Partner's Guide to Labor

Labor Mistakes

There are some things women do during labor that decrease their chances of achieving a natural childbirth. Although they can seem like the normal and expected response to labor, they can have a negative impact on the way labor progresses. Understanding what these mistakes are, and how to avoid them, can help you support a women in a natural childbirth.

Early Labor

Paying Attention Too Soon

One of the hardest lessons for first time mothers to learn is to ignore contractions until they demand attention. It seems one of the most common mistakes women make is to pay attention to labor too soon.

When you begin counting the hours of labor and timing contractions in early labor, or even pre-labor, you set yourself up for a very boring and long process. It is normal to have mild and painless contractions for hours or days before labor actually begins. Timing the contractions and counting the hours will not make the process happen any faster.

A good rule of thumb is to not time contractions unless you have some reason to think that there has been progress in the labor. You might notice the contractions are much stronger, or the mother is having to work to relax through the contractions. Even so, it is only recommended to time about five contractions, average them out and then not time them again until you see some other indicator of progress.

Another common mistake is to try comfort techniques before they are needed. If contractions are mild enough to ignore them, do so. Sooner or later, labor will get to the point where contractions demand attention. At that point, begin to use the comfort measures and labor techniques you have learned.

Trying to force labor to progress by using comfort techniques and timing contractions can make the time pass very slowly and waste both mental and physical energy when you could have easily ignored the contractions.

Not Sleeping

Light or mild contractions that start at a normal sleeping time can be one of the worst starts to a labor. When this happens, many women are too excited or too nervous to sleep, and so begin their labor with a lack of sleep.

Being tired reduces a body's ability to handle stress, including the stress of labor. Fatigue can also cause increased discomfort during labor, and a common reason given for using medication during labor. If she is serious about trying to labor without medication, you need to be serious about helping her get adequate rest in the days and weeks leading up to labor.

Being told that sleep is important does not seem to calm the anxious souls of first time moms. In that case, it can be helpful to remind her, "You will not sleep through the birth of your baby." If she can sleep during early labor, and it is a normal time to sleep, you should encourage her to sleep.

Not Eating

Most hospitals have a policy that restricts eating during labor. This rule has nothing to do with the normal process of labor or the safety of eating during labor. It is the possible complications of some medications used for surgery in case the mother needs a cesarean that cause the problem with eating. Even so, many women believe they should not eat once labor begins.

The body is designed to naturally decrease the appetite as labor progresses. When the body is hungry it is because the body needs food. Not eating during labor will reduce energy, increase fatigue, and decrease her ability to deal with the stress of labor. Hunger is a sign she is most likely still in early labor, and should eat something.

Stopping Regular Activity

Some women belive you have to stop everything and lie down as soon as labor begins. This is a hyper-extreme version of paying attention to labor too soon, and will set the mother up for a terribly long and boring labor. It may cause her to become overly fatigued mentally and emotionally.

As long as physically possible, encourage her to continue normal activities during labor. For some women, this will be well into active labor with stops for the peak of contractions. It is not unsafe to go about her regular daily routine in labor. When it is time to pay attention, her body will alert her.

Going to the Hospital Too Soon

Many first time mothers get mixed messages from friends and family members about how to react when labor begins. This confusion can lead to another common mistake in early labor, going to the hospital too soon.

Much worse than just stopping normal activity or timing every contraction, going to the hospital too early removes every possible normal distraction available to pass the time while labor builds. The mother in the hospital finds her activities restricted, food cut off, and may even feel she needs to remain in bed. This limits her movement, which makes it more difficult for the baby to navigate the pelvis and may even cause labor to be longer than average. As all this is happening, she will also feel as if she is being watched or her labor is being timed which might increase feelings that she is "failing" at being in labor.

Many hospitals will send a woman home if she is not yet 4 centimeters dilated. However, it is common for women to request to stay because of the emotional energy they expanded in coming to the hospital. To be sent home without a baby feels like failure and being let down. So many women will accept medications to speed labor rather than go home if they get to the hospital too soon.

Active Labor

Staying in Bed

Some first time moms have the impression that when you are in labor, you go to the hospital and lie in a bed. While this image makes for very easy filming of labors for movies, it isn't real and it is not healthy.

During labor, the body gives signals to move and change position. When a mother responds to these signals and cues, her labor is able to progress normally and she is the most comfortable. Changing positions also makes it easier for the baby to navigate the pelvis, effectively shortening labor.

It is also worth mentioning that the most uncomfortable position for many laboring is lying on the back. So if the mother is going to stay in bed, at least encourage her to stay on her side.

Trying to "Do Everything"

The opposite of the mother who climbs in bed and stays there is the mother who tries to do every position and comfort measure because she believes that is what she is supposed to do. This type of mother will do a position or technique for one or two contractions and then get up and move to the next position.

Although it is good to change positions and techniques during labor, these changes should be in response to cues from the mother's body not because the mother wants to "try everything." Once the mother is in a position or successfully using a technique, she should continue through several contractions until her body needs a change. Some birth professionals refer to this repetition through contractions as a birth ritual or routine. Rarely, the mother will miss the cue and need to be prompted to move after 30-60 minutes. If the new position does not feel comfortable to the mother within a few contractions, help her move back to her ritual position. Even that small change for just a few contractions will be helpful.

Trying to force change during the labor when the mother is not ready can distract the mother, pulling her mental and physical energy away from the labor. As long as the labor is progressing normally, and there is no concern for the safety of the mother or baby, the mother should be allowed to continue with what is comfortable.

Having Too Many Distractions

Laboring takes extensive mental energy. The mother must work with her body to keep it relaxed and allow the labor to continue normally. Having distractions can cause the mother to lose her focus, drain her energy and increase her discomfort during the labor.

Many women find that having someone talk to them during labor is calming and reassuring. However, that talking should not include forcing the mother to respond. For many women in active labor, responding to the conversation takes too much energy. If the mother is not willing to put the mental energy into laboring, the labor will either stop, or it will be long and painful. There is no substitute for being mentally present at the labor. When a mother is overly distracted, for example with the care of an older child or in a conversation she thinks is important, her labor can slow down or even stop.

Allow the mother to set the tone and the pace. Do not force fast movements or conversation.