Knowing how to comfort a friend or family member while they are in labor can help them manage the stress of having a baby and can even create a stronger bond in your relationship. Good news — you don’t have to be a professional doula to provide excellent labor coaching, especially if your pregnant loved one wants to have you along for the journey.
When I wrote my article on how husbands can support labor, I interviewed my husband, Nick, to get his top-shelf labor advice for expectant fathers. This time, we are going over things that anyone can use to be a rock-star labor coach.
If your expectant friend or family member wants you with them for any amount of time during their pregnancy and birth, it is great to have a go-to list of beneficial things.
In our Facebook community, I asked parents to let me know the very best things their support people did for them while they were in labor. As I saw their answers pouring in, my heart filled with happiness, and I got excited to share their labor coach tips with you. So, I decided to paraphrase a lot of what they said for this blog.
As you read through this labor coaching advice, imagine it’s your friend or loved one speaking directly to you.
Here are some labor coaching tips for doulas and supportive family members:
- Believe in her and tell her so
- Know what labor looks and sounds like
- Breathe with her
- Be present
- Get on the same page with the birth plan
- Squeeze her hips
- Be happy and invoke positive emotions
- Be calm, but honest
- Stand up for her and ask questions
- Sometimes, mothers in labor just need silence
- Understand your own limitations
- If something unexpected happens, be there for her
These 12 tips will leave you feeling even more prepared to be a confident and supportive labor coach.
1. Believe in me and tell me so
I need you to have 100% confidence in me and my ability to birth the way I desire, and I need to KNOW that you believe in me.
Supportive labor coaching uses phrases like:
- “You WILL do this.”
- “I believe in you.”
- When I doubt myself, “You ARE doing this.”
These encouraging words will make a big difference in my confidence levels, too. If I see or hear you questioning my decisions, I may not feel supported in the empowering birth I want to have.
Tell me I can, I am, I will. My dream is that my doula/doctor will look me straight in the face and say, “You’re about to get your VBAC.” Honestly, just the thought of it makes me cry.Alyssa
2. Know what labor looks and sounds like
In pregnancy, labor, birth, and all of life, knowledge is power. Please take some time to know what the normal birth process looks like before I go into labor.
Things will get intense, especially right before I have the baby and when I am pushing. If you have never seen that before, it can be surprising. And that is when I will need your support most.
Watch some birth videos that show women giving birth, and watch many of them. Read a book or two about labor and giving birth. If you can, attend birthing classes with me, or do your own research to get prepared.
I don’t know what my labor will look and sound like, so having you ready for multiple circumstances helps you stay grounded and focused. Just don’t freak-out.
3. Breathe with me
Birth may take my breath away, literally. If you notice I am having difficulties keeping my breathing deep and slow, your labor coaching can help bring me back to mindful birthing.
Breathe out loud, in and out, nice and slow, and ask me to follow along with you. Breathing with me will help me get the oxygen my body and baby need and help distract me and stay on track.
4. Be present
Be with me. I won’t know what I need ahead of time, so I need you to be present and attentive to me in my space.
- Am I panicking? Distract me or breathe with me.
- Am I in a good labor rhythm? Sway and move with me, or even sit still and quiet.
- Do I need to be touched? Keep your hands on me.
- Has it been some time since I had food or water? Offer me water or a snack.
And at any time, tell me I am doing a fantastic job and that I am going to meet my baby soon.
Sometimes, I may feel scared about giving birth. I may be healing from past birth trauma that is still with me. If you notice I am triggered by something, remind me that this birth is new and different than my last birth.
Last but not least, PLEASE take photos or videos (after I give you permission, of course). I will likely want to look back at them, as I will not remember all the details from my experience.
5. Get on the same page with my birth plan
If you don’t understand why I want my birth to happen a certain way or why I chose a particular provider or location, ask me. If I’ve made a VBAC birth plan or I want certain things to happen, should I need a family-centered cesarean, labor coaching includes supporting my birth choices.
Ask to learn, to really hear me, and to absorb what I am saying. Don’t respond right away. Sit with what I have said, and ask more questions if you need to. I just need you to understand and support the things I have chosen for my birth.
If plans need to change, that is ok. Help me navigate through those changes by being confident in me and my ability to choose what is best for my baby and me.
6. Hip squeeze, please
Squeeze my hips, rub my lower back, massage my feet, scratch my head or play with my hair. Most people like to be touched, held, or squeezed during labor. It helps balance out labor intensities and relax me.
Counter pressure is life.Rachel
I also reserve the right not to want to be touched at all. Follow my lead if touch isn’t helping me.
7. Be happy
When I open my eyes, I need to see your warm, loving smile. If everyone in the room looks tired, worried, scared, or irritated, I will feel tired, worried, scared, and irritated. It will totally throw me off my groove.
No matter what is going on in the room with my labor, or if you are completely wiped out, concerned, or exhausted, just smile at me. I will feel your love, and that’s a big part of how to be a labor coach.
8. Be calm, but honest with me
Sometimes plans need to change; sometimes, they need to change drastically. Keep me informed about what is going on, and let me be the decision-maker about my care.
I need to be able to trust the people in my space. If something comes up that scares you, if I am restless or crying out or holding my breath, put on your brave face and try some of the following things if you aren’t sure what to do:
- Use my name when speaking
- Be next to me
- Make eye contact with me so I can focus directly on you
- Use phrases like “I am with you” or “ I am here”
- Breathe with me (see how I keep bringing that up?)
- Get help from a medical professional
9. Stand up for me and ask questions
By this time, you likely know my birth preferences and how I desire things to play out. If you see something come up that is not something I wanted, notice if it is emergent. If not, respectfully remind me of my preferences (even in the medical staff’s presence if necessary). I may not be in the right mental state to do that for myself.
I may also have a doula with me. One of the benefits of having a doula is that they are trained and experienced in how to respectfully advocate for the birthing parent. As you prepare for labor coaching, think about how you will advocate for me, without speaking for me, pressuring me, or letting things happen without my consent.
If you don’t know what to say, simply ask, “Do you have any questions or need time to think?” That simple question can work wonders.
If I start asking for things you know I didn’t want, like an epidural, hold on to me tight, try and calm me down, and wait until after a contraction is over. When my mind is calm, ask me if I really want to change my plan and get an epidural or if I want to try one more contraction first.
Most of the time, I will just be verbalizing my discomfort, but when my mind is calm and the contraction is over, I can make the best choice for me, even if that means getting an epidural (or whatever else it may be).
10. Know that sometimes, I may just need quiet
When everything is going well, let it go well. Sometimes, things don’t need to change, and labor coaching means to sit back, relax, and hold space for me just by being present. Being the guardian of a quiet room is especially important if I am resting.
11. Understand your own limitations
While you are rocking the role of childbirth coach, take time to absorb some of the magic of the birthing process. Notice your own reactions to the miracle of birth and enjoy this incredible moment.
If you feel overwhelmed or need a break, step out of the birth space to be alone for a while. Just make sure there is someone in the room to be with me while you are away.
I know you are not a doctor, midwife, nurse, or professional birth coach; that is ok. I recognize you might get overwhelmed or need a break sometimes, especially if my labor is long.
12. If something unexpected happens, hold my space
If there is an emergency, the medical team will take over. Remember, put your brave face on, and you just being there will help me.
If I need to talk about those hard things either before, during, or after labor, I need to accept my feelings are real, even if you didn’t see things the same way. Validate what I am saying, and just listen.
Even if you know it will be ok, or that I will be ok, I may not be ok right now, and I will need you to sit in that space with me and let me feel everything that I am feeling.
Thank you for being here. Thank you for loving me, supporting me, and trusting me in this journey. Labor coaching isn’t rocket science. All it takes is compassion, understanding, and love to be a strong birth support person. I KNOW that you are up for the job, I believe in you, and I trust you with this extraordinary moment in my life.
Want to take your labor coaching skills to the next level? Doulas can sign up for our Advanced VBAC Doula Certification to learn all about coaching parents through the extra challenges and fears of birth after cesarean! It covers all the evidence about VBAC safety and tools to help parents release fear and trauma so they can have the birth experience they desire.
If you are a parent planning a VBAC, many of the same tools are available just for you, in our online childbirth class, The Ultimate VBAC Prep Course for Parents. As a birthing parent, you will learn everything you need to know about preparing for a safe and successful VBAC — and your birth partner will get all the labor coaching tools they need to fully support you.