This is the fourth post in our Ask the Doulas series.We have gathered a variety of doulas to share wisdom gained from their experience working with hundreds of families.

Physical support can be a powerful way to provide comfort to your partner in labor. Techniques can vary greatly from soft and soothing touch to strong counter pressure on the back. When it doubt, you can always grab a hand and show that you are present and there for your partner.

Let’s hear from the doulas

We posed the following question to our experienced panel of doulas:

“What is your best tip for providing physical support during labor and birth?”

Practice relaxation exercises and comfort techniques ahead of time so they feel natural in labor. Know how to do double hip squeeze, low back compression, gentle massage, etc. Stay close so you’re in tune with what she’s feeling. If she’s not asleep, you shouldn’t be either. – Melissa Schultz

Firm (but not hard) physical touch can help "ground" a birthing person if they seem to be struggling in active labour. – Helen Scammell

Practice ahead of time, by learning and doing counter pressure techniques such as the hip squeeze. Remain physically close to the mother to be sure she can lean on you. Provide touch, massage, blankets, etc. Ask the doula for ideas if you need help. – Daphne Reynolds

Take nothing personally, listen! Go with the flow because things change with every breath. – Denise Bolds

Listen to mom, if she is telling you to apply more pressure to her back don’t be afraid of hurting her, just do it. – Melissa Colatosi

If you don't know what to do, hold your partner's hand. This physical touch is very grounding and can be a huge emotional support. – Rebekah Gilley

Listen to the laboring person. If they say something feels good, keep doing. If they say stop, don't take it personally. – Katie Rohs

Use good body mechanics so as not to injure or fatigue yourself. – Sheri Walker

During prenatal visits, I teach partners all of my tricks so they will know what to do when the time comes. I love to see partners pulling ideas out of their hats and making them the hero! I reassure partners that any thing they do for mom is helpful, even small things like holding her hand or sharing a joke between the two of them. Those are both things I could do of course but moms are not in love with me, so they never mean as much. I encourage partners to be as involved as they feel they can be at any one moment. I always have rock star partners who blow me away. They know the right things to say and do! – Steffanie Thomas

Listen to your partner. You may need to massage her differently than you do when she isn't in labor. Often laboring people prefer those gentle strokes to deep tissue work. – Brigid Vance

More often than not, a soothing touch is all that’s needed. But in some instances, mama may need to be supported physically. In those moments make sure that you are aware of your own well being at the same time making sure you are properly supporting your partner. The last thing she need is you injuring your back during labor and becoming unable to assist her further. So please, watch your own body mechanics and safety in order to ensure that you will be well enough to continue to provide support for the duration of the labor. – Jenn Smith

Ask what the mom needs. - Krystal Martin

Try several things and learn what their partner enjoys. Be willing to change and take directions if the partner decides they want something differently. - Rebecca Shelton

Follow the mama's lead and ask her what is working for her. Don't ask her during contractions. Try to get her feedback between contractions. You are a source of strength to her! She may need you to hold her up in a slow dance position or hold her arms while she's in a squatting position. Or she may need you to simply hold her hand during contractions. Alternately, she may rely on you for emotional support while she receives physical support from your doula. - Amy Gottschang

Summary

Experienced doulas tend to agree that discussing preferences and setting expectations ahead of time is a good way to be prepared for physical support during labor. Support people have the capability of providing comfort, but shouldn't take things personally if what they try doesn't work. Physical support can be as simple as a foot massage and a hand hold. Don't hesitate to try physical comfort techniques. Encourage your partner to let you know what is working and what is not and then go from there.

More in the series: