5 Mistakes Partners Make During Labor

And what to do instead for labor support.

5 Mistakes Partners Make During Labor

One of the things I firmly believe as a doula is that partners deserve as much support as a laboring person. Of course the level of need is different, but partners are also going through a major life moment with varying degrees of experience with birth themselves, often very little to none. Most partners I meet are eager to be supportive, but often don’t know exactly how. The concern about doing something wrong can sometimes hinder their full participation. When it comes to offering comforting touch during labor, I’ve identified a few simple ways partners can improve their skills and increase their confidence.

These are the 5 most common mistakes partners make when supporting a partner during labor and how to remedy each one so everyone wins.

Mistake 1: Massaging her during contractions. A common relaxation technique is to offer a gentle or soft petting stroke, typically on a person's back, shoulders, legs, or arms. While in between contractions this gentle stroking may feel soothing or relaxing, during contractions in active labor, laboring women tend to prefer something more steady and consistent.

What to do instead: Pressing on the hips or back in a firm way is generally much more satisfying and grounding during contractions, and you’ll be far more likely to avoid her asking you to stop what you’re doing with this simple switch. So save the gentle strokes for in between contractions, and use more solid and firm “counter-pressure” techniques during contractions instead.

Mistake 2: Taking it personally and stepping away. Women in labor are instinctive and deservedly particular. They generally know exactly what they need and don’t need. So, even with the best of intentions, a loving partner may miss the mark. In these moments, it’s all too common for partners to take it personally and feel bad, like they did something wrong. But it’s not like that with birth. While the laboring person may want you to stop doing something, it doesn’t mean you did anything wrong, nor do they want you to go away.

What to do instead: Try something different next time, but don’t go away. The power of your presence alone can be a huge support. She may just need your hand to squeeze instead or pressure in another spot. Experiment with different comforting techniques in between contractions and eventually you will find what she needs, even if that is simply standing there quietly, saying nothing, touching nothing, doing nothing, other than being there.

Mistake 3: Rubbing just one part of her back. This mistake is a little more nuanced because it takes understanding a somewhat subtle distinction regarding comforting touch. Sometimes part of what a woman doesn’t like from a partner’s touch is simply that something about it feels unsatisfying. One of the main ways people rob their touch of being totally satisfying it by rubbing repeatedly in one spot. In this case, if we were to give the back a personality, the parts nearby that are not being touched end up feeling jealous and hankering for the same degree of attention. Of course backs don’t get jealous, but you get the point.

What to do instead: For your touch to feel satisfying, the idea is to be inclusive and thorough. If you’re rubbing her back, avoid the hankering feeling by stroking all the way up or down both sides, from shoulders to hips and vice versa.

Mistake 4: Holding Back. Often, I see partners afraid to press too hard or otherwise holding themselves back in labor. Quite often when a laboring person wants you to press on their back or hips, they can want it surprisingly hard and deep!

What to do instead: When it comes to comforting touch, I always teach people to try increasing their pressure first by leaning all the way in. Not only does leaning in tend to provide the depth of pressure and warmth that so many laboring women love, it keeps you connected and has the added benefits of helping the supportive partner work less hard, as you will be using gravity instead of force for that added pressure. With a possible 24-hour labor ahead of you, looking for ways to avoid over-exertion becomes paramount. Leaning in also increases intimacy during labor, which in turn nurtures our birthing hormones, so the closer the better (unless of course she ends up wanting more space, in which case refer to tip number 2). For reference, watch this short video from my Comforting Touch for Birth guidebook demonstrating the classic hip squeeze prioritizing this tip to increase the benefits for both partners.

Mistake 5: Being too much in your head. In the well-meaning effort to “do a good job” and “be a good partner,” often partners miss the mark by being too much in their heads. Overthinking what you’re doing often translates to a less than satisfying touch for the receiver, and being in our heads doesn’t make babies. Being in our bodies does that.

What to do instead: Tapping into your own instincts and sensuality as a partner will help you avoid overthinking with the result of you being more comfortable in your own skin. If she doesn’t like something, you can always adjust but more often if you’re following your instincts and it feels good to you, it will translate. The more comfortable you are, the more comfortable she will be.

For more guidance on Comforting Touch for Birth, read this article and my guide.

Photo by Zivar Amrami.


A very important letter for new mamas

Listen, mom-guilt is a dirty liar. Yes, it's your job to fill your little human's needs, but you matter too. Don't forget to take care of yourself. Hang out with friends, take a drive blaring 90's hip hop or shower without interruptions—trust me, you'll be a better person (and mom) because of it.

Dear new mom,

You will shave again someday. Today is not that day.

Set expectations low, my friend, and set your partner's lower—at least where body hair and overall hygiene are concerned.

That conversation could go something like this: “From now on let's not consider shaving a “standard," but more like a gift that happens on birthdays and the first day of summer."

Voila, you are a gift-giving genius. You know what else is a gift? Shaving the inch and a half of skin that is between your skinny jeans and your boots. You're welcome world.

You will not be perfect at parenting.


I have yet to meet a perfect mother, but when I do, she's going to be a tiger who is insanely good at making up songs. (Daniel Tiger's mom, we salute you.)

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Motherly editors’ 7 favorite hacks for organizing their diaper bags

Make frantically fishing around for a diaper a thing of the past!

As any parent knows, the term "diaper bag" only scratches the surface. In reality, this catchall holds so much more: a change of clothes, bottles, snacks, wipes and probably about a dozen more essential items.

Which makes finding the exact item you need, when you need it (read: A diaper when you're in public with a blowout on your hands) kind of tricky.

That's why organization is the name of the game when it comes to outings with your littles. We pooled the Motherly team of editors to learn some favorite hacks for organizing diaper bags. Here are our top tips.

1. Divide and conquer with small bags

Here's a tip we heard more than a few times: Use smaller storage bags to organize your stuff. Not only is this helpful for keeping related items together, but it can also help keep things from floating around in the expanse of the larger diaper bag. These bags don't have to be anything particularly fancy: an unused toiletry bag, pencil case or even plastic baggies will work.

2. Have an emergency changing kit

When you're dealing with a diaper blowout situation, it's not the time to go searching for a pack of wipes. Instead, assemble an emergency changing kit ahead of time by bundling a change of baby clothes, a fresh diaper, plenty of wipes and hand sanitizer in a bag you can quickly grab. We're partial to pop-top wipes that don't dry out or get dirty inside the diaper bag.

3. Simplify bottle prep

Organization isn't just being able to find what you need, but also having what you need. For formula-feeding on the go, keep an extra bottle with the formula you need measured out along with water to mix it up. You never know when your outing will take longer than expected—especially with a baby in the mix!

4. Get resealable snacks

When getting out with toddlers and older kids, snacks are the key to success. Still, it isn't fun to constantly dig crumbs out of the bottom of your diaper bag. Our editors love pouches with resealable caps and snacks that come in their own sealable containers. Travel-sized snacks like freeze-dried fruit crisps or meal-ready pouches can get an unfair reputation for being more expensive, but that isn't the case with the budget-friendly Comforts line.

5. Keep a carabiner on your keychain

You'll think a lot about what your child needs for an outing, but you can't forget this must-have: your keys. Add a carabiner to your keychain so you can hook them onto a loop inside your diaper bag. Trust us when we say it's a much better option than dumping out the bag's contents on your front step to find your house key!

6. Bundle your essentials

If your diaper bag doubles as your purse (and we bet it does) you're going to want easy access to your essentials, too. Dedicate a smaller storage bag of your diaper bag to items like your phone, wallet and lip balm. Then, when you're ready to transfer your items to a real purse, you don't have to look for them individually.

7. Keep wipes in an outer compartment

Baby wipes aren't just for diaper changes: They're also great for cleaning up messy faces, wiping off smudges, touching up your makeup and more. Since you'll be reaching for them time and time again, keep a container of sensitive baby wipes in an easily accessible outer compartment of your bag.

Another great tip? Shop the Comforts line on to find premium baby products for a fraction of competitors' prices. Or, follow @comfortsforbaby for more information!

This article was sponsored by The Kroger Co. Thank you for supporting the brands that supporting Motherly and mamas.

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It's science: Why your baby stops crying when you stand up

A fascinating study explains why.

When your baby is crying, it feels nearly instinctual to stand up to rock, sway and soothe them. That's because standing up to calm babies is instinctual—driven by centuries of positive feedback from calmed babies, researchers have found.

"Infants under 6 months of age carried by a walking mother immediately stopped voluntary movement and crying and exhibited a rapid heart rate decrease, compared with holding by a sitting mother," say authors of a 2013 study published in Current Biology.

Even more striking: This coordinated set of actions—the mother standing and the baby calming—is observed in other mammal species, too. Using pharmacologic and genetic interventions with mice, the authors say, "We identified strikingly similar responses in mouse pups as defined by immobility and diminished ultrasonic vocalizations and heart rate."

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