What an important role you've taken on as labor coach! Whether the woman in labor is your partner, family member, or friend, she'll look to you for strength and encouragement. And though you may find it hard to watch her in pain as she goes through labor, you're likely to find the birth one of life's most powerful and satisfying moments.
Here are some tips for being a great labor coach:
Know What to Expect.
Labor is not the right time to be flipping through a pregnancy book or notes from childbirth classes, so finish your reading beforehand. And go to a childbirth class with an open mind – you'll get solid, basic information, as well as a sense of how other coaches are planning to get through the event.
Be Ready to Wait.
Unlike in the movies, most women labor for hours before they even go to the hospital. Indeed, it's often more comfortable to spend the early stages of labor at home. And many hospitals won't let a laboring woman check in until her contractions are regular and coming about every five minutes.
You may want to time the contractions periodically, so you can have a sense of how things are progressing, but you don't need to do so continuously. Much better to save your energy to care for your loved one.
Be available to do whatever she finds relaxing at this point, such as watching TV, taking a walk, or cuddling on the bed. This isn't the time for finishing up last-minute projects or doing household chores.
The same labor strategies don't work for all women. Well before the baby's due date, take time to discuss expectations and options. Later, you can take the initiative with your laboring mom's wishes in mind. But be prepared to change course – part of a labor coach's job is to discern what works and drop what doesn't.
Don't Take Things Personally.
A woman in labor may be in her own world. Giving birth is a long, hard job, and some women cope by reaching deep inside themselves.
The laboring woman may become outwardly irritable at times, too. For instance, she may love having you massage her early in labor, and then during transition find being touched intolerable and let you know that in no uncertain terms! It's important not to misconstrue her behavior as a rejection of you.
Bring a Few Things for Yourself.
Most pregnant moms ready their overnight bags long before their due date. But you may be spending the night at the hospital, too, so don't forget to pack some things for yourself. Essentials: A change of clothes, comfortable shoes, and a sustaining snack (one with no strong odors, please!).
Partners sometimes join moms in the tub or shower. If you think you might do this, pack a bathing suit.
Medical professionals should, but don't always, explain what they're doing and whether it's mandatory. Don't be shy about seeking out information, whether about medical procedures or about helping the laboring mom get more comfortable – especially if she's not up to asking questions herself.
Be Her Advocate.
A laboring woman is not always in the best condition to make hard decisions or assertive requests. Be ready to step in if the situation calls for it. You may need to ask that her healthcare practitioner be woken from a nap, that an anesthesiologist be paged, or that a mirror be brought in. And if Mom plans to breastfeed, help make sure that she has a chance to do so soon after the baby's born, and that someone's there to help her if she's having trouble.
Help Her Stay Focused.
Suggest different coping techniques when necessary, drawing on the methods you've both learned in childbirth classes. For example, suggest position changes or encourage her to find something – such as a breathing pattern, your face, or even a foot rub – to focus on during the contractions, and bring her back to it whenever she starts to think she won't make it.
Know Your Limitations.
A lot goes on in the birthing room. Be aware of what you're willing to do during the process and what you want to leave to the professionals. For example, if you're not comfortable cutting the umbilical cord (even if that was the initial plan), just say so.
Just Be There.
This is one of those events for which showing up is the most important thing of all. Even if you want to – or have to – leave most of the hands-on stuff to the pros, your presence matters. And no matter how you really feel, project a sense of confidence and calm reassurance: "You're doing great! Everything's going fine." There'll be time for you to unravel later.