What you can do during labor

For many women 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 dads, partners or both give labor support by staying near their partner and doing things suggested by others. A much smaller percentage of dads and 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 her the best. When you are in the hospital, the labor nurses and her 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.

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

Active phase

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

Transition phase

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

Second stage of labor – pushing

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

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, either to your skin or help hold your baby to your partner.
  • 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 she's told you she wants.
  • Take pictures.
  • Ask about your baby's Apgar score.

Source: Allina Health's Patient Education Department, Beginnings: Pregnancy, Birth and Beyond, seventh edition, ob-ah-90026
First Published: 10/04/2002
Last Reviewed: 12/02/2015


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.