Cheerleader, stress buster, pain reliever: the partner’s role during labour

Partners have a hugely important role to play during the birth of a child, including in the processing and alleviation of pain as it is experienced by your partner.

Importantly, regardless of which methods your partner favours for pain relief – strategies vary from having a warm bath and listening to music to using a TENS machine, gas and air or more “hardcore” medical options such pethidine or an epidural – it is up to you to support that choice, not to dispute it or to insist on an alternative.

This is true even if you heard negative reports about a particular method of pain relief – remember just as no two women are the same, no two labours will be the same either. What works for one woman may not work for your partner and vice versa.

However, it is important to remember that, as humans, our perception of pain is hugely influenced by our mental state. As such, if your partner feels fear, uncertainty, disapproval or a lack of support, you can bet that she will feel significantly more pain than she would do in a more suitable and supportive environment.

Quite simply, as the birth partner, you can be a major boost to the chances of a relatively low pain and uncomplicated birth, simply by offering your unconditional support and encouragement. Additionally, there are other, more practical steps you can take towards meeting this goal. Some of these are discussed below.

How you can help

If your partner wants your physical reassurance, then embrace this as an opportunity to be involved in the birth of your child. Whether she wants to sit in your lap, hold your hand or simply have you in the room, there is more scope for bonding during labour and birth than perhaps at any other time in your relationship, so embrace it and try to be understanding of her requests.

You can reduce her feelings of fear and anxiety by speaking and interacting in a way that promotes her mental wellbeing. As such, speak in a soft and loving way that avoids communicating stress, anxiety or impatience (whatever you do, don’t ask if you can nip out for a bit because the footy is about to kick off – trust us, it won’t go down well). If she knows you are 100% with her, she can relax and get on with the business of contractions and then pushing.

Massage between contractions can provide meaningful focus as well as pain relief, so be sure to read up on labour massage techniques well ahead of schedule.

Join in with the breathing techniques with her as she experiences a contraction. If she starts to panic, you can help her to focus through the pain.

Let her lean on you. Yes, quite literally if necessary, especially during the early stages, when walking around and keeping upright can help speed things along. If a contraction hits while walking around, your partner may need you to support her. Rock gently with her through the pain and try some gentle massage strokes on her back if she likes it.

Clinical pain relief

When natural pain relief methods are not enough, (and only your partner can determine when this point comes) there are many medical pain relief options. Even if your partner has not planned to use these you should support her if she finds the labour difficult and changes her mind.

Medical pain relief methods she might consider include the following:

  • TENS machine – this works by sending electrical impulses into your partner through the skin, in theory, to distract or block her sensation of pain from contractions. Generally this is used in the early stage of labour
  • Gas and air (Entonox) – this causes a sensation of light-headedness and distracts from feelings of pain. However, like a TENS machine it only goes so far in blocking out the pain.
  • Pethidine – is a morphine-like opioid used to help relaxation and lessen pain. However, especially if given late on in labour, it is passed on to the baby and may make it a little sleepy for the first few hours of life outside the womb.
  • Epidural – this is the most effective but also the most invasive of medical pain relief methods. An anaesthetic is injected between the vertebra, removing the sensation of pain from the waist down. An epidural will reduce mobility and necessitate increased monitoring of the baby.

Whatever you and your partner have discussed prior to labour, remember that pain relief is ultimately her decision. When push comes to shove (yes, pun intended) she is doing all the hard work and if she feels unable to cope, some pain relief may be just what she needs to keep going. Because, ultimately, that’s what she will have to do.

However, having said all of the above, you have a massive role to play during the birth. Get it right and you may just be the best pain relief of all. Only don’t expect a letter of thanks for your efforts. When it comes to labour, the results are the ultimate reward!

Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.