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What you can do during labor

What you can do during labor

For many pregnant people just having their partners with them is the most important thing. No one can replace the love and support you have to offer.

Talk about what kind of labor support you feel comfortable giving. Studies have shown that most partners give labor support by staying near their partner and doing things suggested by others. A much smaller percentage of partners actively coach their partner during labor.

What is most important is that the two of you feel OK about what you will do. If your partner needs more labor support, consider asking a family member or friend. Or, hire a doula, a labor support professional.

While you are at home — and it's a good idea to stay home as long as possible—help your partner relax. You know how to do this better than anyone else because you know your partner the best. When you are in the hospital, the labor nurses and your partner's health care provider can offer you tips and ideas on how to help.

To be better prepared, and to help set your own mind at ease, read the sections preparing for labor and giving birth. Also, see the labor companion's quick checklist. It can help you with some common labor and birth situations. Reading it ahead of time may make you feel more confident. You'll know where to find answers quickly if you need to.

Take a childbirth preparation class with your partner. You will learn things that will help the two of you cope with labor, get answers to your questions, and meet other expectant couples.

Here is a general overview of the phases and stages of labor and some things you can do. Remember, it's your love and encouragement that is most valuable.

First stage of labor

Early phase

  • Help your partner stay calm and relaxed.
  • Reassure your partner that they have learned to cope with contractions.
  • Help your partner stay comfortable in or out of bed.
  • Encourage your partner to drink liquids.
  • Try to sleep or rest yourself if it's your normal sleeping time.

Active phase

  • Help your partner change positions often and to get comfortable.
  • Remind your partner to go to the bathroom at least every two to three hours.
  • Talk your partner through contractions.
  • Praise your partner on how well they are dealing with labor.
  • Keep your partner's lips and mouth moist with sips of water, ice chips and flavored lip balm.
  • Give your partner encouragement and support. Learn more about labor coaching.
  • Keep talking and listening to your partner.
  • If your partner is in bed, adjust it for better positions.
  • If your partner has an epidural for pain relief, stay close and give them your attention. Even though your partner is in less pain, they need your support.

Transition phase

  • Be prepared for contractions with multiple peaks or ones that don't seem to go away.
  • Talk your partner through contractions.
  • Breathe with your partner if it helps.
  • Help your partner focus on your face or a picture during contractions.
  • Help your partner relax between contractions.
  • Understand if your partner feels frustrated, short-tempered or upset.
  • Praise your partner.
  • Tell your partner you know they can do this.
  • Help your partner anticipate the next contraction and begin breathing before it starts.
  • Stay with your partner.
  • Watch for signs of pushing. You may hear your partner hold their breath and figure out they are pushing before they do.

Second stage of labor – pushing

  • Let your partner push in a way that feels most effective for them.
  • Ask your partner how you can help or try something yourself, such as hold their legs, support their back or talk them through the pushing.
  • Help your partner get comfortable.
  • Remind your partner to relax their jaw and her pelvic floor.
  • Encourage your partner to rest between contractions.
  • When you start to see your baby's head, tell your partner.

Third stage – after birth

After birth

  • With a vaginal birth it may be possible for you to cut the umbilical cord. After the cord has been clamped with two clamps, you will be told to cut the cord between these clamps using scissors. The cord is stronger than it looks. It takes more than just a little snip. Although cutting the cord is something you may be able to do, you don't have to do it.
  • Hold your baby skin-to-skin.
  • Spend time as a family before inviting visitors. You have just made it through a big transition. Take this time to bond and relish this special time in your lives.
  • Explain to the nurse your partner's wishes for breastfeeding, time alone, or whatever your partner's told you they want.
  • Take pictures.
  • Ask about your baby's Apgar score.

Source: Allina Health Patient Education, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, eighth edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/06/2021