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Advice for Partners – Labour, How Can You Help?

birth is very short. what happens next is the hard part

Advice for Partners – Labour, How Can You Help?

It is important to decide whether or not you are going to be there for the birth of your child.  If you decide that you cannot or do not want to be there then you must make sure your partner has a suitable birthing partner, usually a close friend or mother.  You must have some sort of plan in place about how this person will be contacted when she goes into labour.

Have You Discussed Her Wishes or Worries?

It is a good idea if you and your partner have discussed in some kind of detail, her wishes for the birth.  Although of course certain aspects may be taken out of your hands if for example she needs a caesarean section and she was hoping for a water birth, but it is good if you are working from the same page. Although we would not recommend creating a structured Birth Plan as such, it can be helpful to talk about what kind of birth she would like to have should you be lucky enough for everything to go according to plan.  Your job is just to agree with her and support her choices, not to try and change her mind!

You can discuss whether or not you might like to cut the cord.  (do not worry if you are not sure, there will be time to change your mind at the time of the birth).   You should also discuss whether or not your wife would like to have the injection to help deliver the placenta and if the baby will be having the Vitamin K injection when he/she is born.  You need to decide on these 2 things before the birth as they are decisions that should be made quickly after the birth.

For more on these 2 subjects please see our section on Examination of the Newborn.

If your partner is having a Caesarean Section you could read through our page on Caesarean Section this will tell you what to expect, where to stand, and what not to look at if you are squeamish!

If you understand about the different stages of labour and the normal series of events, then it will help you to understand what is happening at different stages when the time comes.  We suggest you read through our section on Stages of Labour.  Below, we will briefly outline the various stages and what your your partner might be experiencing and what, if anything, you can do to help.

How it all works!

In order for the baby to be born, several things must happen.  Firstly, during the first stage of labour the cervix must soften and then thin and then start to open and pull back.  This stage is called Latent labour.  The baby will then start to move out of the uterus and down towards the vagina.  The cervix needs to dilate to about 10cm before the baby can come out of her womb.  This is called Active Labour. He or she will then need to pass down the vaginal passage and out through the vagina.  This is the second stage of labour.

Contractions of the uterus and then your wife’s pushing are what will help this all to happen.  If you understand what is happening and why, then you may be less likely to worry, and be a great support to your partner.

Before Labour Starts

Before labour becomes established, your partner may get some signs that things are happening.  She may have a “show”- which is where the mucus plug comes away from the cervix in the form of some discharge and sometimes some blood.  She may have some tightenings or contractions.  She may have backache, nausea or diarrhoea.

There is not much you can do at this stage except wait.  Try to keep busy or distracted because although the baby’s arrival is relatively close, it could still be days away!

Make sure you both get rest and stay as relaxed as possible.  Watch a film, go for a walk or a meal, encourage your partner to have a bath and relax.

When Labour Starts

The First stage of Labour, the Latent Phase, is normally characterised by mild and slightly irregular contractions which last about 30- 40 seconds and may come every 5-10 minutes.  They can also come more or less frequently but there is unlikely to be a rhythm or pattern to these contractions as labour is not yet established.

The Latent Phase can last for hours or even a couple of days, so it is best to remain at home if you can.  Your partner should speak to her midwife and talk to her about any symptoms she is having.  She will most likely be advised to stay at home as long as she can, unless there are other circumstances which might mean you are better off in hospital, perhaps if you or the baby need to be monitored.

Your partner is likely to be a little uncomfortable but not in terrible pain, so you should still be able to have a conversation and carry on fairly normally.  She may be very nervous or excited in anticipation of what is about to happen.  Reassure her if she feels scared.

You may like to go for a walk.  If she is feeling good and strong then a long walk is not a bad idea.  If she is very tired and uncomfortable then a marathon hike is not advisable, but you can encourage her to remain upright as this can help labour to progress.

A warm bath or a massage might be nice, or she may not want you to touch her at all.  Just ask her what she would like.

If she has an appetite then encourage her to eat something small.  It is not advisable to have a big meal because during labour the digestive system slows down and a belly full of food may need to be expelled by her body later in the form of vomit!

She can practise her breathing techniques and perhaps strap on her TENS machine if she has one.  This is a great form of distraction and can help with the pain as well as pass the time.

As the contractions start to get more frequent and more intense and painful, she should ring the labour ward who will assess her over the phone and advise her when to go into hospital.

The hospital will suggest you stay at home as long as you can as it is much more relaxing and comfortable to be in the comfort of your own home.  However, if you or your partner become worried or uncomfortable and want to go in, then there is no harm in going.  She will be examined by a midwife who will decide to either keep her in or send her back home.

When Established Labour Starts

Established Labour is generally characterised by contractions lasting about 60 seconds, coming every 3 or 4 minutes.  They are likely to be painful and may make your partner feel nauseous and she may panic as the pain becomes more intense.

If you are not already in the hospital, now is the time to head in.  You can call ahead to say you are coming or you can just go straight in.

Don’t forget the bags! 

You may want to pack yourself a few snacks as you may not be getting a proper meal for a while!  (

A word to the wise – strong smelling snacks may not go down well in the labour room!  The man who ate cheese and onion crisps next to his wife whilst she was contracting got a face full of projectile vomit as the smell completely repulsed her!

Go With The Flow

She may not be able to speak or look at you when she is having a contraction and she will perhaps start to moan or groan or even shout out in pain.  She may not be able walk during a contraction and she may even want to go down on all fours as this may feel more uncomfortable.  She may not be able to find a comfortable position and may move around a lot trying to work out how to find one.

She may swear at you or the midwife.  She may want to hold your hand.  She may not want you to touch her.  She may not want to look at you.  Do not be surprised by how she reacts.  She has probably never felt pain like this before and is just trying to deal with it as best she can.

With every contraction remind your partner that she is one step closer to meeting the baby.  Praise her and encourage her and tell her you are proud of her.  It may seem funny now, but you will be proud of how she is coping.

Remind Her to Breathe

it sounds crazy but don't forget to breathe

Remind her to breathe.  It can help if you have a read through her breathing techniques, so you know how to help her if she forgets.  It may seem crazy now, but someone in pain can forget to breathe properly, so it can really help to remind them how to breathe in and out slowly.  The longest a contraction is likely to be is about 90 seconds.  You can remind her of this so she knows that the pain will be gone soon.

If your wife has not yet had any pain relief and she is really suffering or perhaps she has asked for pain relief but it is not coming, then be assertive.  Go and find out why and when she can expect it.

The midwife or doctor will be checking your baby’s heartbeat regularly.  She will also regularly check your partners pulse, temperature and blood pressure.  She will also do a vaginal examination to see how far her cervix is dilated.

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Want to know what to expect week by week in pregnancy? Got some burning questions for what you can and can’t do with a bun in the oven? Want to find out what might happen during your labour… it’s all in our free guides! 

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