No matter if you want to work supporting women at birth, or if you’re soon to have the honour and priviledge of supporting a woman at birth for the very first time, knowing what to say to her in labour is very important.
A labouring woman draws on the energy, support and words of her support team to help get her through.
If they fall apart, she will.
You might now be thinking this is a bigger task than you expected, but rest assured, with a little information, you can be a fantastic support person.
This article will help you with ideas of what to say to a woman in labour, but I also recommend you read my other article, 10 Best Tips For An Untrained Birth Support Person. It lists key steps to effective birth support if you haven’t had any formal training and want to be the very best support person you can be.
When it comes to talking to a woman in labour, the most important thing you need to know is quiet is far more important than talking.
This might sound confusing if labour starts off with mama talking and joking with those around her. This simply means she’s still in early labour and the hard work is on it’s way. Unfortunately many women turn up to hospital too early, putting them on the clock to hurry up and have their baby. Staying home as long as possible can be a huge benefit.
Assuming she’s in good, strong labour, it’s time for you to melt into the background and know when to step up the support.
Gloria Lemay has supported and educated birthing women for decades. She says, “A few words spoken at the right time can renew a woman’s sense of safety and resolve. Practising saying soothing things out loud will make the words come easy when the time is right.”
So, what does Gloria suggest support people might say to a birthing woman?
12 Things To Say To A Woman In Labour
Here are 12 things which Gloria offers which may be appropriate to encourage a birthing mother, remembering every woman and every situation is unique:
#1: “It’s Safe To Let Go”
It’s not uncommon for a woman to feel fearful at birth. Giving her ‘permission’ to let go may help the uncertainty and fear in her mind.
#2: “You Only Have To Do This One”
Looking at labour as a whole process can be exhausting, especially when you are in it. When a labouring mother seems to be struggling or overwhelmed with the contractions, reminding her to take things one contraction at a time can be helpful, rather than feeling like there’s a long way to go.
#3: “Breathe Right Down Into It, It’s Safe To Go There”
When we are fearful or anxious, our breathing can become shallow. Reminding her to take a deep breath while reinforcing she can let go can help.
#4: “Breathe Oxygen Down To Your Thighs… That’s It… Breathe In Oxygen And Breathe Out With Loose Lips.”
This is a really helpful one, because it’s encouraging the labouring mother to take a deep breath and breathe out with loose lips. Why are loose lips a good idea? Try it yourself… breathe in, then breathe out letting your lips go loose (even make a horse sound) and you’ll notice that your pelvic floor relaxes too. Cool trick, huh! It’s really hard to keep tension in the pelvic floor unless you deliberately force it.
Something else which can help relieve tension for her is observing what her body is doing. If you notice tension in her shrugged up shoulders (a reaction to pain many of us have) you might like to lightly run your hands over the woman’s shoulders and say, “It’s okay to let go of the tension in your shoulders.” You’ll probably notice they’ll drop their shoulders right away.
#5: “What You’re Doing Is Ancient… Your Mother, Your Grandmother And Your Great Grandmothers All The Way Back Have Done This. They’re All Proud Of You Tonight.”
This is a powerful thing to say to a woman who is working really hard and needing that boost. Reminding her of the power of the women before her, holding her as she births, can be an extra boost of motivation and confidence. It might remind her that she CAN do this too, if she is doubting herself.
#6: “If You’re Doing This Well Now, I Know You’ll Make It Through. Each Sensation Brings You Closer To Holding Your Baby In Your Arms”.
Here are some other motivational words you might like to say. There is nothing like the feeling of being closer to having your baby in your arms, especially when you’re having a long, challenging or tiring labour.
#7: “I’m So Proud Of You. You’re Doing Beautifully”.
Doubts tend to creep into labouring women’s minds. A simple “I’m proud of you” can let her know that those around her think she’s doing an amazing job. Especially if it’s her first birth and she lacks confidence that she’s doing the right thing.
#8: “Let’s Begin This Birth Anew. Just Let Your Breath Wash Away The Past Five Hours And Let’s Begin Now At The Beginning.”
When it’s getting really hard, sometimes helping her to reset and renew the process in her mind may help give her a bit more emotional and physical stamina.
#9: “Breathe Some Good Oxygen Breaths For Your Baby.”
Reminding her that taking big, deep breaths of oxygen for her baby is a great way to help her to remember to breathe deep and relax into herself a little more.
#10: “There’s Lots Of Room For The Baby To Come Through”.
As the baby moves through the pelvis, you may like to remind the labouring mother that her body is perfectly designed to open and her baby to come through.
Many women fear their baby becoming stuck (here are 5 main reasons a baby can become stuck) or their baby is huge and needs to come out of a narrow passage. If you close your eyes, breathe in, then upon breathing out, visualise the thought, “there’s lots of room for the baby to come through,” you’ll notice how your pelvic floor relaxes too.
Women in strong labour often have their eyes closed, so your words may not only be heard, but visualised too. Giving her a powerful visual can be so helpful.
#11: “You’re Stretching Beautifully… There’s More Space Than You Know”
When the baby is crowning, it can be an intense time. The contractions would have eased off but the stretching around her perineum (the area around the vagina) can burn. Mothers may fear tearing or there not being enough space, so this can be a helpful reminder.
#12: “Just Let The Baby Get Itself Born, You Get Out Of The Way”
Ah, surrender. These great words remind a mother that her baby knows exactly what he or she is doing. So does her body. If only her mind would get out the way. Surrender and allow the baby to do what he or she needs to do.
Remember: Keep your words calm and simple. Doing so not only supports the labouring woman, but also reminds staff to respect her space and it conserves your energy – you’re there for the duration with no birth hormones on board to keep you going! Avoid asking her questions, as this engages her thinking brain, when she needs to switch that off, and let the ancient brain stem take over and run the show. It’s all very clever.