How Partners Can Support During Labor

Written by: Bentley Porterfield-Finn, Doula

Childbirth is one of the most unique and beautiful experiences in a person's life. It's rife with both physical changes and emotional challenges. No matter the circumstances surrounding your pregnancy and delivery, each birthing person is accompanied by a birth team during labor. Pregnant mothers should be intentional about whom they include on their birth team. It's imperative to foster a sense of trust, safety, and respect with these people. You want to feel confident that they will respect your wishes, encourage you when you feel exhausted, and advocate for you if needed. When formulating a birth team, most people think about their obstetrician or midwife, and maybe their doula, if they have decided to have one present. But I want to focus on one of the most important birth team members, your partner. Whether your birth partner is your spouse, the baby's father, your best friend, or your mother, this person plays a crucial support role in labor.

The Vital Role of Your Partner During Delivery

It's widely known that birth can be wildly unpredictable. Nonetheless, your partner can play a vital role in helping you achieve a birth experience you feel proud of. But for this support to be truly valuable, it's important for you and your partner to prepare for birth together and to establish ahead of time what you would like their support to look like. 

Studies have found that women who receive support from the baby's father during labor have a more positive childbirth experience and report lower levels of postpartum depression.[1] Nonetheless, support does not always come naturally to partners. Fathers desire to be involved in labor, but they sometimes struggle to find a role in the process.[2] Overall, they often find labor exciting and distressing [3]. They sometimes experience feelings of exclusion, fear, and uncertainty, which can impede their ability to establish a meaningful role in the birth room. A study in which first-time fathers were interviewed after childbirth revealed that fathers found labor to be more work than anticipated.[4] Thus, preparation for this support role is essential.

Prepare & Communicate Together

To help your partner feel confident supporting you during labor, I encourage preparation and communication about emotional and physical support, as well as advocacy. Childbirth education is helpful for both the birthing person and the partner. Attending these classes is associated with higher rates of vaginal births and higher rates of confidence in anticipation of labor.[5] These classes have also been shown to prepare men for birth and fatherhood effectively.[6] In class, you and your partner will learn about the emotional and physical aspects of birth. Your partner will also learn tools they can use to support you on the big day. Attending these classes together can also create a bond as you prepare for birth and parenthood together.

Emotional Support During The Entire Birth 

Emotional support is vital in labor. While your doctor or nurse may want to provide emotional support through this process, they are often tasked with the important role of monitoring your and baby's safety and sometimes neglect to attend to emotional needs. They also may be attending to multiple births at once, causing them to be coming in and out of the room rather than offering continuous support. Your partner, however, is likely to remain with you throughout the entire birthing process. When you're feeling exhausted or discouraged, emotional support from your partner can give you that extra boost of confidence or motivation. This may look like words of encouragement, reminders to breathe or to pee, and reassurance that your body is wise and you are capable.

Physical Support To Propel Labor

Physical support is another essential part of labor support. When your partner hugs you or kisses you, they can boost your body's release of oxytocin, the hormone that propels labor. They may also help with physical comfort measures, like hip squeezes, acupressure points, and counter-pressure. 

Your Partner Can Advocate for You

Finally, your partner can be an advocate for you. When preparing for labor, I encourage birthing persons and their partners to establish birth wishes regarding procedures or processes they do or do not desire to occur in the birthing space. When the time comes, your partner can remind your physicians of your wishes and ensure you always receive informed consent. 

These are just a few things partners can do to offer support in labor. I encourage pregnant mothers to attend childbirth education classes and to hire a doula. Doulas can spend quality time with you and your partner before the birth, helping establish roles. During prenatal planning, doulas may help facilitate conversations about what role a father would like to play during labor and offer couples support as they discuss desires for birth. Also, during prenatal planning, doulas may help cultivate realistic labor and postpartum expectations. 

A father or partner's presence and involvement in labor positively influence both the baby and mother's health outcomes.[7] Preparation and open lines of communication are key. Birth is a space where the teamwork of partnership can pay dividends for all involved.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:

Bentley (she/her) is a birth, postpartum, and bereavement doula in Northern Colorado. She is passionate about providing intentional support to birthing persons through all stages of the birthing process, and witnessing birthing persons discover the power and wisdom of their bodies. Bentley is a member of the Inclusive Birth Collective, providing doula support to underrepresented community members in Northern Colorado. In addition to her doula work, Bentley is a graduate student in the Department of Communication Studies at Colorado State University, where she studies health communication, social support, and identity. Find more information about Bentley and her services on Instagram (@bentleypojo.doula) or on her website (www.bentleypojo.com). 

[1] Collins, N. L., Dunkel-Schetter, C., Lobel, M., & Scrimshaw, S. C. (1993). Social support in pregnancy: Psychosocial correlates of birth outcomes and postpartum depression. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 65(6), 1243–1258. https://doi.org/10.1037/0022-3514.65.6.1243

[2] Longworth, H. L., & Kingdon, C. K. (2011). Fathers in the birth room: What are they expecting and experiencing? A phenomenological study. Midwifery, 27(5), 588–594. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2010.06.013

[3] Dellmann, T. (2004). “The best moment of my life”: A literature review of fathers’ experience of childbirth. Australian Midwifery, 17(3), 20–26. https://doi.org/10.1016/S1448-8272(04)80014-2

[4] Chandler, S., & Field, P. A. (1997). Becoming a Father: First-Time Fathers’ Experience of Labor and Delivery. Journal of Nurse-Midwifery, 42(1), 17–24. https://doi.org/10.1016/S0091-2182(96)00067-5

[5] Gluck, Ohad, Zvia Hiaev, Hanny Rubinstein, Jakob Bar, and Michal Kovo. 2018. “761: The Impact of Childbirth Education Classes on Delivery Outcome.” American Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology 218 (1): S456. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.ajog.2017.11.293.; Stoll, Kathrin H., and Wendy Hall. 2012. “Childbirth Education and Obstetric Interventions Among Low-Risk Canadian Women: Is There a Connection?” The Journal of Perinatal Education 21 (4): 229–37. https://doi.org/10.1891/1058-1243.21.4.229.

[6] Premberg, A., & Lundgren, I. (2006). Fathers’ Experiences of Childbirth Education. The Journal of Perinatal Education, 15(2), 21–28. https://doi.org/10.1624/105812406X107780

[7] Erlandsson, Kerstin, Ann Dsilna, Ingegerd Fagerberg, and Kyllike Christensson. 2007. “Skin-to-Skin Care with the Father after Cesarean Birth and Its Effect on Newborn Crying and Prefeeding Behavior.” Birth 34 (2): 105–14. https://doi.org/10.1111/j.1523-536X.2007.00162.x.; Steen, Mary, Soo Downe, Nicola Bamford, and Leroy Edozien. 2012. “Not-Patient and Not-Visitor: A Metasynthesis Fathers’ Encounters with Pregnancy, Birth and Maternity Care.” Midwifery 28 (4): 422–31. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2011.06.009.