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Erica's New Book Releasing the Mother Load is officially out! Order your copy today!
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February 20, 2024

April 12, 2023

How to Be a Valuable Support Person During Labor: Why Communication, Flexibility, and Planning Matter

E:
168
with
Jen Hamilton
Labor and Delivery Nurse

What You'll Learn

  • The Value of Communication with Your Support Person
  • Why Your Support Person Needs to Stay Flexible During Labor 
  • How Your Support Person Can Offer Emotional Help During Labor
  • Why Some Moms Need Other Support Besides Their Partner
  • The Power of Multiple Support People Working Together
  • How Gender Norms Impact Our Partner’s Support During Labor

Partners usually want to be the go-to support person during labor. But sometimes they don’t know how to help. With the right plan, conversations, and communication about expectations, partners can learn how to support you the way you need. 

Today, I’m joined by labor and delivery nurse Jen Hamilton to discuss how to be a valuable support person during labor. 

A Supportive Moment in My Labor

I had a very clear idea of what I wanted my birth experience to look like. While I was fortunate that no trauma occurred, my first labor was more prolonged and difficult than I could have imagined. 

While my labor slowly progressed, I distinctly remember a group of nurses chatting and giggling in the corner of the room. I’m sure they meant no harm, but in that moment, the last thing I needed was that distraction. Their light-hearted banter felt like such a contrast to the agony that I was in. 

Fortunately, my husband saw the look on my face and knew right away what I needed. He immediately told them that they needed to go out into the hallway or get quiet. 

It seems like a small moment, but it was so meaningful to me. I knew that I could count on him to be my support person during labor. 

For the most part, partners want to be supportive. They want to be the go-to person, the one that holds your hand and helps you feel better. But every mom needs support in a different way, and partners are often unsure of how to help. 

We might think that our partners should just automatically know what we need—but the reality is more complicated than that. We often need to communicate beforehand to ensure that our partners know how best to support us. 

I was so excited to chat with Jen about the importance of a support person and how partners can offer the best support during labor. 

The Value of Communication with Your Support Person

It’s normal for partners to be nervous and apprehensive about birth. Labor and delivery can be scary experiences for both the birthing and non-birthing partner. 

Jen has seen her fair share of partners that feel powerless and helpless during labor. They might be unsure of where to intervene and how best to help. She said that the biggest way non-birthing partners can prepare for labor is to know their partner. 

The biggest way non-birthing partners can prepare for labor is to know their partner.

That might sound basic on the surface, but in reality, labor is often unlike any other experience. Partners might not be prepared. They could even use avoidance as a coping mechanism or withdraw from the process because they aren’t sure how to help. 

Jen recommended having plenty of conversations, starting well before birth, about what support you want and how you want the experience to go. Sit together and write down a list of what your partner can do to offer both physical and emotional support, whether it’s rubbing your back, providing uplifting affirmations, playing music, or holding your hand. 

Sometimes, you might not even know what you will need during labor. Jen said it can be helpful to think about things that comforted you when you were sick as a child. Did you want your parents close by, offering help? Or did you prefer to be left alone and not touched? Did you like to have someone rubbing your back or hair? These could be good indicators of what type of support your partner can offer during labor. 

Why Your Support Person Needs to Stay Flexible During Labor 

Preparing and having conversations beforehand is important. But Jen also pointed out that partners need to understand they aren’t the main character in the story. 

Partners need to understand they aren’t the main character in the story.

It’s common for birthing partners to enter labor and feel completely different. For example, maybe they thought that they would like their back rubbed, only to discover that they absolutely do not want to be touched. 

Jen often tells non-birthing partners that they should understand that their partner in pain is going to be a different person. They might not communicate their needs in the nicest way. It’s important not to take this personally. 

The non-birthing partner’s role is to take changes in stride and stay flexible for whatever the birthing partner needs in the moment. 

How Your Support Person Can Offer Emotional Help During Labor

Part of the reason why it’s often hard for partners to know how to offer support is that unexpected things can happen, whether that’s a change in what the birthing partner needs or a birth experience that doesn’t align with the plan. This can be difficult for both partners. 

So much of labor and delivery is unpredictable. But Jen pointed out that while the methods of support you need might change during labor, what won’t change is how you want to feel.

The methods of support you need might change during labor, but what won’t change is how you want to feel.

That’s why it’s important to talk about not just what you want your partner to do for you during labor, but also the feelings you hope to have during the process. We want our partner to be there for us emotionally—not just complete actions without meaning. 

Do you want to feel supported? Connected? At peace? Jen recommends getting clear and discussing it in advance. Think about how your partner can best support you and help you feel those emotions with a wide range of approaches. 

Why Some Moms Need Other Support Besides Their Partner

While society often tells us that our partner should be the go-to support person if we have one, that isn’t necessarily always the case. 

Jen pointed out that if your partner isn’t typically there for you emotionally, you shouldn’t expect it to be any different during birth. Holding unrealistic expectations might lead to a negative experience, conflict, and resentment.

If your partner isn’t typically there for you emotionally, you shouldn’t expect it to be any different during birth.

Think about how your partner responds when you are sick or hurt. Do they withdraw from the discomfort? Do they try to get somebody else to come stay and help? Do they become overly worried? Or are they there for you offering support? Will they be busy wrangling other siblings? This might indicate what they will be like during labor. 

Everybody’s communication styles are different. If you have a partner who is overly anxious or can’t support you best the way you need, it might be a good idea to bring in another support person, such as a doula, a family member, or a friend. 

If you do want your partner to be your support person during labor, it’s vital to communicate your expectations in advance. You need a safe anchor who is going to be there for you every step of the way. 

The Power of Multiple Support People Working Together

If you are in a position to afford a doula, Jen recommended doing so. Bringing in someone whose sole focus is centered and anchored on mom’s needs can be a great thing. 

When you do bring in a doula or an additional support person, it doesn’t mean that you don’t trust your partner, and it doesn’t mean you have to give them a pass to not show up. It simply means that you understand what type of safe anchor you need. Your partner can still be a valuable lifeline in the room—you just might need extra or different support along the way. 

Jen said that she is proud when she walks into a room and sees an additional support person. She knows that mom is advocating for her own needs. 

Her favorite birth team is a partner and a doula. She likened this combination to a photographer who can help position someone who doesn’t know what to do with their hands in a photoshoot. There are plenty of partners who are eager to be a support person during labor—they just don’t know exactly what to do. 

There are plenty of partners who are eager to be a support person—they just don’t know exactly what to do.

But a doula can help guide your partner and offer suggestions on how to help—just like a photographer can tell someone how to stand and what to do with their hands. The combination of a partner’s eagerness and the knowledge of a doula can be very powerful. 

How Gender Norms Impact Our Partner’s Support During Labor

It’s also important to think about why our partners might struggle to be the support person during labor. In different-sex relationships in particular, gender norms often play a role. Dads might not have been socially raised to be nurturers or caregivers. 

So when they are entering into this nurturing role, they might be uncertain. If it’s rarely been asked of them to offer emotional support, they often simply don’t have the practice. What seems obvious to us might not be obvious to them. 

That’s not to say that we should lower our expectations—but it does mean we need to get clear about them. 

Talk about what you need from your partner and how you expect them to show up. If you don’t think they will be able to provide that support, talk about what other people you can call in and how they can work together. 

Momwell offers more than just mom support! We also provide therapy support for partners. Book a FREE 15 minute consult with a virtual therapist today!

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Tags:

Birth, Partners, Labor

Stage:

Pregnancy, Postpartum

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OUR GUEST

Jen Hamilton
Labor and Delivery Nurse

Jen is a Labor and Delivery Nurse who accidentally found TikTok fame during the pandemic by not being afraid to show her authentic self. Jen has 2.6 Million followers and travels the country, motivating people to become brave enough to be real. Jen founded her organization, Hot Mess Express, in 2021, which is a nationwide group of moms and caregivers who come together to rescue moms in need by doing the housework that can seem impossible to them.

Erica Djossa
Erica Djossa
PMH-C | Founder of Momwell
Erica is the founder of Momwell, providing educational resources and virtual therapy for moms. She is a mom of three boys and a registered psychotherapist. Erica’s work has been featured in the Toronto Star, Breakfast Television, Scary Mommy, Medium, Pop Sugar, and Romper. how they want it.
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