The support of a good birthing partner can make an otherwise terrifying loss of control a beautiful and profound life experience. The days when fathers paced nervously in waiting rooms while their partners were laboring in a hospital ward are long gone — thankfully. Since the natural birth movement of the 1970s, dads and other partners have become more involved in the birth process, and women have sought more control over what can be a traumatic experience if managed poorly.
Even though times have changed, and labor practices along with it, labor remains an unpredictable and often very daunting experience. It sometimes results in the imminent delivery of the baby — not always making it to a hospital — and other times becomes an arduous, days-long process ending in unplanned medical intervention, such as c-section.
Not knowing what will happen means being prepared for anything. Come what may, there are a few tips experts stand by that can help you be the best support you can be during labor.
Why Support During Labor Is Important
Continuous support during labor has profound and positive effects on both mother and baby [*]. When the support comes from a dad, partner, or family member, it can strengthen family bonds as well.
Research shows that women who have continuous support during labor are more likely to have shorter active labor times, lower anxiety (cortisol) levels, and significantly fewer c-sections [*]. Conversely, if the mother feels unsupported, it can ramp up the anxiety and slow down the progression of labor.
During the course of labor, your partner may feel too consumed by the experience to communicate with her care team. She may need you to advocate for her wishes with medical personnel so she can keep her focus on the birth process.
Working together through the birth of your child creates a powerful bond that can help you navigate the challenges of parenting your child together moving forward.
What to Expect in the Delivery Room for Partners
Consider yourself something of a one-person band when you’re in the delivery room. You’ll be leveraged for:
Emotional support: Keep her calm and focused with encouraging words and a calm demeanor.
Physical support: Hold her hand, massage where needed, and help her walk around and change positions.
Communications support: Act as a bridge with the medical team to ensure her needs are met, and with outside family members to keep them apprised of the situation.
Historian: Record the event for posterity.
Above all, expect to be humbled: The birth of a child is an amazing thing to be a part of. You will no doubt find a new appreciation for your wife or partner’s inner strength.
How to Be Supportive During Labor
To provide the support and encouragement your partner and your newborn will benefit from, we’ve compiled a list of recommendations based on evidence-based practices from moms, dads, and medical experts.
1. Know What Your Partner Wants or Expects from You
You want to know how to help your wife during labor… first, understand that not all women want their partner present for the birth. Among those who do want dad or their partner present, they say that compassion and trustworthiness are the most essential traits in how to be a good birth partner, according to one study [*].
In that same study, some women expressed compassion for their partners, who clearly wanted to support them but were overcome by the experience:
My husband went away only when I was pushing. He preferred not to look. He was a little bit scared…maybe. I think it’s quite natural for men. It was fine because we discussed it before the delivery had started. I said he was free to do anything he likes. I understand that it could be quite stressful for him. Maybe even more stressful than for me, because I think we are designed for this much better than men [*].
I could read his face. He was sweating and restless. It was very difficult for him to see me in pain. So my heart ached to see him suffer that way [*].
Understanding when and how you can be a positive and calming presence and conversely, when you might be, well, a nervous wreck, will help you and your partner formulate a support plan that makes sense for both of you. If you know you faint at the sight of blood — or your partner doesn’t want you to see her during the worst of it — you can still support her when she needs it in other ways.
2. Attend Birth Classes
Understanding what to expect during labor will put you in a better position to provide comfort, support, and encouragement — as well as advocate for any medical interventions that may be part of your birth plan or otherwise needed.
A birth class may also help you both recognize when labor has begun and navigate the stages of labor with confidence, knowing what to expect. You’ll learn techniques such as how to breathe through contractions, change positions during the course of labor, and how to apply gentle massage or distract her to mitigate pain.
3. Make a Birth Plan
There are many ways to experience birth, from so-called natural labor with no medical interventions all the way to c-section. Epidural, episiotomy, delayed cord clamping, who cuts the cord, cord blood banking… there are a lot of routes to take and decisions to make.
A birth plan can help you stay focused and give some structure to what is typically an unpredictable experience. A doula, midwife, or your OBGYN can walk you through your choices at each stage of labor and offer evidence-based recommendations on how to get through it like a champion.
At a minimum, talk to your partner about how she wants to experience the birth and understand what kind of pain relief she does and does not want. This will help you advocate for her with her care team.
4. Keep the Words of Support Coming
Comfort and encouragement from dads or partners have been shown to enhance feelings of control and competence among women in labor and have very positive effects on labor for mother and baby [*].
This part seems like it would be easy, but pain doesn’t typically bring out the best in people. And it can be hard to see someone you love in pain, angry, frustrated, or panicked.
Don’t take it too seriously if your partner lashes out during these trying moments, it’s really not personal. Tell her she’s doing great and you’re here for her, no matter what — even if she tells you to stuff it.
5. Incorporate Touch
High levels of emotional stress, fear, anxiety, and pain are associated with a long labor, especially among first-time mothers [*].
One of the things that has been shown to counteract the stress and anxiety of labor is the anti-stress hormone oxytocin. It may surprise you to learn that oxytocin may be released by the mother as a response to verbal reassurance and human touch. In addition to stress mitigation, oxytocin can help labor progress — as well as hasten the onset of breastfeeding.
Not all women welcome touch during the later stages of labor, but she will likely appreciate you wiping her sweaty brow with a cool cloth and holding her hand as the contractions get more intense.
6. Keep Her Hydrated
Labor is hard work! Be ready to keep her hydrated with ice chips, water, or her uncaffeinated drink of choice. Also, make sure she empties her bladder once an hour so the baby has more room to descend into the birth canal.
7. Keep Her Comfortable
A calming environment is what you’re after. It may not be that easy in a delivery room, but do what you can. Make sure the lights are where she wants them, any music is at the desired level, the TV is on or off according to her preferences, and the room temperature is comfortable for her. If it would help to bring her favorite pillow, be sure to pack it and take it with you.
8. Keep Her Mind Off the Pain
Put together a playlist, distract her with a game, watch a movie, show pictures from past vacations, anything that makes her laugh, help her walk around, or read a book to her.
Anything that takes her mind off the pain can help get her through early labor, before the epidural, and help manage pain if pain medication doesn’t provide relief as expected. According to Lamaze, sucking on hard candy or a small piece of chocolate can also be a pain reliever, believe it or not [*].
9. Know When to Head to the Hospital
Before her water breaks, your partner will usually be having contractions. Because labor often goes on for hours before the birth, it may be best not to rush to the hospital at the first sign of contractions. Unless there is some abnormal symptom going on, a hospital may not admit her until the contractions are 3-5 minutes apart.
So make a plan to keep her comfortable at home and take care of any other children or pets if labor is in its early stages. If her contractions are lasting more than 30 seconds and are coming 3-5 minutes apart, it’s time to go to the hospital.
Contractions are timed in seconds starting from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. If you’re not sure when to head for the hospital, call your doctor.
10. Recognize Abnormal Symptoms
If your partner is experiencing vaginal bleeding, swollen hands or face, blurred vision, convulsions, foul-smelling waters, or other abnormal symptoms, don’t wait for contractions to accelerate: Call your doctor immediately and head for the hospital [*].
11. Keep Calm and Carry On
Unpredictable situations call for a cool head and the flexibility to roll with the punches. If in the heat of the moment your partner decides she wants medical intervention that wasn’t part of the birth plan, don’t argue about it, just help her get whatever she needs.
12. Discuss Recording the Birth
Talk to your partner about whether she would like photos or video of the birth itself or only the “after” shots. Also, discuss what angles or views she might want to avoid (Does anyone really need to see the placenta?) if you intend to share it with others.
It’s a good idea to keep a record of what medical personnel tell you, as well as any funny or poignant moments with your partner. That way you can log any special moments for a baby book, and thank medical personnel personally after the birth if you want to.
13. Do Something Special Just for Mom
When the baby comes, it will be all about the baby but don’t forget about mom. Dads would be wise to have a gift of flowers or something special and meaningful just for her ready.
14. Pack Your Hospital Bags Ahead
You’ll need the basics for you and your partner: a change of clothes, a toothbrush and toothpaste, any medication, your phone and a charger, snacks, possibly a pillow, and a light jacket in the event the hospital room is cold. You may opt to bring a nursing pillow to hold and feed the infant. Here’s a complete hospital bag checklist.
15. Consider Hiring a Doula
Understanding your limitations and how your partner feels about your participation is essential. If you feel you might need extra help advocating for your partner’s birth plan or additional support leading up to the birth, during, or just after it, talk to your partner about hiring a doula.
Many quality studies show that doulas have a really positive impact on labor and contribute to high overall satisfaction with the birth process, as well as fewer medical interventions [*].
What NOT to Do While Your Wife or Partner Is in Labor
Now you know how to support your wife or partner in the delivery room, here are a few things dads should avoid.
Don’t touch anything sterile.
Don’t panic – or if you do, at least try to appear calm.
Don’t get sucked into work emails or outside distractions — Silence your phone notifications and ringer and focus on her.
It’s ok to report progress to friends or family but make supporting your partner the number one priority.
Don’t complain; Whatever is bothering you is nothing compared to what she’s experiencing.
Watch your step: Don’t get in the way of medical equipment or personnel.
Don’t leave her side — Have your nurse, midwife or doula get her what she needs.
Try to formulate any questions for her as yes/no questions, i.e., not, “What can i bring you,” but rather, “Can I get you more water?”
Keep your best jokes or wisecracks for times when she’s not having a contraction.
Remember to Bring Your Cord Blood Collection Kit
One of the decisions you’ll want to make ahead of time is whether you’ll save cord blood and cord tissue from your infant’s umbilical cord. Cord blood and tissue contain stem cells used in more than 80 FDA-approved treatments for blood disorders such as anemia, cancers such as leukemia, metabolic disorders, among many others. There are more than 300 trials in progress for additional cord blood stem cell therapies.
The Bottom Line
The birth of your child is an unforgettable experience, whether it happens in the back of a taxicab en route to the hospital or after many, many hours of labor.
With a little preparation and a lot of love and support, you can learn to be a good birthing partner to your wife or partner, on your way to becoming an amazing dad.
DISCLAIMER: THE INFORMATION ON THIS WEBSITE IS NOT INTENDED TO BE USED AS MEDICAL ADVICE.The materials and information contained on the MiracleCord website is provided for educational and informational purposes only, and is not intended to, and does not constitute, medical or other health advice or diagnosis, and should not be used as such. You should not use this information to diagnose or treat a health problem or disease. If you are seeking personal medical advice, you should consult with a licensed physician. Always consult with a qualified health care provider regarding a medical condition.