How to Support Your Partner During Labor

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While it can feel challenging and overwhelming to think about providing support for your partner during labor, it is a vital role that can have a significant impact on the outcome of the labor and delivery process. In fact, research shows that continuous support during childbirth for a person in labor can have positive benefits for both them and for the baby.

Positive support might even improve the outcome and reduce the length of labor. Plus, providing support can help you and your partner bond as you meet the challenges of labor together as a team.

"Labor can be a very scary and overwhelming experience," says Emily Guarnotta, PsyD, PMH-C, a licensed clinical psychologist and certified perinatal mental health provider. "It can also be very vulnerable, both physically and emotionally. Having a supportive partner during labor can help a person to feel less alone and more safe and comfortable."

If you are going to be your partner's support person during labor and delivery, it is important to gather as many tips and suggestions as you can so that you are prepared to help them through the process. Here's what you need to know about supporting your partner during labor.

Why Support Is Important

When you are actively engaged in the labor and delivery process, this can help your partner feel more secure, while helping you feel useful and involved, says Sabia Wade, a full spectrum doula and founder of Birthing Advocacy Doula Trainings and For the Village, a non-profit organization.

"Having an active support team is crucial in ensuring that decisions are being made with the birthing person's consent and are in the best interest of the family," she adds.

What's more, active support can decrease the need for medical intervention, promote quicker labors, and reduce the need for pain medication, explains Stacy Sohner, RN, BS, c-EFM, an OhioHealth childbirth education program facilitator, and Marisa Beattie, BSN, RNC-OB, CEFM, an OhioHealth childbirth educator. It also can lead to improved satisfaction with the birth process and improved bonding.

"Having a supportive partner can help enhance the experience of labor and birth," says Dr. Guarnotta. "People who feel supported are less likely to experience their birth as traumatic. Even if a [person] experiences a trauma during birth, having the support of a partner can help them cope and give them a sense that they were not alone in what happened. A supportive birth experience sets the stage for working together as a couple to navigate the parenting challenges ahead."

On the contrary, failing to properly support a birthing person can cause them to feel alone and vulnerable. It may even contribute to them experiencing the birth as traumatic, she says.

"If the partner is not supportive, the birthing person can feel closed off," Wade says. "The body goes into fight or flight mode when we feel unsupported, and in the birthing process this can physically slow down the progression of labor, which may impact the amount of interventions [needed], along with the overall safety of the birthing person and baby."

How to Prepare

You can support your partner through labor even before labor begins, says Dr. Guarnotta. Start by attending a childbirth prep class and talking about the delivery process. You may even want to help them with their birth plan or discuss their preferences for everything from pain medication and medical interventions to who they want in the delivery room, or how they feel about breastfeeding.

Physical Support

"[You also can] prepare for birth by educating yourself on the progression of labor, knowing the options that will be presented to you and what to expect, and [clarifying] the birthing person's wishes so you can best support them," says Wade. "In addition, knowing how and when to apply pressure for pain relief, knowing how to hold them and support them physically—these are things you can prepare for beforehand by practicing at home."

Wade also suggests arming yourself with knowledge and learning the link between oxytocin and labor. It also is helpful to understand the stages of labor and recognizing that it’s important for the birthing person to rest, stay hydrated, and eat.

Emotional Support

Being a support person during labor will also require you to flexible and not take things your partner says or does personally, Dr. Guarnotta says. Your role may change throughout the process. Be open to taking on different tasks and offering support in different ways.

"Because labor is intense, you may bear the brunt of your partner's pain, anxiety, and frustration," she says. "It can be difficult to accept this, but try to keep in mind that this is a very difficult experience and they may say or do things out of pain. Try not to take it personally, and instead practice letting it go."

Preparing for Challenges

It is also important to recognize that being a support person for someone can be challenging, Sohner and Beattie say. It is hard to see someone you care about in discomfort. Your natural instinct may be to try to "fix It."  

"It is important to remember that pain in labor is normal and nothing to fear," they say. "Remember that [labor] is a natural process. Help [the birthing parent] remember this and stay relaxed; it will help the labor progress quicker with less discomfort."

It is also important to remember that labor can be long, and that's normal too. A long labor is not a bad labor, Sohner and Beattie add. Labor also will change throughout the process and get stronger. 

"The labor techniques that helped in early labor may not be as effective in active or transitional labor," they say. "Experiment with many techniques such as counter pressure, massage, hip squeezes, effleurage, keeping the environment calm, and helping [the birthing parent] to change positions."

Tips for Support

When it comes to supporting your partner during labor, child birth educators, like Sohner and Beattie, sometimes use the acronym SUPPORT. This stands for supportive environment, urination, position changes, praise, oxygenation, relaxation, and touch, they say.

Here are some more specific tips on how you can support your partner during labor.

Create a Supportive Environment

To create a supportive environment, make sure the room temperature and lighting are comfortable. You also should do your best to keep the room free of trash and clutter. You may even want to play some soft music—just be sure your partner is OK with that.

You also can help minimize visitors to reduce stress in the room, Sohner and Beattie say. Offer hydration in the form of water, ice chips, clear soda, or popsicles. 

"Laboring [parents] need a lot of hydration as their bodies are working hard," they say. "Offering to help keep them hydrated is a simple supportive act."

Encourage Them to Use the Bathroom

Both Sohner and Beattie suggest encouraging your partner to urinate once an hour. This helps keep the bladder empty, giving baby more room to descend into the pelvis, and encouraging faster labor progression.

Help Them Change Positions

Shifting positions during labor can help change the shape of the pelvis, allowing the baby to navigate the birth canal, which is critical, Sohner and Beattie say. It also gives the birthing parent a new "sensation" and can help minimize labor discomfort.

"Gently suggest the birthing person moves into a new position every 30 minutes to an hour and support them in that transition," suggests Wade. "It might mean helping them get on their hands and knees and applying counter pressure on their lower back, [getting them into] a supported squat, or [encouraging] side lying."

Offer Praise and Encouragement

Let your partner know what a great job they are doing and how proud you are of them. They need to know that you are there for them and that you believe in them. As labor becomes more challenging, this encouragement will become increasingly important, so remember to praise them consistently throughout labor.

"Verbal and emotional support increase birth satisfaction and labor progress," Sohner and Beattie say. "We discuss the Gate Control Theory of pain which states that any time we can give a [birthing person's] brain something else to think about—whether that is touch, smell, sound, taste—those sensations travel to the brain faster than the pain signals and can close the 'gate' and not allow as many pain signals to get through."

They add that verbal support is one of most beneficial things a partner can offer. Without any other techniques, verbal support alone, can shorten labors, they say.

Encourage Breathing Exercises

Good oxygenation is important throughout labor and delivery. For this reason, it is important for you to help your partner breathe through their contractions, Sohner and Beattie say.

"Breathing helps with focus to get through one contraction at a time and ensures that the [birthing parent] and baby stay well oxygenated," they say.

Promote Relaxation

Promoting relaxation and helping your partner find ways to relax is important for helping them find their "posture of ease," point out Sohner and Beattie. 

"If [the birthing parent] can stay in a relaxed posture, the contractions can more effectively pull the baby in and down, putting pressure on the cervix and enhancing labor progression." Sohner and Beattie say.

Use Touch

Using counter pressure during a contraction can provide relief for those experiencing back labor, explain Sohner and Beattie. Touch provides stimulation to the brain that can close the "gate" and not allow as many pain signals to get to the brain. It also helps the birthing parent relax and find their "posture of ease."

"The less tension a [birthing parent has in their] body, the more effectively their contractions can...encourage cervical dilation and labor progression," they say.

In early stages of labor, Wade indicates that she encourages the support person to use CeraVe Baby Moisturizing Cream to gently massage the birthing person and help them relax.

"The body requires energy to sustain the marathon of birth, so relaxing when possible is really helpful," she says.

A Word From Verywell

Labor and childbirth can be an intense experience. It's understandable that you might feel intimidated and wonder what you can do to support your partner. But with a little preparation, your presence can become invaluable to your partner. Plus, there are a number of benefits to providing support like the need for fewer medical interventions and shorter labor times.

If you will be supporting someone during labor and delivery, remember why you are there—to provide support and be an advocate. It is also important to be prepared. That may mean asking questions or it may mean bringing whatever your partner needs to feel supported. You also want to be sure you are actively present and in the moment. Being able to respond to needs immediately will go a long way in helping your partner through labor.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2017;7:CD003766. doi:10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6

  2. Hidalgo-Lopezosa P, Hidalgo-Maestre M, Rodríguez-Borrego MA. Labor stimulation with oxytocin: effects on obstetrical and neonatal outcomesRev Latino-Am Enfermagem. 2016;24(0). DOI:10.1590/1518-8345.0765.2744

  3. Ropero Peláez FJ, Taniguchi S. The gate theory of pain revisited: modeling different pain conditions with a parsimonious neurocomputational modelNeural Plasticity. 2016;2016:1-14. DOI:10.1155/2016/4131395

By Sherri Gordon
Sherri Gordon, CLC is a published author, certified professional life coach, and bullying prevention expert. 

Originally written by Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH
Robin Elise Weiss, PhD, MPH is a professor, author, childbirth and postpartum educator, certified doula, and lactation counselor.
Learn about our editorial process