Lessons for a Labor Coach
When it was my turn to coach my wife through the birth of our first, I wish I’d been better prepared. Case in point: As I rode the hospital elevator with another expectant dad, he asked me if I knew about “the bathing suit thing.” What!? (More on that below.) Since I’ve been down that road three times now, allow me to share my experiences with you, along with some advice from the experts.
You’ve got to make a plan
And I’m not talking about an escape plan! (It’s too late for that.) Before labor, sit down with your partner to map out how you want delivery day to go. To get started, research different hospitals, consult a doula or take a childbirth class together. Discuss what will make her feel positive and negative during a vulnerable time, says Latham Thomas, a doula and founder of MamaGlow.com. She recommends positive affirmations and guided imagery to help calm mom in the delivery room.
You should pack a few surprises
She’s giving you a child, the least you could do is give her a couple of lollipops, right!? You’ll win major points if you show up with some unexpected extras to comfort her, like her favorite music, some bottled water, mints or hard candies to alleviate dry mouth, and some lip balm. You have no idea how dry her lips and mouth can get during labor, Thomas says. Plus, the more prepared you are, the more relaxed everyone will be.
You may need a bathing suit
Huh? As I mentioned, this one caught me off guard. Why? Am I headed to the hot tub with the nurses clocking out from the day shift? Nope, sorry. Even if you’re not planning on a water birth, there may actually be a time during the rigors of early labor when water therapy could be used to alleviate some of the pain and stress on mom. Many hospitals have a tub or whirlpool available in the maternity ward (the shower can be used too), and it’s not uncommon for a coach to jump in (no cannonballs, please!) and offer some physical and emotional support.
You’re going to have to get into position
Wait, isn’t that what got us into this mess to begin with? But seriously, delivery isn’t just exhausting for her; coaching can be labor-intensive for you too. As a coach, it’s important to help the process progress as much as possible, says Christina Sebestyen, MD, a physician and owner of OBGYN North in Austin, Texas. Part of that includes suggesting that your partner switch positions when she seems to be “hitting a wall.” Changing positions can bring some relief and rejuvenate her mental state, Sebestyen says. So prepare to bend or squat behind her or even squeeze into the bed with her — whatever you need to do to help support and comfort her while she’s experiencing pain.
You’re allowed to take a break
I’m not going to lie, seeing your partner in pain can be tough to take, and it’ll be even tougher to leave her side. But as much as you need to focus on her, you also need to take care of yourself. An exhausted, nauseated or panicked coach won’t do mom any good. A lot goes on during labor, and you could be in it for the long haul. To start, bring a few changes of comfortable clothes and your toiletry kit (or in my case, a gallon-size sip-top bag with my toothbrush and random bathroom gear). If you need to step away for a break — whether it’s to grab coffee or to collect yourself if you get queasy — don’t feel bad. Just have a pinch hitter on standby, like her mom or sister, to relieve you for a bit.
You might have to skip taco Tuesday
“Please, please, no eating in the labor or delivery room,” is a common refrain dads hear. This one drives doctors crazy — you can’t imagine what people do. In fact, Sebestyen once found some family members sitting around eating take-out while the mom-to-be was mid-contraction. General Tso’s chicken with a side of grunting and screaming? Not a good idea. Instead, you want to help create a serene environment throughout the entire process. You never know when a certain smell, sound or action could upset your partner. Translation: Go eat in the lounge!
You’ll want to watch your p’s and q’s
Unless you want to get slapped across the face with a bag full of IV fluid, try to keep your complaining in check. Avoid any negative triggers, warns Linda Perry, a home birth midwife, who has been working with families for 23 years at Complete Woman Midwifery. I’m fairly certain these triggers could be physical actions — for instance, breathing through my mouth or cleaning my teeth with my tongue — but verbal too. Inappropriate banter includes: “Hon, how long do you think we’ll be here?” and “This stupid hospital guest chair is uncomfortable; it’s kind of digging into my back a little.” Seriously? Nothing you’re going through is anywhere near as bad as her situation, so suck it up and repeat after me: “This day is all about her!”
You’ve got to keep your head in the game
No matter how much you’ve planned in advance, you never know what might happen next in this whole crazy process. Regardless of whether or not labor and delivery takes two hours or turns into a 48-hour marathon, or if this is your first child or even your fifth, you’ll want to be prepared for the unexpected. The birth plan you come up with beforehand may all work out, but there’s a chance it will fall by the wayside, and if so, you’ll need to go with the flow. Get a good night’s rest during the weeks leading up to the due date, so you can be as present as possible for whatever may get thrown your way. Your job is to help maintain some semblance of peace and calm during the height of the storm, Thomas says.
You need to be an advocate for your partner
There may be times throughout labor when mom won’t be in the best frame of mind to ask for what she wants or needs. Instead of constantly repeating questions like “How are you doing?” try taking a more proactive approach. Go down the hall and get her a cup of ice chips, find a pillow or a sock full of tennis balls that she might want to put behind her back, or call a nurse to come adjust the pain medication if she’s using it. Oh, and don’t be afraid to speak up if the doctors and staff aren’t following the plan you and your wife discussed. There may be a good reason why they’re veering from the original instructions, but you won’t know unless you remind them of what you want.