Being a birth partner doesn’t always come naturally to even the most adoring intimate partner, mother or close friend. For some, it can feel like a daunting task that requires some preparation. If that’s you, you are not alone! With some basic planning and preparing, you can be the perfect birth support person for the mom-to- be in your life. The best way to get a handle on the skills of supporting someone in labor is to attend a Childbirth Classes but here are a couple short-cut tips to get you started.
Your first step is to inform her healthcare provider and any other necessary people that labor has started. This is the time also to cancel previous obligations or make pet or childcare arrangements.
This is an exciting time, share her enthusiasm for the imminent birth but now may not be the time to sound the horn to everyone you know. Early labor takes time, so, pace yourself. Alternate between resting and being upright (gravity helps move things along).
Here are a couple ways you can support your birthing woman and get are ready for whatever there is to come:
- Prepare light snacks and bring her lots of water or non-acidic juices
- Take a walk with her
- Time the contractions for her (every few hours or when things seem to change)
- Involve her in light activities such as watching a movie, playing cards, or reading ( distraction!)
- Help mom feel loved! When we feel loved, safe, and nurtured, the hormone oxytocin flows, and this helps the uterus to increase contraction and the cervix to dilate and allow the baby to be born!
If you haven’t already come to this conclusion let me be the one to tell you that in birth there are many unknowns and it can potentially take a lot of time! (but not alwaysJ )
As her birth partner, it is important to keep yourself hydrated and fed, calm, and alert, take breaks and have someone fill in for you when you need a break. This might be the nurse (at the hospital) or, even better, a doula who can be with you from the beginning to end. You and mom might consider hiring a birth doula, a trained birth support, to be by your side to guide you both throughout this entire process. Doulas offer constant support for the entire family - not just mom. She has lots of tools and tricks to help you support mom! In short, doulas make you look good!
Shabd Simran Adeniji, co-owner of The Birthing Tree and Certified Nurse Midwife gives birth partners two guiding principles: ‘Attunement’ and ‘Don’t Wake the Mother.’
Attuning to the mother’s feelings, needs and energy is crucial. The most significant way you can support your birthing woman is to attune to her. In essence ‘Tune In’ to her. She won’t have the clarity to tell you what will help her feel better so it’s your job to watch her cues and try to alleviate her discomfort as best you can.
Secondly, ‘Don’t wake the Mother.’ Birth is likely the most primal experience a woman will ever have; it’s one that requires her to go inward and dig deep for strength she didn’t know she had. To do this many women get in a ‘zone,’ close their eyes and focus inward. If mom is doing this, ‘don’t wake her’ out of this state, simply be by her side or available close by if she needs you. When we ask her lots of questions we are pulling her out of her being in her body and bringing her in to her head to be able to respond. If possible, create a dark, cozy, quiet space and let her body do the rest!
The Birthing Tree’s experienced doulas want to share some of their techniques to encourage mom and help her progress during Active labor:
- If you do get tired, scared or discouraged, tell mom you are going to go get a snack and leave the room for a breather. But make sure the doula or a nurse is by her side while you take a break. You can always ask for reassurance that everything is going well from a nurse, doula or Doctor.
- Use face-to-face interaction, make eye contact with her, and provide emotional encouragement (“You’re doing great.” “You’re breathing really well.” “Baby will be her soon!” “You’re so strong!” “Your body is doing its job so well!” “I love you so much!” “you can do this” “I’m so proud of how hard you are working right now”). And offer her compassion by never criticizing, judging or make fun of what she’s going through – even if she is laughing about it.
- Help her change into different positions: standing, walking squatting, hands and knees, kneeling, slow dancing, sitting, and side-lying are all good options. Feel comfortable to use the whole house or whole hospital room and even the hallway.
- Provide relief and comfort techniques for nausea, such as pressing her acupressure points, giving her ice chips or warm liquids, applying a cold cloth to her forehead, and preparing a toothbrush with toothpaste if she vomits (yup, it could be messy!).
- Offer protection – Ever notice that most animals in the wild give birth at night? Well, that is when they feel most safe from predators. Similarly, when mom feels scared or unsafe in her environment she will instinctually stall labor to protect her baby. So be the keeper of the environment and make sure she feels secure with one who comes into the room and any situation that may arise.
- Draw her a warm bath, help her in the shower or use a heat pack.. all good ways to keep her relaxed and coping well.
- Massage her back, neck or other parts of her body in a way that feels good to her. It’s a great bonding and preparing activity to learn how she likes to be massaged during the pregnancy. Some people like deep pressure others like a light scratch – find out what she likes most!
- If she has an epidural, she will be mostly on the bed and limited in her movement. Help her change from side to side and stay engaged in the birth process together. While she may no longer feel pain, she still needs your emotional support.
- Don’t be afraid to ask questions about what is going on and advocate for mom and baby’s health. If your questions are fear-based, step out of the room, away from mom, and gather the information you need. If your healthcare provider tells you intervention in necessary, you have the right to ask him/her to explain. You can ask, “Can you tell me more about why that is necessary?”, “Does she need it right now or can it wait?” or “What are all of the options?”. Then you can tell the doctor or nurse that you would like to discuss the options in private with mom. Help stabilize her position, give her some water, and wait until she can focus on a conversation. This may be challenging but do your best, stay calm, and be confident that you are in this together and you will meet baby very soon!
Birth is a life changing experience – and can be very intense for everyone involved. Whatever happens, remember that this is a normal, natural process and her mind and body are made for this. Your presence as a support is one of the best ways you can help her birth this beautiful baby into this world!