Tips for Supporting a Woman in Labor
At any birth, the stars of the show are the new mom and baby, while the doctors and nurses are the experts. Whether you are the dad-to-be, or another relative or friend of the new mother’s who has been asked to be a support person at the birth, don’t downplay your role as a support person. Your presence could make the difference between the laboring woman staying focused on the task at hand, or her becoming stressed out and feeling vulnerable. Here are some things to keep in mind as a labor support person:
Familiarize Yourself With Her Birth Preferences
Even if doesn’t have a formal birth plan, you still need to know how she envisions her birth unfolding and her hopes and fears about the process. Keep in mind that things may change, whether because an emergency arises or simply because she changes her mind. Being familiar with the birth plan will allow you to remind her of her wishes when things get intense (and they will), or be her voice when she’s too focused to speak up for herself.
While some women have quick, easy labors, it is more common for a woman to be in labor for many hours and the process is hard, messy work. A woman in labor goes through a wide range of emotions, from ecstatic about meeting her baby, to irritable at anyone or anything that disturbs her focus. She may even cycle through these emotions so rapidly it makes your head spin. If she snaps at you, realize that she needs to focus and give her the space to do what she needs to do.
Understand Your Role
The role of a labor coach is to provide support and encouragement to the laboring woman and to help keep her as comfortable as possible. This may include massage, reminding her to keep breathing, or even being her voice when talking would break her focus.
Listen and Observe
A laboring woman’s needs may change unexpectedly, and you’ll need to pay attention. Sometimes a laboring woman will tell you what she needs. Other times she’ll be too focused to speak and you’ll need to watch for cues as to what she may need. When she’s in the zone, it’s a good idea to still offer massage, sips of water, help changing position (if she looks like she’s trying to move), or other things that she has previously found helpful. If she doesn’t want it, she’ll wave you off or otherwise let you know.
A laboring woman has moments when she is ready to just call it quits and try again tomorrow. Obviously, this isn’t an option. The good news is, those moments are most intense right before the baby arrives. If she was determined to avoid pain medication, this may be the time when she starts to waver and ask for it, or other interventions that she may have wanted to avoid. Remind her of her reasons for wanting to avoid them and let her know that she is strong and she can do this. This doesn’t mean she can’t change her mind. If she still wants something different after being reminded of her plans, your job is to support her decision.
Don’t Forget to Take Care of Yourself
Don’t be afraid to take a break if you need to. Giving birth is often a long process and can be overwhelming, not just for the woman in labor. Don’t be afraid to take breaks when things are calm so you can be ready to step up when it gets intense.
A pregnant woman doesn’t take lightly who she wants in the delivery room with her. She asked you because she trusts you. She can do this, and so can you.
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