You have a big job as the labor coach. You are the main person who will:
Help the mother as labor begins at home.
Stay and comfort her through labor and the birth.
Whether you are helping the mother breathe or giving her a backrub, you will also be a familiar face on a hectic day. Just being there counts for a lot. Here are some tips for getting prepared.
Before the big day arrives
Labor coaches should go to childbirth classes with the mother-to-be before her due date. These classes will help you learn how to comfort and support her when the big day arrives.
Get to know the hospital. Take a tour of the hospital prior to the birth. A tour may be part of the childbirth classes. Talk with the staff on the labor and delivery unit to get an idea of what will happen on the big day.
Know what the mom expects. You and the mother should talk ahead of time about what should happen on the day of delivery.
Does the mother-to-be want to use breathing techniques?
Does she want you to be hands-on?
How can you help soothe her pain?
How involved does she want the midwife to be?
When does she want to get pain medicine?
Natural childbirth is very hard work. A woman may decide on natural childbirth at first, but find that the pain is too much to bear when she is in labor. Talk with her ahead of time about how she wants you to respond at this point.
Write down a plan. A written plan for the labor and delivery will help make things clear ahead of time. Of course, when the contractions are in high gear, many of those decisions may change. This is OK. Give her your full support around how she wants to get through her labor and delivery.
When the day arrives
You might be at the hospital for many hours. So remember to bring things to the hospital for yourself, such as:
Books or magazines
Your music player and headphones or small speakers
A change of clothes
Comfortable walking shoes
It may take a long time for the baby to be born. Be prepared to wait. Labor and delivery can be a long process. Be patient.
At the hospital
Be an advocate. There may be times when the mother needs something from the doctors or nurses. She may need for you to speak up for her.
Make decisions. At times you will have to make decisions for the mother. For example, if she is in severe pain and can't speak for herself, you may decide it is time to find a nurse or doctor who can help.
Encourage the mother. Labor is hard work. You can cheer her on and let her know that she is doing a good job.
Ease her discomfort. You can massage the mother's lower back or help her take warm showers to ease the pains of childbirth.
Help her find a distraction. As labor gets more painful, it will help to have a distraction, or something that will take her mind off of what is happening. Some people bring items from home, like a photo or a teddy bear that the mother can focus on. Others find something in the hospital room, like a spot on the wall or on the ceiling.
Be flexible. The mother will get so focused during the contractions that she may not want or need you at all. She may ignore you, or may get angry at you or others in the room. Don't take anything said during labor personally. It will all be a blur after the baby is born.
Remember, just having you there will mean so much to the mother. Having a child is a very emotional journey. You are being helpful by just being there every step of the way.
Petrie K, Larimore WL. Management of labor. In: Ratcliffe SD, Baxley EG, Cline MK, Sakornbut EL, eds. Family Medicine Obstetrics. 3rd ed. Philadelphia, PA: Elsevier Mosby; 2008:chap 14.
Klaus MH, Kennel JH, Edwards WH. Care of the mother, father, and infant. In: Martin RJ, Fanaroff AA, Walsh MC, eds. Fanaroff and Martin's Neonatal-Perinatal Medicine. 9th ed. St. Louis, MO: Mosby Elsevier; 2010:chap 33.
Cynthia D. White, MD, Fellow American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Group Health Cooperative, Bellevue, WA. Also reviewed by David Zieve, MD, MHA, Isla Ogilvie, PhD, and the A.D.A.M. Editorial team.