The Birth Partner: How to Be a Good Support Person During Birth

Being a supportive birth person or partner can help make the birthing person feel more empowered, comfortable, and strong. Here are some tips to be a good support person during birth.

Knowing how to be a good support person during someone’s birth can have a profound positive impact on the birthing person’s experience. This article outlines how to do just that for vaginal labor and delivery, including:

  • Before birth
  • Early labor
  • Active labor
  • Transition
  • Pushing
  • Placenta delivery

Note: If you are planning on cesarean delivery, some of these sections may still apply to your experience, especially the “before birth” part.

woman in water giving birth supported by husbands arms

Supporting during pregnancy and before birth

Your role as the birth partner starts long before the first contraction.

1. Discuss birthing preferences

It’s a good idea to discuss birth preferences with your partner so that you have an idea of how they would prefer to be supported, and it will allow you to advocate for their priorities in their birthing space.

2. Take a birthing class

You can get a lot of helpful information on comfort measures and the choices available to you during birth by taking a childbirth education class and talking with your doula if you have one. 

Taking a childbirth education class is a great way to prepare for your role as a Birth Partner because you’ll get a better idea about the stages of labor and what to expect during each one.

They also often give you many good ideas for how to help your partner stay relaxed and manage pain, and they may even have you practice them during the class.

Pro tip: I recommend taking an independent childbirth education class for a more rounded view of all the options available instead of being limited to a hospital’s policies or standard procedures.

If you’re planning for your baby to be born in a hospital, a childbirth education class at your hospital will likely go over hospital protocols and what the birth rooms look like.

3. Read a birthing book or two

Reading a book or two about being a birth partner can also be extremely useful. I highly recommend The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. 

Pro tip: If you have a busy schedule and have difficulty getting through books, get them on audio to listen to while cooking dinner, at the gym, or on your morning commute. You can even sign up for a free Audible trial.

4. Consider hiring a doula

During this time before birth, you may also want to consider hiring a doula to support your birthing partner and yourself.

Their training and their experience being in birthing spaces regularly make them an excellent addition to the birth support team. Often, they give you the tools and support you need to be the best support person for your partner and are a calm and reassuring presence for you both. 

woman in labor with support partner and doula

Supporting during early labor

During early labor, contractions are relatively mild and inconsistent. Your partner probably won’t be in much pain but just a little uncomfortable (this does vary from person to person, though).

Because early labor can last a while, it’s a good idea to encourage them to go about their regular routine as much as possible. Other things you can do in early labor are:

  • Call your care team to let them know that early labor has started.
  • Help them stay distracted with movies, games, outings, etc. 
  • Offer to massage their hips or lower back. 
  • Keep them nourished and hydrated.
  • Make sure you both get good rest. 
  • Double-check that you have packed everything you need for your birthing place. 
  • Time contractions now and then, but don’t focus on them consistently. 
the book "the birth partner"

Supporting active labor

When contractions become more intense and frequent, and the cervix is dilated approximately 4-7 centimeters, this is considered active labor.

Pro tip: Unless you are planning a home birth, you need to go to your birthplace once in active labor.

You will probably notice that your partner becomes more serious and focused on each contraction—your support is crucial during this time. Some things you can do to support during active labor are:

1. Create a comforting environment

dim lights, play music, etc.

2. Use affirmations and words of encouragement

to help them feel confident, safe, and relaxed. Avoid counterproductive language like “calm down” or “you’re overreacting.”

3. Get the oxytocin flowing

by giving loving touch or making them smile/laugh. This is known as the “love hormone” and is essential for the progression of labor. You are the best source of oxytocin.

4. Help your partner change positions often.

Even if they have an epidural, changing sides and using a peanut ball can help things.

5. Provide hands-on pain relief

Using massage, counter pressure, acupressure; hip squeezes, etc., to relieve pain during contractions. Ask first, as some people do not like to be touched during contractions.

6. Keep them nourished

Get them water/juice, snacks, cold clothes, etc. 

husband holding wife's hand during labor

Supporting during transition

The most intense contractions come during what is called the transition phase.

The cervix usually dilates 8-10 centimeters during the transition and leads to pushing the baby out. This phase is the shortest, but often the most intense.

Your partner may lose their breathing rhythm, and the comfort measures they were using before may not work anymore.

Some things you can do to support during transition are:

  • Look them in the eyes and tell them to breathe with you.
  • Remind them that they will meet their baby soon and take it one contraction at a time.
  • Give them your hand or something else to squeeze. 
  • Apply counterpressure.
  • Fan or place a cool cloth on them if they’re hot.
  • Help them relax between contractions.

Providing support during pushing

You’re close to meeting your baby! The pushing stage can last 15 minutes to 3+ hours. The contractions will likely be further apart and not quite as intense as during transition, but they will feel a strong urge to push during them (this may be different if they have the epidural). Some ways you can support during pushing are:

  • Remind them to breathe. 
  • Help them relax between contractions.
  • Give words of encouragement.
  • Help them find the most comfortable and productive position for pushing.

Note: Positions like squatting are often a better alternative than flat on their back (and they still have options if they have an epidural).

woman in hospital bed giving birth

How to support placenta delivery

The final stage is the birthing of the placenta. This usually happens around 5-20 minutes after the birth of your baby. You can help support your partner during the initial skin-to-skin experience. 

More birth resources you might like

Want to get the Birth Partner’s Cheat Sheet? Download your copy now!

Interested in one-on-one childbirth education classes or adding a doula to your support team? Connect with the contributor of this article, Kara, and save 15% on her virtual doula services. Simply mention that Hello Postpartum sent you.

Kara Thompson

Birth & Postpartum Doula

Kara is a full spectrum doula and founder of Bump-to-Birth Doula Care. She cares for growing families both virtually and in-person from pregnancy to postpartum with an inclusive, evidence-based, and empowered approach to doula care. After having two babies of her own, Kara felt called to help others feel confident and supported through their journey to parenthood, now providing childbirth and newborn care education, nutritional support, and hands-on care during labor and birth to parents of all kinds.

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