(This is part 2 in a series of 3. Read part 1 here.)
Often, couples preparing for birth assume that the mother will labor and the partner will “coach” her through the process. BUT, for so many reasons described here, this idea sets the whole team up for some mid-labor flailing. So if not coach, then what ARE partners preparing to do during this 1-to-2-day process?
Primarily, a partner’s job is to LOVE HER during labor.
Hey, dude, don’t roll your eyes. I MEAN IT. And it’s not just a pretty idea. It’s absolutely crucial for the efficiency of the process and for her experience of the labor.
Making Labor Faster
You see, the process of labor is caused by a mix of various hormones. One of the primary hormones (Ok, ok, birth-nerds, THE hormone) that causes contractions is Oxytocin. You may have heard of it before, as it’s also known as the “bonding hormone” or the “cuddle hormone”. All mammals secrete it at specific points in our lives.
You have already experienced bursts of Oxytocin in your body. For instance!!
You get an Oxytocin response in your body when you share a meal with someone , when you hug someone for 20 seconds or more , and when you look at cute puppies and babies , . Also! when humans lactate, Oxytocin partners with Prolactin to help her produce milk and to bond with the baby . And Oxytocin FLOODS a mammals system after an orgasm .
Anything that makes the mother’s body respond with Oxytocin will help keep the labor going. So in this way, the way a partner treats his lady can make the labor work even more efficiently. The partner becomes the environment in which she is laboring, surrounded by love and connection. When a partner is saying, touching and doing things to get that strong, love response, the birth mother’s body will have a great shot at a straightforward labor.
Framing her experience of labor
Many women have an intuition that the way they are treated in labor matters. They write birth plans, hire doulas, choose care providers that they trust and take classes with their partner.
And it’s absolutely true. The way a woman is treated in labor has a greater impact on her experience of birth than interventions that are used , .
This is a role that partners are made for. Who better knows how she likes to be cared for than a partner? Who knows how she is best reassured or calmed than the one who knows her intimately? In the middle of the storm of labor, the partner’s love holds her steady.
Oxytocin is also key in her perception of birth. Oxytocin acts as analgesia, minimizing the perception of pain . It has an added bonus of reducing her memories from uncontrollable stress .
While birth is unpredictable and sometimes complications arise, a partner’s hands-on support lessens the stress and pain-perception in the mother. Connecting with each other through all the tough moments forms the experience and casts the light of the memories.
So how can you prepare for this role in birth even now?
Armed with this new approach, partners can begin to think about what makes her feel loved now. Prenatally, couples can have some conversations surrounding this idea. He or she can ask her how the mother imagines being supported. What is she hoping for?
They can practice it now. As pregnancy causes insomnia, aches and uncertainties, they can begin to embody the role they will take during labor. Massaging her back to sleep, using kind words to help her talk through her fears, validating the emotional transition she’s experiencing: all labor preparation.
Three ways of being
The primary ways that partners can support a woman in labor fall under three categories: physical presence, verbal presence, and emotional presence.
Physical presence. What sort of touch does she like? Does she prefer a calm, steady hand or a light massage to her back? Does she like to be held firmly so she can relax? Does she like someone who moves with her as she sways? Also prepare for the idea that what works today may shift as labor contractions change her physical needs.
Verbal presence. What words work for her? Does she like to be told she’s strong or does she want quiet? Does she like to be reassured or does that just piss her off? Some women want a lot of encouragement. Some just want physical presence. Think especially about what helps when she is stressed out or in discomfort.
Emotional presence. This will vary based on the dynamic of the couple. Some mothers are completely comfortable getting reassurance and support from a doula (or other supporter) as her partner sits nearby. Some want the partner’s constant engagement. Some partners are more stoic while some are more anxious. Some partners will also need support through the emotional rollercoaster of birth.
Front-load the Love
Invest now in your relationship to give it a wider foundation in labor, but also in new parenthood. This may mean hashing out some hard conversations. It may mean couple’s therapy. It may mean some adventurous sex. (doula’s orders)
Go on dates. Take walks. Cook together. Dream together.
My hope is that you also feel a sense of relief reading this article. And now, instead of studying and cramming for all the various medical possibilities or feeling overwhelmed with exactly what labor positions to use when, you can invest a little time in just loving on each other.
HOWEVER! Partners, your role doesn’t end here. With the next article, I’ll reveal the second task you have through the birth of your baby.