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How to Support a Laboring Woman FAQ
This Frequently Asked Questions (FAQ) article is composed of facts from medical journals,
studies, childbirth books, other childbirth resources, and from personal opinion. If you have
anything to add, or have a question about anything, please feel free to write me.
A birth plan is a written tool to help your desires for labor and birth be known. I find them to
be wonderful in helping to express your desires for your birth. Read the Birthing Planning
FAQ by Sabrina Cuddy, AAHCC. Or read some sample birth plans in books such as The
Birth Book by Dr. William Sears and Martha Sears or Good Birth, Safe Birth by Diana
Korte and Roberta Scaer. The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, PT, CD(DONA) is a great
book for partners, it even has a handy reference for labor. (Click here for more options.)
I would recommend that you read plenty about birth from other women. That is why
Childbirth.org has a collection of over 100 Birth Stories for your reading pleasure. When you
are done giving birth consider submitting your story for other women to read and enjoy!
The means this is a tip for dad or alternate support persons. This
indicates a tip for mom.
Robin Elise Weiss, ICCE, CD(DONA), NACA, BCCE
Last Updated: February 25, 1997
Table of Contents:
General Support in
After the Birth
Who Provides Labor
Labor Support for
Back LaborEarly Labor Support
Long Labor Support
Doula's Top Ten
Labor and birth are very demanding of everyone involved. The laboring mother needs
physical, emotional, and mental (informational) support before, during and after labor. Having
someone with the laboring woman at all times, keeping her well informed, reminding her to
change position and urinate frequently, encouraging her, reminding her of why she is doing this,
and many other jobs are needed in labor.
This labor support can be done by the father of the baby, the woman's sister, friend, mother,
childbirth educator, or a doula (professional labor support). It can also be a job that is shared,
because there is plenty to go around. Medical studies have shown that having a doula present
provides the following benefits:
50% reduction in cesarean rate
60% reduction in epidural requests
40% reduction in the use of pitocin
25% shorter labor
30% reduction in use of analgesia
40% reduction in forceps use
increased maternal satisfaction
Mothering the Mother, Klaus, Kennell, & Klaus, 1993.
This is an exciting time! You might be wondering if you are really in labor or if this is a false
start. If you know this is it you can be excited, nervous, afraid, or all of the above. Here is what
you need in this stage of labor.
Relax, go with the flow
Tune in to your body
Don't pay attention before you need to
Try to go about your normal day if during the day
If it's at night, SLEEP if at all possible
Alternate activity with periods of rest
A favorite game is to try and make the contractions stop
Take a bath
Take a walk
Watch a good movie
Pack your bag for the hospital or birth center
Ready your home for your homebirth
Alert everyone involved that you are in labor, even if you don't need
Encourage her to rest, eat, walk, whatever she feels like doing
Rub her back, her feet
Give her verbal encouragement
Help her to time contractions
Active labor is generally noticed when mom is getting very serious about her contractions. Her
contractions maybe 3-5 minutes apart and lasting 60-90 seconds. The cervix continues to thin
and open, and the baby moves down.
Relax, do not fight the contractions
Breathe (Not necessarily any special way), deep abdominal breathing
usually works very well in keeping you calm
Find a position that is comfortable for you
Maintain your mobility as long as possible, this helps speed labor by
using gravity to bring the baby down, and helps you with pain
Make sure she is not hiding tension
Remind her to urinate every hour
Remind her to drink and eat to comfort
Remind her to change positions often
Encourage her verbally
Assist her with massage, mental relaxation, or other things that work for
Maintain a peaceful environment
This is the hardest but shortest part of labor. The cervix finishes opening during this phase of
the first stage. This is the point when she may ask to go home, promising to return and finish
tomorrow, she may shake, be nauseated, or vomit. These things do not always happen but are
perfectly normal if they do. Contractions are 2-3 minutes apart, and generally last 90 seconds.
Remember the pain is not any worse, just closer together.
Relax, go with the flow
Move around and get comfortable, you may need to change position
with every contraction or you may not want to move
Listen to your body
Hang in there it's almost over!
Remind her to take one contraction at a time
Remind her this is almost over
Help her find a comfortable position
Water is especially helpful during transition. Try a shower, a tub, or
Make sure she is not tensing with the contractions
Remind her to breathe
Lightly stroke her face or other part of the body if that feels good to her
Slow dance with her
Have her sit on the toilet, this is a great place if she is having trouble
tensing her perineum
Wow! You are finally here! This stage starts with the complete dilation of your cervix and
ends with the birth of your baby! Your contractions will probably space out to be about 4
minutes apart and last 60-90 seconds. Most women describe pushing contractions as different
than labor contractions. Some women have a short period where they will not have any
contractions, or their contractions are very light and no urge to push. Sheila Kitzinger calls this
your "Rest and be thankful." phase. If you experience this do not panic, it is normal and labor
will start again, get your rest!
The urge to push comes in several varieties: the overwhelming urge, the so-so urge, and the
only at the peak of a contraction urge. Push to comfort, and do not begin pushing before you
are ready, this can lead to an unnecessary cesarean for failure to progress or the belief that the
baby is too large. Be patient.
Push to comfort
Find a position that is comfortable
Squatting opens the pelvis by more than 10%
Hold your breath as your feel comfortable, this will help with pain and
provide extra force to push
Remember that the baby is almost here
Help her with positioning, she may need you to hold a leg or support her
as she squats
Encourage her verbally
Remind her the baby is almost here
She is working hard, offer her sips of water or juice
Cool washcloths to the face and neck might feel really good to her
Remind her to relax
If she is making noise remind her to keep it low so that she doesn't tense
her throat or bottom
Your baby is born!!! Congratulations! This stage begins with the birth of your baby and ends
with the expulsion of the placenta. It is called the third stage of labor. You will most likely be
holding or nursing your baby at this point, but there are a few things to remember here as well.
Continue to relax
Nursing your baby will help the placenta come more quickly and your
Know that you did a GREAT job!
Congratulations! You did a great job helping mom!
Make sure mom has something to drink
Take pictures, including some with you in there!
Cut the cord if that is your job, and only when the birth plan indicates it
Help mom begin nursing the baby
About 25% of women will experience back labor. The most common cause is a baby who is in
the posterior (their spine against mom's spine) position. I want to point out that the best thing
you can do is to encourage the baby to turn. Here are some helpful tips for back labors.
Hang in there
Rely on your support team to help you
Continue to stay relaxed
Adopt positions that encourage the baby to turn
Hands and Knees
One foot up on a chair and lean into it
Remain upright, going to bed will not encourage the baby to turn
Take a shower
Use a tennis ball, rolling pin, soda can, or massager on her back
Counter pressure on the back is very helpful, you may be asked to push
for long periods very forcefully
Encourage her to take one contraction at a time
Encourage her to pelvic rock
Use the double hip squeeze
Remember that medication may take away the pain, but they will only
mask not cure the problem, if you choose medication you might wait until after the posterior
position has resolved itself before receiving it to lessen your chances of a cesarean
Long labors are hard, just as very short labors are. Remember that long labors end in the birth
of a beautiful baby.
Take one contraction at a time
If you are less than 5 cms consider going home
Walking is really great
Nipple stimulation can often help
Rest when you can
Continue eating or drinking to comfort
Take a nice shower
Squatting may help
She may need extra encouragement that this is normal and she is doing a
She may need help with positioning
Remind her to urinate
Remind her to eat or drink
Help her stay relaxed during contractions
Encourage her to change positions
See if she will try pelvic rocking
Talk to her, see if something is emotionally hindering her
Complication rarely occur, but support is just as important, if not more so. For detailed
cesarean support, please refer to the Cesarean Section FAQ.
Stay informed, know all of your options
Help keep her focused on her job
Make sure she has all the information necessary to make an informed
Maintain what measures of the original birth plan as possible
Find support for yourself as well
Informed consent should be obtained before any procedure or test during pregnancy, labor and
birth. Here are some questions to keep in mind to make sure that you are getting informed
Why do I need this drug or procedure?
Will my baby and I be healthier for taking it or having it done? Or is it
What are its known side effects?
Will the benefits outweigh the side effects?
What is the risk to me or the baby if I don't take it or have it done?
Are there alternatives that can be tried before this procedure/drug?
You also have the right to privacy while you make your decision, just ask the person to leave
while you discuss your options. You can call on your doula, or childbirth educator for help in
gathering information. You do have the right to ask for a second opinion from someone who is
not in practice with your doctor.
Here are the top ten doula tips for labor support:
9. Pelvic Rocking
8. Double Hip Squeeze
5. Urinate Frequently
3. Eat and Drink to comfort
2. Heat and/or Cold packs, cloths
And the number one doula tip is....
1. Support and encouragement
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