Long gone are the days when a husband stood outside a birthing suite, wringing his hands and listening to the sounds of labor with terror and hope in his heart. (Also gone are the days when it was acceptable to carouse with his friends at a pub, enjoying preemptive cigars as the woman did ‘woman’s work.’) No, today we expect our partners to remain by our sides, actively providing support as we bring our children into this world.

But how, exactly, can your partner help? Here are ten things your partner can do to make labor just a little bit more comfortable for you.

  1. Set the mood. It’s a far cry from your first date, but your partner can still be in charge of creating a soothing environment for you. They can dim the lights, prepare an aromatherapy diffuser, and in general make sure that you are as comfortable as you can be during labor.
     
  2. Encourage you. Encouragement can take many different forms, but some people find positive mantras, Biblical verses, or affirmations to be helpful. If you’ve got a ‘motto’ for delivery (e.g., “Labor is pain with a purpose,” “Everything is going right,” “Relax and allow this birth to happen”) then your partner can use these phrases to inspire and encourage you.
     
  3. Be your advocate. Once you’re in labor, you have one job – to deliver your baby. Leave your partner in charge of making your wants and needs known to the midwives and nurses. Do you want delayed cord cutting? Water birth? Are you planning on saving the placenta? Don’t worry about these things! Your partner is there to speak for you so you can focus on the task at hand.
     
  4. Breathe with you. Breathing techniques are easy when you aren’t actually in labor. But once those contractions start, you may have trouble recalling exactly how you’re supposed to ‘hoo’ and ‘hee’ and ‘ahh.’ Your partner should practice these breathing techniques with you before the birth. When it’s time to use them, he or she can hold you in their lap as you breathe together. Inhale, exhale.
     
  5. Massage your back. Counter-pressure can be very helpful for pain relief when you’re laboring, especially if you’re experiencing back labor. Your midwife can show your partner exactly where to apply pressure, although it’s likely that you’ll know right away what’s working and what’s not. A hand massage can be a welcome distraction and a way to connect, particularly during the early stages of labor.
     
  6. DJ the delivery. Heavy metal? Gospel music? Classical tunes? Your partner can set up the playlist before the big day, and then make sure your favorite, most inspiring tunes are lined up and ready to go. Whether you want your baby to make his or her entrance to the soothing sounds of Mozart are the empowering Eye of the Tiger, your partner can make it happen.
     
  7. Help you change positions. Your body will let you know which positions feel best during labor, but it isn’t always easy to change your orientation when you’re nine months pregnant! Your partner can use a rebozo to gently rock you as you labor on all fours; you can lean against your partner and allow them to hold you up as you rest between contractions.
     
  8. Be your support. Every birth unfolds differently, and you can’t predict how you’ll react. You may never swear ‘in real life,’ but anything goes when you’re in labor. Your partner should understand that any snipes, complaints, or wild declarations you make (like “I’m never doing this again!”) may not actually be how you really feel. They’re there to keep you calm, happy, and as comfortable as possible. Being a total pain during labor is a completely forgivable offense.

Your partner can’t labor for you. And no matter how tightly you squeeze their hand, the pain of those contractions won’t magically leave your body and enter theirs.

Although your partner will never truly fathom what you’re going through, they can make your job much, much easier. Talk about the things you’d like and the ways your partner can best help you when you’re in the birthing suite. After all, you guys are in this together!