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The Labor Partner's Role

Maurenne Griese, RNC, BSN


Many partners don't feel prepared for pregnancy or their baby's birth, especially when it is their first baby. It is natural to feel ambivalent about money, becoming a parent, or what the future holds. The best solution to solving your worries is by becoming informed. Talk to other parents, your pregnant partner, or a health care professional. You'll find out you're not alone!

A healthy baby isn't just a mother's responsibility. Everyone involved plays a role in the pregnancy and birth process. You are a very important part of your partner's pregnancy. Your choices and attitude can immeasurably affect her and your baby.

It's very important to keep stress levels low. Recent studies suggest that stress is harmful to pregnant women and they are more to have unhealthy babies. Pregnant women say the major cause of stress is a difficult relationship with their partner. She needs you to be calm, patient and supportive.

Because of the numerous physical changes in a woman's body during pregnancy, it is common for her to be less than comfortable. These changes can affect her mood, too. Ask her how she is feeling. If she's not feeling well, ask her what you can do to help her feel better. It may be something as simple as getting her a drink, helping with the dishes or caring for your older children while letting her rest for a few minutes. It takes a lot of energy to build a baby within you. Your kind and thoughtful support is key to helping her pregnancy be a positive experience.

The job of birth partner (also known as labor coach) is both hard and rewarding. Having a caring person with the mother during her labor can make her more comfortable and confident in her ability to give birth. For the coach, being present at the birth of a baby is one of life's most unforgettable and rewarding experiences.

Don't feel alone if you are a little worried about what birth may hold for you as a labor coach. The most common concern coaches have is whether or not they'll be able to give their partner the assistance and support she will need during labor and birth. Knowing what to expect, however, is a good way to ease your nervousness.

Usually the baby's father is also the woman's birth partner/labor coach. However, a labor coach can be anyone the mother-to-be trusts to help her, such as her mother, sister, or a good friend. A coach's job begins well before labor. The labor coach needs to learn along with the pregnant woman what they can do to work together in the experience of labor and birth. That means learning about birth, attending childbirth classes, and practicing the relaxation and breathing techniques learned in class.

By attending childbirth classes together, your presence at classes, as during labor, is reassuring to her in an unfamiliar situation and surroundings. In order to attend to her needs during labor and birth, it is important to understand what she has been taught and to practice it with her. By practicing the techniques you learn in childbirth classes, you become familiar with them and these techniques soon become second nature to you. They are life skills that can also be used long after she gives birth. Remember, birth is like running a marathon-you will face challenges and you need to be prepared to face those challenges.

Women in labor respond to pain differently. It's a good idea to practice the variety of comforting techniques you learn in class to discover what helps her best. By practicing together, she will learn to be able to trust you and rely on you to help comfort her during labor and birth.

The labor partner's most important job is simply to be at your partner's side and help keep her comfortable. Tell her you care about her and that you won't leave her alone. Your loving support will mean a lot to her. In early labor, help her to pass the time. If she is hungry, she may be able to eat and drink light foods like soup, crackers, tea and popsicles. Many couples read, play games or watch a movie to distract themselves. Encourage the mother-to-be to rest as much as she can; she may even be able to nap between contractions. Help her take short walks or a warm shower. Showering will help her to relax and a short walk will help her get her contractions stronger and closer together in true labor. Don't forget to and drink to keep up your strength. A tired hungry coach is an ineffective coach.

During early labor, most moms just breathe as they normally would. As her contractions gets stronger and closer together, it may help to use breathing techniques she may have learned in class. During contractions, look for tension in her arms, legs or face and encourage her to relax whatever is tense. Between contractions, encourage her to rest.

Offer your partner a back, foot or hand massage to help her relax. If she's thirsty, bring her a drink, some ice chips or a lollipop from her hospital bag. Help her go to the bathroom or take a walk if she wants to. Wipe her forehead with a cool, damp cloth. Talk to her in a low, calm voice. Assure her that her body knows how to give birth and you are there to help her. Encourage her to change positions frequently as this helps keep her comfortable and helps labor progress quickly. Act as her advocate. Ask questions of her care providers. Ask for regular updates on her labor progress.

Like the laboring mother, you will probably be most challenged at the end of her labor, just before it's time to begin pushing the baby out. This short stage is called transition, from 7 centimeters to 10 centimeters or completely dilated. The mother-to-be may begin to feel overwhelmed by the work her body is doing. It is common for women to be nauseous or vomit at this stage. Sometimes they become irritable, frustrated and shake uncontrollably. It can be quite frightening if you are unprepared and unaware that this is normal. Help keep her focused on one contraction at a time. Keep offering ice chips and sips of water as she is usually breathing very heavily at this point and her mouth may be dry. Focus completely on her needs.

As preparations are made for the actual birth, keep in mind that your support is still vital. Help her to get into a comfortable position as she pushes. Ask her nurse about effective positions for pushing, such as squatting, standing or side lying. As she pushes encourage her and tell her about the progress she is making.

Once your baby is born, take in this once in a lifetime moment together. Celebrate the miracle you've just accomplished together.

Recommended Reading: The Birth Partner: Everything You Need to Know to Help a Woman Through Childbirth by Penny Simpkin, P.T. 1989.

My name is Maurenne Griese. I am a certified childbirth and breastfeeding educator and have a bachelor of science degree in Nursing. I am also a Registered Nurse and am board certified in Inpatient Obstetrical Nursing. I have been a writer for as long as I have been able to write! From essays in grade school to articles in professional journals and parenting magazines, writing has been a passion of mine for most of my life. Of course, I like to write about what I am passionate about, that being pregnancy, childbirth and breastfeeding. I have my own website for my home-based company, Birth and Breastfeeding Resources, at I sell baby slings and breastpumps from this site.

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