In my years as a labor and delivery nurse, and then as a midwife, I’ve seen many births. During that time, I’ve learned that women have different reactions and behaviors during labor and need an incredible amount of support, both from the professionals caring for them and their chosen support person or people.
I’ve also observed that many “support” people have no idea what they should do to help their partner, daughter, sister or friend during the tough parts of labor. This is probably because there is no way to know exactly what the laboring woman needs at any particular moment during labor and birth.
When I see a partner or family member struggling with how to best support a laboring woman, I will often pull them aside and give them a brief tutorial on the following tips and tricks I’ve gleaned over the years.
- The mom in labor is always right. Agree with her, or just nod and smile, even if what she is saying is absurd or makes no sense. Do not try to reason with her or correct her. You will ultimately regret it.
- As labor progresses, avoid making any jokes, particularly at the laboring mom’s expense. Even if your partner typically thinks you are the funniest person on the planet, she will not often find your humor helpful in the later stages of labor. When in doubt, just be silent.
- There is no complaining allowed from the support person. The laboring mom does not care if you are cold, hot, tired or have sore hands from rubbing her back. What she is experiencing at that moment trumps any complaint you may have, so just zip it.
- If the laboring woman wants to be naked, let her be naked. Sure she may normally be the most modest person, but in labor, all the rules change. I advise against trying to cover her up unless she asks to be covered.
- If the birthing mother urinates or has a bowel movement while pushing, please do not point it out or mock her for it. It is no big deal and is perfectly natural. This is also probably one of her biggest fears. Let it go, and resist the urge to tell her about it later.
- What felt great to the laboring woman a moment ago may feel like torture now. Even if your partner generally loves having her back rubbed, it may annoy her now. If she asks you stop, just stop and do whatever it is she wants you to do next.
- Leave your ego at home. What happens in the birthing suite stays there. Most women will transform back into their normal selves moments after giving birth. Laboring women say and do some unusual things while bringing new life into the world. Don’t take it personally.
Most importantly, the laboring woman needs to feel loved and supported during the birth process. The more the people attending her birth do this, the better experience it will be for everyone involved.
Robyn Carlisle, MSN, CNM, WHNP, works as a full-scope midwife at University Doctors and Kennedy University Hospital in Sewell, N.J.