Breathe Deeply! Tips for Being a Labor Coach

Giving birth involves a mix of physical pain and emotional joy. During childbirth, the mother does all the work. But if she has a labor coach to help her, giving birth may be easier for her.

A labor coach helps the mom before the delivery and stays in the hospital room through the birth. This person can be a great source of comfort and support through childbirth. The expectant father or partner most often fills this role, but a relative or friend may step in instead.

Childbirth education classes may be the best way to learn how to fill the coach’s role. These classes teach expectant mothers and partners about labor, birth, breast-feeding, and infant care. You learn breathing and relaxation techniques, as well as how to manage labor at the hospital or birth center.

Getting educated
Taking classes gets the partner more involved in the pregnancy. Sessions can be a bonding experience between mom and her coach. Even for mothers who’ve already had a child, having a coach can still ease anxiety.

Birthing classes give expectant moms and labor coaches a forum to discuss:

•Fears about labor and birth
•Pain relief options like massage, relaxation, breathing, and medication
•How the baby will be monitored during labor and birth
•The role a partner plays in labor and birth
In seeking a class, the labor coach and expectant mother should ask about the program first.

•How big is the class?
•Is the instructor certified?
•What is the instructor’s philosophy about labor and birth?
•What method(s) of breathing and relaxation are taught?
•Will coping skills be taught to women seeking a medicated or medicine-free birth?
Classes may be offered through the education department of the hospital where the mother plans to give birth. Sessions may include a tour of the maternity department. You may also be able to talk with nurses there about what to expect on delivery day.

Planning ahead
The best labor coaches are ready to advocate for the mother. Know what she expects before she arrives for delivery. Make sure you’ve discussed:

•Breathing techniques
•The role of specific medical staff during birth
•Her wishes about pain medicine
•Things that may warrant a change in plans
A written statement of birth preferences will help clarify these decisions. But a long and painful labor may force a change of heart. Talk with the mom-to-be ahead of time about how she’ll tell you when she’s ready for a change in plans.

You can also help by preparing to bring these items to the hospital when it’s time for delivery:

•Card games
•Crossword puzzles
•Mom’s favorite music
•Extra pillows or cushions (good for when she needs to shift to relieve pain)
•Pictures of family members she can look at during contractions
During the birth
Take note of everyone’s role on the birth and delivery team. If the mother is in severe pain and wants medication, the coach needs to be able to find a nurse or doctor who can help.

Be prepared to:

•Help her sit, squat, lie sideways, crouch, or walk up and down hallways
•Give many massages, especially on the lower back and feet
•Help her take warm baths, showers, or whirlpool baths
•Apply cool compresses to her forehead
•Find distractions that can help shift the focus away from labor, such as looking at photos or talking about a restful vacation spot
Above all, labor coaches need to be supportive, flexible, and understanding. The mom may get so focused during contractions that she may ignore you or even get angry. Don’t take anything personally. Soon, a newborn will appear and labor will be a distant memory.

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