Labor & Delivery

How to Support Your Partner While They’re Going Through Labor (and What to Avoid)

written by BRETT NICOLE HAYDEN
Source: Stripes and Whimsy
Source: Stripes and Whimsy

It’s no secret that when a woman is going through labor, she’s putting in incredible amounts of work. The process can be painful, exhausting, and, in a lot of cases, take a very long time. It’s only right that moms taking on this remarkable task be supported by those who are closest to them. It’s a highly rewarding responsibility to be the support system while someone close to you is giving birth. But it can be difficult to know exactly how to support your partner during labor.

That’s why we wanted to help with some reliable sources. First, we went to moms who have gone through the birthing experience to get their firsthand account of ways their partners were supportive, as well as things they learned throughout the process. Then, we wanted to get a professional’s opinion. We went to someone who has witnessed the beauty of birth and partnership more times than most.

We heard from Rebekah Mustaleski, a Certified Professional Midwife and Motif Compression Director. Rebekah is dedicated to promoting evidence-based maternity care and gave us her professional insights on how to support a partner during labor, as well as what not to do below.

Meet the expert
Rebekah Mustaleski
Certified Professional Midwife and Motif Compression Director

How to Support Your Partner During Labor

Start Before Labor Begins

Being a supportive partner during labor actually starts well before the first contractions. One mom looked back on her two wildly different birthing experiences and recounted that the one thing that remained the same was her husband’s support. Something that stood out to her was his presence during her pregnancy—going with her to every appointment, partaking in labor courses, and practicing labor positions with her at home.

Attend the Birth Preparation Classes

Knowing that she had someone to share the experience with every part of the way made all the difference. She shared, “I think birth education is key to a positive experience, and anyone involved in the process should be completely informed about every detail. He went into it not just as my partner but my advocate.”

Allow Her to Rest and Nourish Her Body

In the days and weeks leading up to giving birth, Mustaleski explained that moms will need to rest and nourish their bodies more than ever, and partners can play a huge role in this. Helping moms by preparing protein and fiber-rich meals and encouraging them to hydrate with regular and coconut water will help nourish them for the big task ahead. Even though rest in the third trimester can be difficult, partners can help facilitate by giving mom leg and foot massages at night with lavender and magnesium lotion.

Handle Important Logistics

See if you can take some to-dos off her plate, like these preparation tasks:

  • Know what needs to be packed in her hospital bag.
  • Pack your own overnight hospital bag: pajamas, phone chargers, personal care products, a few changes of clothes, personal pillows and blankets, etc.
  • Know your parental leave policy and what you plan to use.
  • Arrange care for other children when she goes into labor.
  • Know how to add baby to your health insurance and the paperwork needed.
  • Properly install the car seat—you can’t leave the hospital without it!
how to support your partner during labor
Source: @beeaninspiration

Know the Birth Plan

For someone going through labor, it can be highly discouraging to have to explain in the moment what her needs are. Instead, partners can be proactive. Having conversations before labor about how you can be helpful in the moment can be incredibly rewarding.

As one mom shared, “I didn’t want him to ask me ‘Are you okay, what can I do?!’ during every contraction. Instead, I wanted action. He knew this and acted accordingly by guiding me to the birthing ball, helping me switch positions, holding my hips, and anything else we practiced at home.” Knowing her desires and actively being attentive allowed for them to go into the birthing experience as a team.

Your partner may have strong desires about how she wants her birthing experience to go. Knowing, discussing, and understanding fully what her desires are before going into delivering the baby will allow you to be the best partner throughout the experience.

Before Labor Begins:

  • Does she want to be medicated or unmedicated?
  • What type(s) of birth interventions is she comfortable with?
  • Will a doula be there to support her? What is the role of the doula? Can you interact with the doula beforehand so you know how to work best with one another?
  • Are there details she wants you to specifically write down during the experience to put in a baby book?
  • What sorts of photos does she want you to capture during labor and afterward?

During Labor:

  • Does she want other people in the room during/soon after the birth?
  • Where does she want you to stand while the baby is being born?
  • Does she want you to cut the umbilical cord?
  • Will one or both of you be having skin-to-skin contact with baby after they’re born?

Then, knowing what to expect after the baby is born is important as well. Consider some things like:

  • Who should you contact and when after the baby is born to share the good news?
  • When will she be ready to welcome visitors?
  • Does she plan on breastfeeding the baby? If so, consider asking yourself and researching how you can best assist with this.
  • Does she have any specific meal requests she wants after giving birth? If she’s having a hospital birth, knowing what they allow and don’t allow to be brought in is also helpful.
Source: Robert Bussey | Unsplash

Be Physically Present

Perhaps it goes without saying that being physically present is the foundation of how to support your partner during labor. In fact, Mustaleski’s first piece of advice for partners is that not leaving mom alone during this time can be the biggest means of encouragement. But it doesn’t stop there. Being present actually encompasses a lot more than sitting in the room with her.

Partners can be attentive by providing mom with things she needs, especially water and snacks, keeping her hair out of her face, and keeping her as comfortable as possible. One mom pointed out that even having her husband hold her hand through the difficult moments was highly encouraging and reminded her that she was not alone in the experience.

Mustaleski also shared some sage advice when she said, “Be willing to do the wrong thing.” By this, she meant that as mom goes through labor, her needs may change. One moment, a hip squeeze or massage may be what she needs, and the next, she’s telling you not to touch her there. Her advice is to not take this response personally and to be willing to try something different until you figure out what she needs during this new phase of the process.

Show Emotional Support

Physical presence is a huge part of the equation, but being emotionally supportive can make a good birthing experience a beautiful one. According to Mustaleski, the best way to know how your partner wants to be emotionally supported is to talk to her about it beforehand. Some moms love hearing things like “I’m so proud of you” and “Every minute brings you a little bit closer,” while others may have more specific requests. Before going into labor, it’s helpful to ask her how she would like to receive support and words of encouragement. Sometimes, Mustaleski mentioned, even having her make a list of things she wants to hear or have done for her beforehand can be beneficial.

how to support your partner going through labor
Source: @thelittleislandyogi

Things to Avoid Doing and Saying

There are a handful of things partners will want to avoid while their partner is in labor. Mustaleski touched on a number of these. First, avoid being on your phone during labor. During this incredible time, mom deserves your undivided attention. She also recommended to avoid eating smelly foods without brushing your teeth. Since you’ll most likely be in close proximity to mom, certain smells can actually be nauseating during this time.

You’ll also want to limit distracting others from taking care of her. Talk to those around, and definitely advocate for her needs, but be sure to not take the focus off of supporting her. And when it comes to talking to mom during labor, be mindful that during painful contractions, she may not want to talk at all. Instead of expecting a response, it’s OK to use this time to offer her words of encouragement. Mustaleski highlighted the importance of not saying anything negative, such as, “This is taking a lot longer than I thought.” Even though this may be true, it can be highly discouraging to the mom. Instead, use this time to tell her how proud you are of her.

Be Mindful, but Don’t Overthink It

This may seem like a lot to remember, especially when emotions are heightened. The biggest takeaway may be to take a moment to put yourself in her shoes and think about what may be discouraging to hear during such a big moment. Mustaleski gave a great reminder that you know your partner best. She shared, “Only you can provide that intimate, emotional support she needs.” While it may seem like there are a lot of people with more “important” jobs in the room, no one can take your place.

What to Do if Labor Doesn’t Go As Planned

Even if you know what you both want out of the birthing experience, things may not go as planned, and you’ll have to adjust accordingly. It’s in these times she’ll need you to be her biggest advocate, and knowing what she wants will be invaluable.

If You’re Feeling Nauseous or Overwhelmed

Yes, it can happen! Being in this high-intensity situation and witnessing something of this caliber can be overwhelming to a partner. A great way to combat this is to address it before she goes into labor. Watch birthing videos, read up on the experience, and go to birthing classes. All of these will give you an idea of what to expect in the moment. And just as mom may be using breathing techniques during the process, it doesn’t hurt to take deep breaths of your own if you begin feeling overwhelmed or uneasy.

Adjusting the Birth Plan

While knowing a mom’s desired birthing plan is invaluable, understanding that things may have to change will be beneficial for both her and you. For example, one mom went into her hospital birth planning to not utilize an epidural. However, as she was going through labor, the delivery team noticed that her blood pressure was increasing to concerning levels. Their advice for alleviating her blood pressure concern was administering an epidural to help keep her calm. In this moment, she appreciated that her partner was there to quickly help her come to the decision on how she wanted to proceed with the epidural. His support helped her come to a conclusion and voice the decision that was best for her.

how to prepare for labor
Source: Canva

C-Section Deliveries

While some Caesarean section births are planned, there are many cases when they’re not, including emergency situations. With a C-section, a surgical procedure takes place to reach the baby through an incision in the mom’s stomach and womb. No matter the circumstances, C-section births can come with a lot of nerves from both the mom and her partner. The best way to be prepared for this, whether planned or unplanned, is by increasing your knowledge about C-sections. Understanding why a mom may need to undergo a C-section, knowing the standard procedure, and talking about ways to support your partner should this occur will equip you to be as ready as possible in the moment.

Especially in the case of an emergency C-section, mom is likely to have a lot of nerves, fears, and worries. In this moment, though you will likely have similar feelings, try your best to stay calm for her. Most of the time, unless a general anesthetic is required, partners are allowed to stay in the hospital room during the procedure. Unless she voices otherwise, be sure to stay with her. Understand that seeing, hearing, and witnessing something graphic happening to your partner can be difficult, and try to mentally prepare yourself for this. Even if medical professionals have given you no reason to believe it will occur, sometimes you just won’t know.

Having a Baby in the NICU

Perhaps one of the most jarring outcomes of a birthing experience is having your newborn end up in the Neonatal Intensive Care Unit (NICU). There are many reasons this may occur, such as a premature birth, a difficult birthing experience, or other health conditions. There are several things partners can do to be supportive of the mom and newborn. NICU dads who’ve been through it recommend the following:

  • Ask the professionals questions and become knowledgeable about your baby’s care
  • Take advantage of as much skin-to-skin contact with baby as possible
  • Listen to your partner and be emotionally present with her
  • Take time off of work to be in the hospital

How to Go Above and Beyond

If there’s ever a time to go above and beyond to help a partner thrive, this is it!

We asked Mustaleski to share a story of a time when a partner went above and beyond to help a mom in labor have the birthing experience she desired. She explained that it happened this year on a particularly cold day in Tennessee. With a temperature at -2 degrees and 8 inches of snow, the husband of a mom who was wanting to labor in a birth tub was running into issues getting it hooked up to a water source. As a last resort, the husband had to run a hose from a downstairs source up through their bedroom window. She shared, “In the cold, in the snow, in his Crocs, he ran back and forth around the outside of the house to get the hose hooked up so we could fill the birth pool for his wife.”

In the cold, in the snow, in his Crocs, he ran back and forth around the outside of the house to get the hose hooked up so we could fill the birth pool for his wife.

Another mom shared how much it meant to her that her partner’s support didn’t stop once the baby was delivered. She explained that recovering from labor was actually more difficult than the act itself. Her husband showed his support and attentiveness by prioritizing her rest, taking the lead on taking care of their newborn, and always ensuring she had all the water and snacks she needed. She went on to share, “He went into this life change with the intention of sharing the responsibilities of parenthood equally and taking action to make that reality, which has made an amazing difference.”

Partners: Here’s How to Support a Postpartum Mom
CLICK TO READ