50 Labor Ideas for Birth Partners (From a Doula)
1. Just be present. By this, I mean really present, emotionally and physically. Put down the phone. Don’t watch the fetal monitor (if your partner is using one). Heaven forbid you have the TV on (unless your partner wants this distraction). Be as much a part of the process as your partner needs, without being in their face.
2. Tell them they’re beautiful.
3. Physical touch. Unless they request otherwise, maintain physical touch with your partner when possible. This can be massage or counterpressure, but it can also be as simple as a gentle hand on the shoulder, or holding hands.
4. In early labor, do something distracting together. Work on a puzzle, watch rom coms, get amazing takeout, play a game.
5. Set your partner up in a comfy spot when it’s time to rest – in bed, or in a rocking chair or recliner. Get the pillows positioned just right so that every part of their body can relax.
6. Set both of your phones to “do not disturb.” Make sure calls from your provider, your doula, and anyone else needed during the labor process will ring through, but not calls from curious family and friends. (It will help if you create those settings ahead of time!)
7. Offer water or an electrolyte beverage after every contraction. A water bottle with a straw will help them drink water in any position.
8. Go for a walk together.
9. Loving words – It can feel awkward to say “I love you” in front of strangers or even members of your birth team that you know, but your partner needs to hear it.
10. Keep your words positive – Instead of, “Oooooh! That was a bad one,” say, “Wow, that was an intense contraction/wave/surge. You’re so awesome!” Remember, it takes big contractions to get the baby out.
11. Get them a cup of tea with honey. Red raspberry leaf tea is a uterine tonic, and a great choice in labor, but any herbal tea that’s comforting is good.
12. Thank your providers and nurses. They work hard and are there to help!
13. Offer easily tolerated finger foods. Think complex carbs like crackers and toast; proteins, like nuts, eggs, or cheese; and sugars, like fruit or candy.
14. Brush their hair.
15. Watch/feel for tension – a clenched jaw, tight fists, raised shoulders, a furrowed brow, or curled toes are common signs of tension in the body that your partner didn’t know they were holding onto. A gentle verbal reminder and/or some massage will help them tune in and release that tension. You may need to do this with every contraction. That’s ok.
16. Know the birth plan.
17. Use heat. A rice sock or heating pad at home, or ask the nurse for hot packs in the hospital. Feels good on the lower back.
18. Suggest the tub.
19. Bring your swimsuit and support your partner in the shower (or tub if it’s large enough).
20. Cue up relaxing music.
21. Keep the environment dimly lit to promote positive hormonal changes. At home, can you pull the blinds or put blankets over the windows? At the hospital, ask your nurse how to turn off the lights and close the shades.
22. Eat. Yes, you. Eat something. And drink water!
23. Protect the space of the laboring person. Create a safe cocoon, greet anyone entering the room and say who it is if your partner has their eyes closed, so that they needn’t be disturbed more than necessary.
24. Don’t suggest medication. If your partner wants it, they’ll say so.
25. Maintain your confidence in them even when they lose confidence in themselves. “You’ve got this.” “You ARE doing it!” (If they say they can’t do it.) “You are so strong.” “You rock.”
26. If the two of you have been planning an unmedicated birth and your partner now feels they want medication, crank up your support level to a 10. Suggest a change of scenery (Get in the tub/shower? Get up and sit on the birth ball?) and suggest revisiting the idea in half an hour - it may be the intensity of transition making them feel this way, and if so, it will soon be over, and time to begin pushing out your baby. If your partner remains determined to receive medication, accept and support this change in plans.
27. Bring them warm fuzzy socks.
28. Bring them their lip balm.
29. Relate sensations to progress – lots of pressure down low? Back pain that gets lower and lower? Those are signs Baby is moving in the right direction! Contractions increasing in intensity? Getting closer to meeting your baby! Feel overwhelmed, nauseated, and shaky? Not long now! A burning and stretching sensation at the perineum? You’re about to hold this new little human!
30. Massage their hands, feet, or head.
31. Advocate if you or they feel their wishes are not being heard/respected.
32. SIT DOWN and conserve your energy.
33. Write down the names of your birth team – nurses, doctors, etc. Call them by their name. This contributes to a positive labor environment and makes it easier to send thank-yous later.
34. Make a plan ahead of time for pets so that in labor you’re not feeling like you need to get home to feed the dogs and let them outside.
35. Use a portable electric fan, a paper fan, or anything you can grab, like a clipboard or folder, to keep them cool.
36. Give them ice chips between pushing contractions.
37. Use a cool wet washcloth on their brow, neck, or chest. Refresh it every so often as it warms up.
38. Don’t mention how long this labor has gone on.
39. Keep the environment quiet. Use hushed tones and encourage others to do so. Use soft music or white noise to drown out neighborhood or hospital sounds. In the hospital, keep the door to your room closed.
40. When you need to leave your partner’s side briefly (to use the restroom, get food, etc.), ask your doula, a nurse, or any other support person who may be accompanying you to stay with them until your return, even if it’s just for a minute or two.
41. Push on their sacrum with the heel of your hand or fist. The spot, not to be indelicate, is right at the top of the butt crack.
42. When they are in the tub, slowly pour water over their belly, especially if it’s a regular-sized bathtub and not deep enough to submerge their belly. You can use a large bowl or an (unused and sterile!) emesis basin or "urine hat" to do this. If you don't know where to find these, ask your nurse.
43. Suggest getting in hands and knees position and supporting their upper body on a birth ball. At home this can be done on the floor; in the hospital, put the birth ball on the bed. Then rub their back or hold a heating pad on their lower back.
44. Hold them up while they have standing contractions. Let them give you their full weight. Remind them to bend their knees and open their hips.
45. Kiss them.
46. Put their favorite essential oil on a cotton ball and place it near their face. Lavender and chamomile are relaxing. Peppermint reduces nausea. Citrus is energizing. Have a Ziploc baggie handy in case they suddenly can’t stand the smell and need you to get rid of it. (For this same reason, avoid using scented massage oil or lotion or diffusing a scent into the room. These are harder to get rid of if the scent becomes problematic – or if a member of your birth team turns out to be allergic to it.)
47. Jiggle their hips. (See “Shake the Apple Tree” on spinningbabies.com.)
48. Praise your partner repeatedly. You see how hard they are working. Say so.
49. Talk about the baby.
50. Give them an amazing lower back massage.
BONUS: 51. Print or bookmark this list and have it with you in labor!