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I know I’ll be OK in labor, but I’m worried about my partner

When we’re in pain, it can be very hard seeing someone who loves us get distressed. In an effort to protect them, we can then try to play down what we’re going through. This cycle of “it’s not so bad” isn’t particularly healthy. It also takes a lot of energy which can be better invested into coping with our own experiences.

When you’re having your baby, you’re entitled to make as much noise as you want to. Scream if you want to, swear and do whatever you need to do. Even if this makes your partner feel uncomfortable or shows a side of you never seen before.

What do you want me to do?

Labor is often a confronting time for partners. They want to be there and wouldn’t miss it for the world, but can be unsure about what their role may be. It takes a fair amount of physical and mental support to be a birth partner and isn’t something most people have a lot of experience doing. Being an advocate also requires some degree of confidence, especially in an unfamiliar environment where everyone else appears to be an expert.

Happy pregnant couple hugging and holding the baby belly while enjoying pregnancy together at home. Maternity and expectant concept.
When we’re in pain, it can be very hard seeing someone who loves us get distressed.
Getty Images

Sometimes we all need reminding that pregnancy, labor and birth are ‘normal’ events in a woman’s life. Experiencing pain during labor is part of the process. Some partners have a sense of needing to rescue or save the laboring woman from pain, viewing it as an abnormal event. But in much the same way we are encouraging and supportive of athletes and people who are undertaking a challenge, it helps to receive encouragement and support, not protection.

5 truths about labor

1. Women in labor need to prioritize themselves and their babies. Any empathy needs to be saved for another time.

2. Managing labor takes a lot of focus and determination. Although you may be a master of multi-tasking, you are permitted to focus on one thing when you’re laboring.

Young woman hospitalized in a bed. Gesture of pain in her belly.
Women in labor need to prioritize themselves and their babies. Any empathy needs to be saved for another time.
Getty Images/Cavan Images RF

3. It can be useful to allow other people to help. No matter how close your relationship with your partner, midwives are experts in managing all sorts of personalities. Let them support your partner and guide them in ways to support you.

4. Preparation is very helpful. If your partner has some idea of what to expect when you’re in labor, it won’t all come as a big surprise. Talk openly during your pregnancy about how they’re going to manage seeing you in pain. Developing a birth plan together can be very helpful.

5. It can help for partners to have some clear ideas of what they can do to be supportive. Massages, back rubs or breathing mantras are all positive ways partners can contribute.

Practical tips to help you and your partner prepare for your baby’s birth

Remember that every birth experience is unique. Even if you’ve previously experienced labor and childbirth, this doesn’t mean they’ll be the same.

  • Try not to view subsequent births as an opportunity to heal from previous labor and birth disappointments. Setting high expectations can often lead to disappointment – every labor and baby are highly individual.
  • During your pregnancy, have open conversations with your partner about labor, pain relief options and what you want for your baby’s birth. Often, what we conjure up in our minds is unrealistic and provokes more anxiety than necessary. Include conversations about pain relief, like gas and having an epidural. Though you may prefer to have a drug-free labor, there are no guarantees. Managing early labor pains can be reasonably easy though once your contractions become intense and more frequent, you may be more open to having medical pain relief.
  • Be prepared to be surprised. Even if your partner is normally squeamish about hospitals and blood, give them some credit for their capacity to change. Babies have a way of helping us to build new skills in all sorts of ways. Responses of “It was better than I thought it would be” or “It was tough, but OK” are common.
  • Don’t let your partner’s response to your labor and birth eclipse your own experience. If they found it difficult, then no doubt you did too! A mother’s experience will always be more intense than an observer’s.
  • Go to ante-natal classes together and if you’re interested, do some research into hypnobirthing. This is a great way for expectant couples to feel connected during their baby’s birth.
  • If you’re worried about your partner’s potential reactions when you’re laboring, speak with your maternity care provider. They may have some useful tips based on what they’ve found helpful before.
  • Encourage your partner to also invest in some self-care when you’re in labor. Having snacks, water and toiletries for themselves may be helpful.
  • Be mindful that some partners really struggle with labor and birth. If your partner says they don’t think they can be there and you’ve done everything you can to encourage them, perhaps it’s time to organize someone else. You’re better off to know this and make plans before your baby’s due than feel let down at the last minute.
  • Make a plan to let your partner know to give you some space when you’re in labor. Many women find it intensely frustrating to be touched and reassured when they’re at the peak of a contraction.
  • Let your partner know that if they are feeling overwhelmed and need a break, then it’s fine for them to step away. It’s not uncommon for partners to feel sick, faint or need to sit down when their partner is in labor. We all respond to stress in different ways. What’s important is that they speak up early if they’re not feeling well.

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