What you can do to help in the labour room (and a heads-up on what you should avoid!)

By Anchen Verster

Labour can be long and challenging. Hollywood has made it out to be quick, loud and dramatic but few realize the long “slog” until you’ve been there. To be of help to your partner in the labour room you have to have a good idea of how birth works, what the various stages are and know how to support your partner through each stage. We’re not going to cover specific support tools – those you can learn at a good childbirth preparation course or peruse some of the other articles in this Guide but we’ll chat about some specific areas you can make a difference and the rationale behind them.

  1. Know the support tools and practice them. Dads often sit in childbirth class and think they’ll be able to find the correct massage tools or pressure points or breathing tools without practicing them before the time. Recently a dad said to me he didn’t realize how much they would use the breathing techniques during birth and said he should have taken the practice time during the course more seriously. I’ve even had Dads phone me from the labour room to remind them of the different breathing or massage tools. Make sure you get the hang of all the support tools before the birth. You may have to tweak a few things during the labour according to what birthing mom likes but you’ll infuse great confidence in her if she sees you getting to grips with the different support tools during your pre-birth course.
  2. Know the game plan. Being on the sidelines at a birth is a little like coaching a sports game. You are part of her team, so the game is yours too. If she wins, you win. Her ability to keep focused will partly depend on the game plan you have set up together and how you help her navigate the game of birth. Your encouragement and gentle cheering will help her persevere. You will also need to take the lead on what support tools to try out.
  3. Keep whatsapp and sms’ to minimum or on silent. Don’t feel the pressure to continually send updates to everyone. It usually helps to keep the list of those who know the birth is in progress to a minimum. If too many people know, you will spend hours having to respond to messages. Friends or family whose birthing experience amounts to a ‘Friends’ episode or ‘Nine months’ may be freaked out at how long the labour is taking so best to wait till you can send a birth announcement.
  4. Say enough but not too much. Chatting too much in the labour room can be distracting for a labouring woman who usually needs a few quiet words of encouragement but an otherwise calm environment so that her mind and body can remain focused. Lots of conversation or complete silence is disconcerting to many moms during labour but you’ll have to test the water to see what she likes.
  5. Be hands on. Her body needs to feel the support of your touch. Her mind needs to know that you are confident in the birthing environment. Feel free to shift things around in the room to make it feel more homely or less cluttered. Her heart needs to know that you are fully present in the moment and not distracted.
  6. Interact with the staff. It may help to ask the staff questions and generally strike up conversation. Some staff members don’t offer information unless they are asked. Knowing what is going on and what they are checking can be very re-assuring.
  7. Offer regular sips of water, tea or clear dilute juice. High sugar drinks will make the labouring mom tired but she needs to remain hydrated so offer regular sips of dilute fluid/ water and vary the type fluid you offer. Moms usually like it to be cold because of the hard work their body is doing and may also find it easier using a bendy straw.
  8. Offer low GI snacks. During early labour mom may want to snack or even eat a regular meal, but as she gets closer to birth she may no longer want food but may like to suck on a mint or lemon sweet. Allow her to spit it out if she feels she needs to do so when the next contraction comes. It may make controlled breathing more difficult.
  9. Avoid sitting on your phone or watching the sports channel. I know the temptation is great especially if the birth is slow and the hours are long, but she may feel very alone with each contraction if you are focused on a sports game and not her game. This in turn may impact on how she copes with the labour.
  10. Keep her upright and moving around. Upright positions and movement facilitate the progression of the baby’s head through the pelvis. In early labour moms are happy to walk around the hospital grounds. Encourage her to do this (go with her). You can even go outside into the parking area and make up silly mind games with number plate numbers from cars. This will pass some time but help her to remain upright. As labour progresses she will want to stay close to the birthing area and may be too tired to walk around. Here you can help her lean on a gym ball while kneeling over the ball.
  11. Support her body with pillows. If mom is very tired and needs to lie down, help her lie on her left side and place a pillow behind her back, between her knees, under her head and lastly one for her upper arm to rest on. This will help her body to relax as much as possible.
  12. Spur her on for the big push. Remind her how well she is doing when she gets to the pushing stage. Try to minimize the voices in the room that are giving instructions.
  13. You may like to cut the cord once your little one is born – the doctor or midwife will direct you here.
  14. Remind the staff that mom and baby would like to do skin-to-skin after birth. Sometimes everyone gets distracted with tasks. Bring baby to mom as soon as possible or remind the staff it’s part of your birth plan.
  15. Have a list or group ready so that you can send out the birth announcement.
  16. Tell her what a great job she did and tell yourself you did a fantastic job too!!
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