I’ve been to many labors and births as a birth doula over the years—over 300 births, to be exact. And I have seen a lot of things while supporting mothers and their partners. Some things that the support people do are super helpful to the woman in labor, but other things… not so much.
To better prepare support people, I’m sharing some things that people should NOT do or say when visiting or supporting a woman in labor and birth. Most of these points apply to every labor and delivery, but these will especially apply if she wants a natural birth. Hopefully, this will save you from receiving a few death stares or getting yelled at.
1. Over Sharing/ Sharing With the World
I know that you are so excited about everything that is going on. You want to tell everyone in the waiting room and probably everyone in the world (or on Facebook) what’s happening with mom and baby. You need to remember, though, this is her experience and she may not want specific details shared with other people (even family) at that moment. She may not even want any details shared at all. Please respect that this is her labor and her birth. She may want to be the one that shares the news. Who knows! Just remember, always ask her before you share any information, no matter how small the details seem.
2. Eating in Front of Her
If she’s not allowed to eat during labor, then (in her mind) you shouldn’t be allowed to either! At least not in front of her. (It’s a terrible idea not to take breaks and eat since you need your energy to support her. The last thing she needs is for you to faint and/or hurt yourself and become another patient.) However, when it comes to eating, the last thing she will want to do is to watch you eat your food or smell your food. More than likely, she’s starving — especially if she’s having a long labor. That’s just not nice to eat in front of her. If you want to eat, I recommend going to the waiting room or stepping outside the room to do that.
Also, even if she’s not starving, the smell of food could cause her to become nauseous. I’ve had clients in the past that didn’t like the smell of coffee on their partners’ breath. It was too strong of a scent for them to handle during that time. This is why I also recommend bringing a toothbrush and toothpaste with you or some gum and breath mints.
3. Watching the Monitor the Whole Time
It can be helpful to see when a contraction is coming on the monitor so that you can get ready to support her. It is also nice to know when contractions are coming so that you can determine mom’s labor pattern. But it is not helpful if you aren’t paying attention to her because you are only watching the screen. This dehumanizes her birth experience and makes her feel unimportant. She wants your help and attention, so don’t constantly look at the monitors.
Also, I don’t recommend making comments about the contractions on the monitor screens and comparing how big or small the contractions are. For example, “That one looks tiny. It shouldn’t hurt you that much. Why are you in that much pain and making that much noise? Woah, that one was HUGE!” NOT helpful! Watch what you say in front of her. Everything should be positive and supportive of the laboring mother.
4. Chit Chatting
I’ve been in some labor and delivery rooms where things got loud because many people were talking. Several conversations were going on and it was as if the guests didn’t remember that mom was trying to have a baby. This is not helpful at all! You must be mindful of where you are and respectful of what the laboring mom needs. They usually want a quiet, relaxing and calm room because they are already nervous/anxious about the birth of their baby. Try not to chit-chat too much with the people around you. This can become distracting and irritating to the laboring mama, making her lose her focus in labor. She will let you know if she wants to talk or wants you to talk.
5. Get Upset, Turn Off, or Become Defensive
Labor is hard work. That’s why they call it labor. It can be a long and hard road or a short and hard road. No matter how you have a baby, it is an exhausting mental and physical challenge for every woman to go through. I let support people know that there may be a point during labor where mom won’t be as nice as she typically is. She will be tired, hungry, hormonal, and in pain during labor.
Hangry takes on a whole new level when a woman is in labor. If she yells at you, swats you away, curses at you, or cries, do not take anything she says or does personally. It is not about you. It’s the challenge of what she’s going through that makes her break. Because you are invited in that room, you are someone very near and dear to her heart. You are a safe outlet for her. That’s why she feels she can break down to you. Please don’t turn away from her and become frustrated or defensive because she needs you right now. Continue to be helpful and positive around her. Remind yourself that this is not about you. Think about how much she is going through and has been going through over the past 9-months.
6. Deny Pain Medication
Some moms know already that they want an epidural during their labor. Other moms know that they want a natural birth and want to avoid any unnecessary interventions. Hopefully, you have discussed her birth plan with her to know what she wants. I’ve had some mothers tell their significant others that they absolutely cannot let her get an epidural or pain medication no matter what happens or what she says. While I am a big advocate for supporting her wishes, you never know what her labor could be like when the actual big day comes. It could be days and she might not be handling it as well as she had hoped.
In my opinion, if her cervix is 7cm or more, you can definitely help encourage her to continue on without pain medication since she is now in transition labor and baby will soon be born. However, if she is struggling and it’s been hours upon hours and is only 3, 4, or 5cm dilated, then you need to listen to her in that moment and call the nurse for the drugs.
7. Take (or Post) Photos or Videos She Doesn’t Want
Before she’s in labor, discuss whether or not she wants photos or a video of the labor and birth. (I’m a big fan of birth photography, but she may not be into it.) You may really want to capture some cool photos or video of the baby being born, but don’t do it if she doesn’t want it. That can make her feel violated and steal the privacy of her baby’s birth. Also, you must check with your hospital or birth center about the rules of photography and videography during labor and birth beforehand.
8. Tell Her She’s Pooping While Pushing
FYI, a lot of moms poop while they are pushing. It’s normal and shouldn’t be something announced to the room. As a mother pushes her baby down, the baby’s head presses against her colon, and that causes a stool to pass. So if it happens, ignore it. Do not point it out. Do not tell her about it later. She’s already having to be vulnerable and lose all modesty as she exposes her privates to the strangers and guests in the room. The last thing you want to do is embarrass her by pointing out something she has no control over.
9. Steal Her Thunder!
After she has the baby, do not share it with the world (via social media) or with the guests in the waiting room. Allow the mother to announce the good news. She wants to be the person to tell everyone if it’s a boy or a girl, how big he/she is, if the baby has a lot of hair, etc. She wants to see their first reactions and the joy on their faces. So keep it quiet until she has shared the details with family, friends, and Facebook. 😉
Have I left anything off the list, ladies? We all want you to have the best experience possible, so here’s to preparing every guest and support person before the big day!