As your due date approaches, your partner may be feeling some anxiety over how to best support you during labor. The following seven points are what I typically suggest to worried partners.
1. Learn to time contractions.
Download an app to your smart phone to accurately time contractions. I like iBirth but anything will work, even a kitchen timer and notepad. To get the hang of it, practice before labor begins.
When I’m called to join a labor, I ask how far apart the contractions are currently (frequency), how long each contraction lasts (duration), and for how many hours the timing has been recorded.
2. Know the stages of labor.
The Birth Partner is an excellent guide for anyone supporting labor and birth. It covers the role of each member of the birth team, medical interventions and natural approaches, and what to expect in the event of a necessary c-section. Labor is divided into four stages:
Stage ONE is further divided into three phases:
Phase I: Early labor also called the latent phase.
Phase II: Active labor (5cm dilation to 7cm)
Phase III: Transition (7cm dilation to 10cm or “complete”)
Stage TWO: also called the pushing stage.
Stage THREE: the birth of the placenta.
Stage FOUR: the hour after birth.
3. Don’t take anything personally.
People communicate with their whole body during labor and swatting a hand away, etc. is common! I once witnessed a dad getting his face palmed so the mama could continue making eye contact with me. We all laughed about it later and no feelings were hurt.
4. Keep relaxed, rested and nourished.
Provide water, decaf tea, or diluted fruit juice and nibble on easily digestible foods. Play music, suggest several long baths, and between contractions, give a foot massage or two. Stay positive and remember true labor will progress on its own without taking long walks to “get things moving.” Labor is a time to conserve energy and to sleep between contractions; every bit of accumulated sleep helps to combat fatigue for active labor and transition.
5. Be supportive and present.
Avoid watching TV and using your smart phone, unless it is being used to time contractions and track labor. Focus on your partner and assign a trusted family member the task of updating friends/family on the day’s progress.
6. Get support for the immediate postpartum period.
Any type of help is appreciated when a new baby arrives! Postpartum doulas are trained to facilitate the bond between mother and baby, help with breastfeeding and recognize the signs of postpartum depression. Also, consider hiring an overnight newborn care provider so you both can rest (and heal after delivery) while a specialist cares for your baby.
Have the contact info of a local Lactation Consultant on hand. Let’s face it, breastfeeding can be difficult and new parents need expert help at a moment’s notice. Ask your doula, childbirth instructor, or your OB or midwife for a referral.
7. Know the signs of postpartum depression.
Read this article and the printable list of postpartum depression symptoms. Educate yourself and take action before a problem embeds itself – call a therapist and schedule an appointment immediately when you suspect help is needed.