Being in labour is one of the most life changing experiences for a woman.
It’s hard work (both physically and mentally), yet it can also be so amazing and incredibly rewarding too.
During labour, it’s vital for women to have strong support team around them, to hold the space and reassure birthing mothers that they will get through.
It’s also really important for any negativity to be left outside the birth room door, which can distract and derail a birthing mama’s energy.
So, if you have the privilege of supporting a woman in labour, there are some things you really need to know to help her do the best job she can.
Things To Avoid Saying To A Woman In Labour
Our language is powerful, especially for women who are giving birth. Choose your words carefully and know what not to say.
Here are 7 things to avoid saying to a woman in labour:
#1: “You’re Not Allowed”
It’s pretty common for care providers to tell women for the entire nine months of pregnancy what they will and won’t be allowed to do during labour and birth.
This language doesn’t respect a woman’s right to make decisions for herself and her baby based on informed consent.
The only person who gets to say what she is and isn’t allowed to do is the woman having the baby.
Birth support people aren’t there to enforce doctor/midwives rules. Their role is to support the labouring mama in all her choices.
#2: “The Doctor/Midwife Will Be Here Soon / In 10 Minutes / After Lunch”
Mentioning time in any shape or form can be soul destroying to a woman in labour, especially if there is a point in the future she is hanging on to.
It might the anaethetist to set up an epidural or the midwife coming to say the birth pool is ready.
Time and labour just don’t go together, despite the fixation we have on how long contractions are, the length of each labour stage, when the doctor is on the ward.
Knowing she has to wait ten more minutes for an epidural when she feels she’s at her absolute limit can result in a very angry labouring woman. Don’t say you weren’t warned.
Instead of telling a labouring woman she needs to wait a certain amount of time, help her to focus on what she is doing right then and how amazingly she is doing it.
#3: “Just Relax”
Labour is a continuum of contractions becoming closer together, longer and more intense. As this happens, women can have what well-known birth educator Rhea Dempsey has named a ‘crisis of confidence’.
When this crisis occurs, a woman can become fearful and worried about her ability to get through. Fear creates tension, tension creates more pain.
Increased pain causes even more tension and so on. This is known as the fear-tension-pain cycle.
When a labouring woman is struggling with fear and pain, telling her to relax isn’t a magic switch that will instantly make her release the tension.
She is caught by the fear and tension and probably can’t relax unless told specific things she can do that release tension in her body.
#4: “You’re Not Getting A Medal!”
Or variations of ‘you don’t need to be a hero/martyr’. This is probably the most disrespectful thing a woman can hear when she is trying to make decisions about labour and birth.
Women aren’t in the habit of going through labour and birth to be thought of as a hero. What she feels at the end of her birthing experience should be satisfaction and a sense of empowerment, no matter what choices she made.
Whether she choose to have a drug-free birth or not, had a c-section or needed assistance, these factors shouldn’t lessen her sense of accomplishment.
Her care providers and birth support people aren’t there to make her choice for her but to support her in making the best possible choice for a safe and positive experience.
#5: “I Hate Seeing You In Pain!”
When a birthing woman is in pain, she is well aware of the fact and is doing what she can to manage and cope. Telling her you hate to see her in pain seems like an empathetic thing to say but it makes it about you and how you feel about seeing her in pain.
Taking the focus away from the one going through the labour can cause her to feel she isn’t handling this as well as she thought.
If a care provider makes this statement, mama may feel she is doing something wrong and things spiral out of control. Suddenly she is in a lot of pain and needs help to stop it. This may take the form of drugs, which she may have hoped to avoid.
#6: “What Do You Want Me To Do?!”
Talking to a woman in labour should be limited to asking questions that require a yes/no answer only, or offering positive words of encouragement. Less is more.
When a woman is in labour, her neocortex (thinking brain) needs to switch off so her body can just get on with giving birth.
As labour progresses, her mind drifts off and asking complex questions can either disturb this process or she won’t be able to answer.
Her needs should be anticipated and provided for without taking her focus away from the work she is doing.
Hopefully you’ve attended birth classes with her if you’re supporting her, but either way, make sure you read our article which contains the 10 most important tips for untrained birth support people.
#7: “Don’t Push!”
When a woman begins to feel bearing down or pushing contractions, she might react by voicing her fear or concern it’s too early.
There are times when these contractions occur before the cervix is completely dilated or her baby might not be in the best position for birth.
These bearing down contractions are intense and involuntary. She can’t help that her body is pushing. She can’t stop it either.
Telling her to stop is like asking waves in the ocean to stop.
Yelling or getting in her face to stop is likewise not going to force her body to respond and will cause her emotional trauma.
Knowing what not to say can make a huge difference to how positively a woman will experience her labour.
Even better is knowing the right words to use, which you can read more about in BellyBelly’s article What To Say To A Woman In Labour.