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How to be a Good Labor Support Person

Woman in labor being massaged by partner

Attempting to be a good labor support person is a challenging job. Oftentimes you love or care about the person who is in labor so much that it pains you to see them dealing with something new and unfamiliar. It's incredibly common for neither the pregnant person nor the support person to know what to expect from the process, or from each other. Our best advice is to give it your all, prepare as much as you can, and remember to give your partner grace should things get a little tense along the way.

Here are a few tips to help you become the type of support person your partner will need:

1. Talk about labor before the big day! Find out how much advocating they want you to do:

  • Do they want you to speak for them if they are busy deep breathing or having a tough time articulating themself?
  • Do they want you to ask questions directly to your care team or would they rather you wait for a private conversation between the two of you?
  • What are your partner’s birth preferences and how do they want you to support those goals? Examples:
If they do not want an epidural, how do they want you to react when they ask for one?

Do they want you to remind them to drink water, relax their jaw, or give other cues to help with their self-care?

  • Discuss what parts of the process that seem the most nerve-wracking. Now is not the time to pretend you do not get queasy around needles. Tell your partner exactly how you anticipate feeling so you can decide on a plan with which you both feel comfortable.
  • Talk about sleep and eating! Some laboring people want their partner to rest as much as possible so they can take over as caretaker once the baby is born, while others have a more “if I’m awake, you’re awake” approach. The same goes for eating. If your birthing person has been asked not to eat solid foods during part of their labor, some birthers would prefer that no one else eats in front of them.
  • Ask your partner how active they want you to be in the process and if there are any parts that they would rather you step out for. This is especially important for the non-significant-other birth partners; if you are the soon-to-be grandma, best friend, cousin etc., it is smart to set some ground rules. Do they want you to be present when the providers are taking their health history? Are there other times when privacy is preferred?
  • Ask the birther what things might bother them when they are stressed or struggling. For example, my partner learned during a half marathon that I don’t like when people try to break up my sense of defeat with jokes while I'm running... lesson learned for both of us! Make sure to keep this conversation light. Your partner probably doesn’t know what they need either, but at least this might get you moving and communicating in the right direction.
  • Make sure to discuss birth photography. Are pictures during labor and delivery desired? If so, what photos do they want? Do you prefer to snap photos from the waist-up, or would you like to capture the whole shebang?
  • Get on the same page about technology and social media. Do you want family and friends to be updated via text or social media? Does the birther want their support person to be answering their texts? You would be surprised how many times I have seen an upset parent because a support person who was overwhelmed with emotion shared their joy on social media before the parent had given consent to a post.
  • Gaming has recently become a boredom buster during the early stages of labor. Some laboring people don’t seem to mind if their support person is engulfed in a game of Minecraft. We suggest having a “I don’t mind if I am sleeping” or “I don’t mind unless I am actively pushing” type of rule.

    2. Remember to practice! Whether it is pain relieving techniques or advocating for more information, try doing a dry run. Play out the situation so you both know what to expect.

    The thought of giving birth can be incredibly daunting for many parents. That’s why it’s so important to keep an open mind and remember that plans may change. Your partner might not know what they want until the moment is happening, but with the answers to these questions you will hopefully feel more prepared to jump in and improvise.

    It's a lot to think about, right? Below are words of wisdom from real support people, to help support you!

    “In the movies there is always a ‘wall’ between you and your wife’s bottom... there isn’t a wall in the real world unless it’s a c-section. I didn’t know that, and it caught me off guard. I was fine but I was also surprised.” (Parent of one)

    “Above everything else, be present! You might not say the right thing but being there is the right thing. In the end, being present is all that will matter.” (Support person x 2)

    “Practice the pain techniques they think they’ll want. Like counter pressure or massage. It’s hard for them to teach you how when they are actually in labor.” (Parent of two)

    “Plan to not be good at it. Even with all of my experience I wasn’t good at it. Plan for failure. If you think you will be perfect, you will be disappointed. Talk about what to do when things don’t go as planned and be prepared for it. This will help you both do better.” (Parent of four and OBGYN)

    “Just remember it isn’t really about you. If they are cranky, it’s not you, if they are happy, it’s not you. You matter but you aren’t the main act, the birthing person is.” (Support person x 2)

    “Don’t let your ego get in the way. The best thing I did was to phone my wife’s friend for support and she helped calm us both down.” (Parent of one)

    “The most important thing is to support them in the way they need and not the way you THINK they need. It gets easier each time.” (Parent of one and Nurse)

    “During my wife’s long induction, I did my best to remain calm and supportive. I helped to reposition her when she got uncomfortable, I read to her, I found a good movie on the hospital TV, etc. When she slept, I slept, too. In general, it was all about being what she needed in the moment. (Parent of one)

    Have your own labor support words of wisdom to share? We’d love to hear them! Email us or share on Instagram what you learned from your own labor support experience!

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