If you’re pregnant, especially for the first time, one thing that is always in the back of your mind is giving birth and what to expect. While it’s different for everyone, guest blogger, Cara Del Favero from Mother’s Choice Birth has some tips for your partner so they can help support you when the time comes.
You’ve probably already gone through the excitement of the positive test, the hugs and high fives from friends and relatives, maybe even deciding to find out if you’re expecting a he or a she. Now, though, it’s starting to sink in: you have to have this baby! This cheat sheet is by no means all your partner needs to know on the big day, but something to fall back on if it’s go time and all their childbirth classes fly out the window.
The Childbirth Partner’s Guide to Labor and Birth
Let’s answer the basics, like “What will she look like while she is in labor?” or “When should we think about heading to the hospital?” or, most importantly, “What can I do to help? I mean, really help?”
By now you’ve learned more about the uterus and the cervix than you’ve ever heard before. Maybe you even know about our mucus plug. Now it’s time to connect the dots to understand just what’s going on down there, in there and out here. The uterus and the cervix, believe it or not, are actually one in the same. The cervix is sort of the gateway to the uterus, which contains your baby, a placenta, the amniotic sac and nearly a gallon of fluid!
Early Labor: How to Know & What to Do!
When the stage of early labor begins, the cervix begins to thin out and become softer so it can open easily. She may feel what is described as a shooting or pricking sensation along with mild cramping, similar to PMS cramps for some. She will probably be able to maintain a nice conversation with small pauses while going about her business. The best thing to do is to go about what you had planned and focus on your last few hours or days as just a couple (or more!) It’s also important to note here that if she has had a cervix check done at the midwife or doctor’s office, it may not mean much. Some women are 4 centimeters for weeks before going into labor. My mother went from 0 centimeters to nearly having me in the hospital parking lot!!
Active Labor: What now!?
The next stage is active labor, when the cervix begins to open at a more rapid pace and your baby begins to make the journey into the pelvis. This can be strong, amazing work she’s doing that should be treated as such by everyone in the room. Contractions may become stronger, longer and take on a regular pattern, happening every few minutes.
She may start having trouble talking during her contractions and show signs of fatigue in between. She may make strong, primal sounds and honestly? This is awesome. This means that she is well on her way to holding your baby in her arms!
This is the time to encourage and support every single minute. Suggest that she relax her mouth and muscles while contracting, letting out deep sounds from her belly with deep breaths to give oxygen to your baby (fun fact: the mouth, anus and vaginal muscles are all related! Relaxing and opening them helps labor progress effectively.)
Physical support is critical during this time frame. You don’t have to be a licensed massage therapist to give her fantastic pain relief, just rub wherever you see her tensing up, especially in the shoulder area. Hot and cold cloths, alternated, on her face and the back of her neck can help with her constant temperature changes.
Encourage changes in position, to things like all fours, sitting and bouncing on a pilates ball, laying on bed on her side are all great choices. Avoid laying on the back as much as possible, contrary to popular belief, this can actually close the pelvis and make baby journey uphill. Make sure you always have a water bottle handy, offering it to her constantly, even putting the straw right in her mouth. Snacks on hand will keep her energy up, but remember too that labor can be a time for puking. So choose foods that are high in protein, healthy fats and natural sugar while keeping in mind that it needs to be able to come back up as easy as it goes down.
Remind her after every contraction of how amazing she is doing and how fantastic it’s going to feel to hold her new baby shortly.
When to make the call
By now, you may be wondering if it’s time to head into the hospital or call the midwife (for home birthing families.) While there is no right or wrong answer, short of actually seeing the baby coming out (CALL 911!) it’s a personal decision.
The general rule is 4-1-1: 4 minute apart contractions, at least 1 minute in length for at least 1 hour, but we all know that not everyone plays by those rules, babies included. Some better signs to look for are emotional markers. She may begin to enter a phase of self-doubt, you may hear the tell tale “I can’t do this!” mantra. It’s common shortly before the quickest and most intense part of labor, transition. By the way, the appropriate response to this? Is always “You are doing it!”
She may be short on conversation and might be short with you, period. Don’t take this personally, it means that she is in the labor zone and conserving energy whenever she can. Physically, you may notice that she is starting to get closer to the ground and, sorry to say, but she may start farting. A lot. Your partner may also poop a bit. If you need to take a moment to giggle, let it all out now; we can almost guarantee that she is self conscious about this. If she does do either, put down the air freshener. Most birthing women will poop on the table. Pretend it didn’t happen, instead tell her how she’s getting so close to having her baby! She will thank you later. Isn’t it funny that in labor, rudeness and flatulence are encouraged? These are all great signs that point towards going in.
You will need to discuss the procedure for calling and going into labor and delivery with your practice first.
At the Hospital!
Once in the hospital, this is really where support is a top priority! Quite a few first timers believe that their doctor, midwife or labor nurse will be there 24/7, but this is rarely the case. Nurses are the unsung heroes of the maternity ward (bring them cookies, seriously) and often take on a huge patient load to help many mamas birth. Your care provider usually comes in to “catch” your baby and maybe to discuss options with you once in awhile. There are exceptions, of course, but this is why it pays to be prepared (and hire a doula to help out with their expertise….just sayin’!)
If she is beginning to enter the transition phase, contractions will be coming very close together and she may look like she is in a totally different place. She may not be able to respond, so consider suggesting position changes, keep giving her water and food (depending on hospital policy) and through each contraction, remind her of how close she is. This is the most common time to ask for pain relief, usually while she is in the middle of a walloping contraction. Remind her that she is going to be holding her baby very, very soon and maybe suggest: “Let’s talk about an epidural in three more contractions,” so she can make a real, informed choice at a better time. Generally though, transition only lasts for thirty minutes to an hour before pushing begins, it is both the hardest work and the most relieving as it means you are almost there!
All About Pushing
First timers always ask “when will I know to push?” and trust me, you will just know. She may start feeling as though she needs to, well, use the toilet….really badly. She may start making grunting or growling noises. If you haven’t already, this is the time to hit the “call nurse” button.
While each practice or hospital may have different policies on pushing, evidence shows that any position other than the back is best to let gravity do the work. Yes, babies do come out! The pushing you often see on TV, with the people shouting “ONE! TWO! THREE!” are only usually used in labors where mama has had a strong epidural and is no longer able to feel the need to push. When she knows she has to, she rarely needs someone else to guide her. The best encouragement is to remind her to follow her body…push when it feels best for her.
It’s Baby Time!
When your baby is crowning, you could ask for a mirror to hand to her if she’d like to see the action or encourage her to reach down and touch her baby. If this is too much for her, something like “wow, he/she has a lot of beautiful hair!” can remind her of her ultimate payoff. Then, it’s baby time! There is a new, amazing little creature, covered in waxy vernix, laying skin to skin on your partner’s chest. Now would be a great time to remind your care provider if your partner would like to keep the cord pumping precious blood to your baby while still attached and uncut, as well as a reminder if she has chosen not to receive pitocin to deliver the placenta unless medically necessary. The placenta, thankfully, does not have bones and usually detaches and comes out by itself within a few minutes to half an hour, usually with just one push.
Then, well, there’s not much else to say. You bask in your love for your daughter or son. Go ahead and enjoy that oxytocin high; both of you have earned it. You only get one birth experience for each child you have, why not do everything you can and hire the best fitting doctor/midwife and doula support for your family? Do your research, find your voice and give your partner your all, for your baby. For your whole family.
~Cara Del Favero, CLC, Mother’s Choice Birth
Cara is a local birth coach/doula, postpartum doula, Certified Lactation Counselor, natural childbirth educator and placenta pill maker (really!) She has been working with families for three years as a doula and for nearly a decade as a tutor and early childhood educator. She is married with two children, one born by cesarean which started her doula journey and her second, born by Vaginal Birth After Cesarean after learning all about her local birthing options. Her passion is birth and everything related, but she also loves cloth diapering, canning everything that can be put in a jar and makeup artistry as a side hobby. She is currently booking clients through 2014 and offers an array of services to fit the needs of birthing and new parents, whether it’s a planned natural birth or cesarean, epidural or induction. Please visit her website, motherschoicebirth.com for more information and to access some excellent birth and parenting resources. She can be reached via private email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This blog post is not intended to be used as medical advice and is not intended to be taken in place of guidance from your care provider. Please contact your doctor, midwife or other pregnancy care provider about water birth. This post is based on current medical evidence as well as anecdotal and personal experience.