What does a birthing partner need to know?

Being a birthing partner for your partner during labor and delivery can be an incredibly rewarding, yet nerve-wracking experience. While your partner is doing the hard work of bringing your baby into the world, you play an essential supporting role by providing comfort, encouragement, and advocacy. The more knowledgeable and prepared you are for the process, the better you can support your partner through each stage.

What is a birthing partner?

A birthing partner, also called a labor support person or birth coach, is someone who provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the birthing parent before, during, and after labor and delivery. This is most commonly the other parent or partner, but it can also be a relative, friend, or doula.

As a birthing partner, your role is to:

  • Offer reassurance, encouragement, and praise
  • Provide comfort measures like massage, cool compresses, music, etc.
  • Remind them of breathing and other coping techniques
  • Help communicate with medical staff
  • Make sure their wishes are respected
  • Provide ice chips, drinks, and other nourishment as needed
  • Give them a loving, calm, and consistent presence

How can you prepare?

You will be far better equipped to support your partner if you take time to educate yourself and prepare beforehand. Here are some key ways to prepare:

  • Educate yourself: Read up on the stages of labor, pain management options, cesarean birth, complications, etc. Take childbirth classes together or watch instructional videos.
  • Learn comfort techniques: Practice massage, acupressure, breathing exercises, and other ways to provide physical and emotional comfort.
  • Discuss preferences: Talk to your partner about their ideal birth environment, pain management wishes, and what kind of support they want from you.
  • Pack supplies: Gather items like lip balm, lotion, hard candy, a battery pack, essential oils, a playlist, etc.
  • Arrange logistics: Confirm when to head to the hospital, childcare for older kids, pet care, who you’ll call after the birth, etc.
  • Rest up: Be sure to get plenty of sleep leading up to the due date, as you’ll need energy during the marathon of labor!

What happens in the different stages of labor?

Knowing the progression of the three stages of labor will help you understand what is happening and how best to support your partner.

Stage 1: Early labor

  • Contractions become longer, stronger, and more regular
  • Cervix dilates 0-6 cm
  • Wide range of duration: hours to days
  • Woman can talk and walk through contractions
  • Your support: Suggest walking, provide distractions, give encouragement

Stage 2: Active labor

  • Contractions 2-5 minutes apart, 60-90 seconds long
  • Cervix dilates from 7-10 cm
  • Usually up to 8 hours for first-time moms
  • Woman focuses inward, breathing heavily through contractions
  • Your support: Provide ice chips, give reassurance, remind to change positions

Stage 3: Transition & pushing

  • Contractions 1-2 minutes apart, 60-90 seconds long
  • Intense back pressure and rectal pressure as baby descends
  • Total pushing phase usually 1-3 hours
  • Extreme focus and concentration
  • Your support: Stay calm and encouraging, provide cool cloths

How can you provide support during labor?

Your partner will rely heavily on your loving support throughout the intensity of labor. Here are some of the key ways you can provide physical and emotional support:

Encourage movement and positions

  • Suggest walking, rocking hips, lunging, and using a birth ball to help labor progress and alleviate pain.
  • Help support them in various positions like squatting, side-lying, hands and knees, or supported in a tub.
  • Avoid staying in one position too long.

Provide pain relief measures

  • Use massage, counterpressure, and acupressure on the lower back during contractions.
  • Place cold washcloths on the forehead, neck, and other areas.
  • Use a warm shower or bath, heating pads, ice packs, etc.
  • Diffuse essential oils like lavender or clary sage.
  • Play soothing music and limit bright lighting.

Give verbal encouragement

  • Offer frequent praise and reassurance (“You’re doing so great!”, “We’re getting close!”, “You were born to do this!”)
  • Remind them to relax their face, shoulders, and body between contractions.
  • Prompt them to use breathing techniques, visualizations, and mantras.
  • Keep spirits up by staying calm, positive, and focused yourself.

Provide nourishment

  • Offer ice chips, popsicles, sports drinks, or clear broths to stay hydrated.
  • Give honey sticks or hard candies if allowed to keep up blood sugar.
  • Apply lip balm to prevent chapping from breathing hard.

Advocate their preferences

  • Remind staff of their wishes for medications, monitoring, interventions, etc.
  • Ask questions about procedures before they are performed.
  • Step in if you feel a procedure is unnecessary or consent is needed.
  • Be their calm, clear voice if they cannot advocate needs themselves.

How can you best provide support during pushing?

The most challenging but rewarding time may be the pushing stage. This intense period requires laser focus, exhausting work, and digging deep mentally and physically from your partner. Here’s how you can promote stamina and comfort:

  • Offer ice chips, lip balm, cool washcloths, and words of praise often
  • Encourage them audibly (“Keep going, you’re so close!”) and with your presence
  • Suggest position changes periodically like side-lying, squat bar, etc.
  • Support and lift their legs while pushing if helpful
  • Advocate for their Preferences firmly if needed
  • Avoid overt expressions of anxiety or impatience
  • Remain their calm constant through this crowning moment!

What happens after delivery?

Your amazing support continues after your baby has arrived! Here are key ways to assist and celebrate post-birth:

  • Joyfully announce baby’s gender if you were waiting to know
  • Cut the cord if offered
  • Take photos and video of baby being weighed, measured, etc. if desired
  • Stay with baby for procedures like bathing and exams if mother wishes
  • Help initiate breastfeeding
  • Assist with mother’s comfort while any stitches or procedures are done
  • Share the exciting news with loved ones
  • Enjoy cherishing your new family together!

How can you take care of yourself as a support person?

Focusing completely on your partner is natural but be sure you take care of yourself too! You’ll function best when your own needs are met:

  • Drink plenty of fluids and eat regular snacks to keep your energy up
  • Take short breaks to use the restroom, grab a coffee, or get some fresh air
  • Stay on top of responding to texts from family so you both can focus
  • Step out if you feel faint or overly stressed and regroup
  • Switch off with a doula or other support person if available
  • Nap if you can, especially in early latent labor
  • Don’t neglect your own sustenance and self-care!


Being present as a loving, knowledgeable support for your partner during labor and delivery is one of the most meaningful roles you will take on. While challenging at times, reminding yourself that each contraction and push brings you closer to meeting your child makes it completely worth it. Stay focused on your partner, meet their physical and emotional needs, and take care of yourself too – you’ve got this!

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