10 Labor and Delivery Support Tips for Partners
Wondering how to support your partner during labor and delivery? We rounded up some advice from veteran parents and experts who know what happens behind the scenes.
Prepare for Labor and Delivery
Pay attention during your childbirth education classes. Learn about the phases of labor, what's happening to your partner's body, and the reasons for a C-section. Knowing what to expect will make the experience less terrifying for both of you.
Get Ready to Wait
Labor may be exciting, but it can also be tedious. In fact, you may spend hours doing nothing more than waiting. Take your partner's mind off their discomfort by keeping them busy. "If your partner has an epidural, there may be less need for physical support during the beginning stages of labor," says Sarah Kilpatrick, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois, in Chicago. "Instead, you should be ready to keep her occupied with music, conversation, and card games."
Show Your Support
"A person can become panicky during labor," says Cathleen Maiolatesi, a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. "And the best person to get them back on track with their breathing is their partner. After all, you know them better than anyone else."
As the contractions grow more intense, reassure your partner that they’re doing a great job and that you love them. You can also help by feeding them ice chips or wiping the sweat off their brow. And though some people don't like to be touched during labor, others appreciate a neck or back rub. Always remember to go with the flow!
There’s a lot of action in the delivery room! If something is happening that you don't understand, don't be afraid to ask the nurse questions. The answer could put your mind—and your partner’s mind—at ease.
Your partner can't see the contraction monitor, but you can. This means you can talk them through the contractions, describing when they're about to peak and start subsiding. Narrating what's going on—when one's starting, when it's ending—may give them a sense of control.
Advocate for Your Partner
Don't wait until your partner is in the throes of gut-wrenching contractions to find out what kind of assistance they’d like. Discuss their birth plan in advance—find out how they feel about episiotomies and their expectations of the doctor. The realities of labor may cause your partner to change their mind.
On the other hand, the doctor or nurse may try to pressure them to agree to an intervention they don’t want or need. Your partner may not be in a position to communicate. You know them better than anyone else in the room. Your job is to say, "She'd really like to push a little longer," or "She's at the end of her rope. She wants a C-section."
RELATED: Labor Tips for First Time Moms
Get the Best Shot
"When my wife saw the photos of our son's birth, she discovered things she had either forgotten or been too emotional to remember," says Gulu Gambhir, of Annandale, Virginia. If you're videotaping the birth, some angles are better than others. In other words, don't point the camera right at your partner's crotch, unless you never plan to show this movie to anyone else. Instead, shoot over your partner's (or the doctor's) shoulder. (Be sure to check ahead of time with your doctor or midwife about recording the birth; some don't allow it.)
Know That Giving Birth is Messy
Giving birth gets gory. Your partner may even have a bowel movement as they’re pushing. They’ll probably make primal noises you've never heard before. Your job, no matter how unsettled you may feel, is to say this: "You're doing great!" Actually, they’re not even paying attention to your words. It's your familiar voice and reassuring tone that they’re tuning in. (One other thing you may find a little unsettling: After the baby is delivered, the placenta pops out. It looks like a huge piece of liver.)
"Do not complain or act bored (no yawning)," says Carole Arsenault, RN, IBCLC, and author of The Baby Nurse Bible. "I've heard many dads complain about a sore back because they've been standing next to their wives for so long." She adds that the labor experience is completely focused around the one giving birth. "A laboring person may want to squeeze their partner's hand during a contraction," says Arsenault. She encourages you to tough it out: a contraction typically lasts about 60 seconds.
Make the Occasion Special
Your partner’s resting, the baby's in the nursery, and you've contacted the relatives. Think it's time for a nap? Not yet. "Your partner has been through a lot both physically and emotionally," says Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., a child-development specialist with the nonprofit group Zero To Three, in Washington, D.C. "It's a good time to show them how much you love them." Bring flowers, splurge on chocolates, or write them a love note. Whatever you do, find a special way to mark the occasion. "My husband showed up with roses and a Scrabble game—something we had played endlessly while we were dating," says Aimee Ellis, of Agawam, Massachusetts. "I was so touched that I couldn't stop crying."