It’s hard to really understand what someone else’s pain feels like. Birth also comes with a lot more “stuff” than just discomfort – there are other physical things going on, not to mention the myriad of emotions, fears, doubts, joys, decisions, etc.

And each birth is so unique. Whatever number this birth is for you, it’s different than the last one. While there may be similarities, nothing happens exactly the same – and even if it did, you would still experience it differently.

So how do we support someone with encouraging words when we really don’t know what to say?

Instead of saying “just relax” …

“Relax” is a word that, especially in labor, has no real meaning. “If I knew how to relax, don’t you think I would?” Instead using the word “release” followed by a specific part of the body can be a good direction for a woman to follow. Saying “release your forehead” helps her to focus on that part of the body and release the tension she’s holding there.

Instead of saying “just breathe” …

Sometimes when we are in pain, we hold our breath. Other times we breathe in and out too quickly. Just like “relax,” in labor, the word “breathe” might not have real meaning. Instead you can say, “breathe with me” or “breathe in and out, like this” and then demonstrate. Have her look into your eyes and breathe with her. Again, this gives her something specific to focus on.

Instead of saying “I wish you weren’t in pain” …

It may be hard for you to see your partner in pain but remember that pain is a normal and purposeful part of bringing a baby into the world. When we are in pain, we move our body. Doing this in labor helps the baby to squirm his way down and out to meet you. Try using powerful affirmations instead: “your body is amazing,” “you are so strong,” “your courage is inspiring,” “we are here for you.”

Instead of saying “I’m hungry” …

Most hospitals still have food and drink restrictions in labor. And while you do have to take care of your needs, telling her you’re hungry is not going to help anyone! Instead have someone else on your birth team (like a doula) give you a break to get a bite to eat, grab a quick nap, or take care of any other needs. Say, “I’ll be right back, but while I’m gone, you are safe and in good hands.”

Instead of saying “this is taking a long time” …

No woman needs to be reminded how long labor is and no woman wants it to be any longer than absolutely necessary. It is very hard work that she is doing! Often the best thing you can say instead is to say nothing at all. Sitting patiently, holding the space for her to do the work she needs to do, reminding her (with your presence) that she is not alone on this journey – these things often speak very loudly. If you are getting antsy, have someone give you a break so that you can refocus on your role as support person. A doula is professionally trained to know how to “sit and wait” for baby to come.

Never underestimate the power your words have.

A woman in labor is incredibly strong – bringing a human into the world is a superpower! But she is also vulnerable, and her perception of the birth experience is delicate and easily influenced. Focus on what her needs are and how you can best support those needs.

Hire a doula who can help guide you along this adventure trail – she’s familiar with the journey and she knows that the tough climb will lead to a breathtaking scene just around the bend.

Photo by Kinga Cichewicz on Unsplash


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