"What's It Like?" Series: Vaginal Birth, Part 3

shutterstock_157357346.jpgThis 3-part series has reviewed the in-depth details of vaginal birth, including what it feels like physically and the emotions that go along. In today's post, we describe helpful tips for partners and labor support persons. Each stage and phase of labor brings different sensations and therefore, changing needs. Continuous support in labor helps a mom cope better with pain, avoid interventions, increase the likelihood of a shorter labor, and have more positive memories of her birth. 

Vaginal Birth - What's It Like, For Partners and Labor Support People?

Early Labor

Early labor is often a time of excitement and fun! Contractions are becoming more challenging, yes, but in general the hard work has not yet begun. Ideally, in early labor, you have not yet transfered to your place of birth (hospital or birth center), unless of course, you're giving birth at home! The following tips will help you support a person in early labor.

  • Encourage rest -- the road ahead may be long!
  • Walk with her -- walking is a great activity for early labor, and it's nice to have company (if it's desired)
  • Go out to a movie -- or another activity that provides helpful distraction for the long process of early labor. Worst case, you have to leave early!
  • Make simple, nourishing food -- eating and drinking throughout early labor can really help provide strength and stamina for later in labor
  • Offer a back or foot rub -- always soothing and appreciated
  • Clean the house -- really. This way, you'll have a clean house to come home to after birth!
  • Pour a warm bath
  • Do nothing -- it may be that your partner wants time alone to focus or rest, and that's ok too. Ask if she'd like some time alone and if so, then get out of the house for a while or clean the house while she leaves (see above)!


Active Labor

Active labor is when contractions ramp up -- in intensity and frequency. During this time, moms often need more hands-on support and focused attention. 

  • Provide verbal encouragement -- things as simple as "You're doing great," or "I love you so much," or "You are so strong" can work wonders to help keep your partner encouraged and motivated
  • Encourage changing positions every 30-45 minutes -- changing positions help progress labor, but it can be easy for a laboring mom to forget or not want to change
  • Breathe deeply with her during contractions -- it helps remind her to breathe and provides a welcome distraction
  • Moan with her during contractions -- she'll feel like she's not alone in the hard work
  • Remind her to pee, eat, and drink -- sounds silly that someone might forget to do these things, but in labor, the focus is elsewhere. Peeing at least once an hour, drinking a sip of water after every contraction, and eat something (even something small) once every couple of hours
  • Massage her lower back, shoulders, hips, or feet (or rotate!). This will be especially important if she's experiencing back pain, for which counterpressure and the double hip squeeze would be very helpful.
  • Look for areas where your partner might be holding tension, like shoulders, her forehead, and her fists. Remind her to relax and let go in those areas. 
  • Keep the hospital room door closed, the lights down low, and the room temperature comfortable. A peaceful and comfortable environment is important! Also consider things like music and aromatherapy. 


Transition is the last few centimeters before a laboring person is ready to push. It can also be a very intense time in labor, with contractions that are lasting around 90 seconds and 1-2 minutes apart. Because of this intensity, labor support during this time is crucial. 

  • If she begins to panic, strongly encourage your partner to make eye contact with you. Lead her through the contraction by locking eyes and breathing or talking her through it. Do this with each contraction for as long as she needs it. This is referred to as the "take charge" method. 
  • Stay close by and let her know you're there for her. 
  • Provide lots of verbal encouragement. Statements like, "We're almost there!" and "You are doing it!" and "You are amazing -- you can do it!"
  • If your partner begins to get hot, as is common in transition, provide a cool wash cloth for her neck. Fill a small cooler or the sink with ice and soak a couple of rags. Rotate them as needed. 


Pushing is the most physically intense part of labor. Hand-on support may not be needed as much, but it will be important to stay close by. 

  • Encourage your partner verbally. This is true throughout pushing, but especially important if pushing goes on for a long time, mom is weary, and feels like there is no progress. 
  • Remember the cold washcloth from above? Keep it going during pushing. Great to lay across the back of the neck or on the forehead. 
  • Remind her to change positions if she's been in the same position for more than 40 minutes. Pushing can take place in lots of positions! 
  • Hydrate! Pushing can make a person very thirsty. Be there with cold water and a straw, ideally. 


There's little specific support needed at the actual moment of birth, other than snapping photos, staying close by, and soaking in the miracle and beauty of new life. 

Delivery of the Placenta and Immediate Postpartum

Once birth is over, there's one last task for mom, which is birthing the placenta. This won't be as monumental or as challenging as birthing a baby, thankfully. But staying near your partner, and providing gentle encouragement and reassurance is helpful. If stitches are needed for repair of mom's perineum, it will be important to provide renewed support for mom, including reminding her to breathe, holding her hand, stroking her hair, or encouraging her and reminding her of her strength. 

What suggestions would you add? How did your partner help you during labor and birth? What was most helpful, and what would you advise against doing?

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