You can use your hands, or bring along simple tools like a tennis ball to help provide massage while saving your finger muscles. Gentler touches can be helpful to. Reassuringly rub her back, stroke her hair, hold her hand — your touch will help her stay connected and remind her that you’re there.
Applying pressure in the right way and in the right places can help tremendously to ease labor pain. I delivered one posterior baby, and as is often the case with babies in the posterior position, I had significant back pain. I don’t know how I would have gotten through it without my husband applying counter pressure to my lower back and doing the double hip squeeze. In another birth, I needed constant massage of my legs and hip flexors. (You’ll learn all about these types of pressure techniques in your online natural childbirth class.)
Rhythm and Ritual
Help mom get into a rhythm and ritual during her contractions. Think of the rhythmic way you would soothe a crying baby–it’s all about creating calming, predictable rituals. In labor, creating rhythm and ritual could mean breathing rhythmically to match the pace of mom’s own gentle breathing pattern. Or, It could mean holding her close and swaying from side to side throughout each contraction. Maybe it’s pressing an ice pack into the small of her back when the contraction starts until it ends. Do all you can to support any rhythms and rituals that she finds soothing.
Your presence is so important to the laboring mama you’re supporting. From the time mom is in active labor until the baby is born, try to stay close to her side (unless you have to go to the bathroom, of course 😉 ). And consider avoiding your phone unless you’re doing something helpful, like sending mama-approved updates to loved ones. She can’ts step away or disengage from the intensity of the labor experience, so by staying physically close and emotionally present, you let her know that you’re there with her for the duration. By simply being there, you will bring comfort and reassurance.
Support for Mom in Labor: Emotional
A laboring woman experiences much more than just the physical changes in her body. The challenge of labor pains, imminent motherhood, and hormone shifts during labor combine to create a tremendously emotional event. As someone who knows mom better than almost anyone else, providing emotional support is where labor partners shine!
When labor gets hard, mom may start to feel like she’s losing control both physically and emotionally. She will look to you to know that everything is okay and that she can do it. Keep your words encouraging, positive, and supportive.
Be Her Voice
It can be very hard to advocate for yourself or make your wishes or needs known when you’re using all the energy you’ve got to get through labor. Be careful that you’re not talking over mom, but do help amplify her voice. This could mean finding a nurse to get something mom needs, helping her stick to her birth plan, or helping her express her desires when it comes to interventions.
Support for Mom in Labor: Professional
If you’re feeling overwhelmed with the physicality of childbirth or the responsibility of being the only one there to provide support for mom in labor, you’re not alone. Many partners feel this way. In cases like this, consider hiring a labor doula. While doulas are expert at providing comfort and experience for mom, doulas also support dads and help you tag-team mom’s needs.
Support for Mom in Labor Starts Now
Believe it or not, some of the biggest things you can do to support mom in labor actually happen long before labor. Start now that you can both know what to expect during birth and the newborn phase, enabling you to be prepared for what will come later.
Talk it Out
First and foremost, talk together now about what mom’s plans and goals are for her birth experience. Are there specific things she envisions to her “ideal” birth? Does she want to birth in the hospital, or maybe at home or in a birth center? Is she planning an epidural or a natural birth? Try to get on the same page with expectations as much as possible, as soon as possible.
Take a high-quality natural childbirth class together during the pregnancy. (Here’s the online birthing class that I teach!) Together you’ll learn a wide variety of labor coping tools. This will include things like deep relaxation, breathing techniques, and labor positions. Be sure to find a class that includes partners in the preparation, offering specific instruction for labor support. Practicing what you learn together in your class before labor will empower you to support her during contractions when labor actually begins.
Practice Makes Perfect
And though I just said it, it’s worth saying again. Be sure to practice the tools you learn in your childbirth class regularly in the weeks leading up to baby’s due date. Having practiced and become comfortable with things like breathing patterns and relaxation techniques is significantly more effective than just knowing they exist and trying to use them “on the fly.” Maybe even set up a “mock labor” date night where you run through the coping tools together.
Being a supportive partner during childbirth can be hard work, but it’s also a meaningful way to show your love both for mom and your baby-to-be. Working together to bring your baby into the world is unifying and empowering, and worth all the preparation you can give it!
Kopa Birth’s online birthing classes allow you to prepare for a natural hospital birth from the comfort of your own home, 24/7. Enroll today in our free online childbirth class and start preparing for your natural birth!
- Lunda, P., Minnie, C. S., & Benadé, P. (2018). Women’s experiences of continuous support during childbirth: a meta-synthesis. BMC pregnancy and childbirth, 18(1), 167. https://doi.org/10.1186/s12884-018-1755-8
- Counselling for Maternal and Newborn Health Care: A Handbook for Building Skills. Geneva: World Health Organization; 2013. 10, SUPPORT DURING LABOUR AND CHILDBIRTH. Available from: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304186/
- Committee Opinion No. 687: Approaches to Limit Intervention During Labor and Birth, Obstetrics & Gynecology: February 2017 – Volume 129 – Issue 2 – p e20-e28