Birth is a big deal, and like any big deal, most of us want to get it “right.” Yet there is no “right” or “perfect” way to give birth, and there is also no “right” or “perfect” way to support your partner giving birth. That’s because what can be comforting to a laboring woman can be disruptive to another.But perfectionism aside, most parents-to-be want to go into birth having some sense of what to expect and some idea of what might help make birth a calm, supported and positive experience. So what do you do to prepare and be the best birth coach possible?

Here are 4 things partners can do to help during labor.

1. Talk about the kind of support your partner wants in advance. Time spent thinking and talking about what kind of touch and comforts mom-to-be is inclined to appreciate during labor will help you both feel prepared. Of course some preferences may change when the time comes, but taking the time to sit down with each other, your care provider and/or doula will give her a chance to think about it and help you familiarize yourselves with what she’s anticipating.

Often the way women seek comfort when they are under the weather or having menstrual cramps is a good indicator of what she may want in labor. So verse yourself in the wide variety of comfort measures she may find helpful so you can best support her when the time comes. Will she want closeness or distance? Quiet or music? Warmth? A bath? Touch? Verbal reassurance? Download this comfort measures checklist for a comprehensive list of supportive strategies to consider. Consider also taking a childbirth class that covers comfort measures in its curriculum.

2. Learn about counter-pressure. Not everyone likes to be touched during labor, but many women will appreciate counter-pressure at least at some point during their labor. Counter-pressure is different than massage, and while massage can feel welcome at certain times during labor, when it comes to comforting touch during contractions, counter-pressure is where it’s at! It helps dilute the intensity of the sensations brought on by contractions through a mechanism called the Gate-Control Theory of Pain. Essentially our nervous systems only have a certain number of receptors to register sensation of any kind at a given moment. If you fill those receptors with the warmth and pressure of your touch, it literally reduces the number of receptors experiencing pain.

Sometimes your partner will ask you to press on their hips or lower back and you can simply follow their direction regarding where and how hard to press. A great move to learn and try in advance is the double hip squeeze. View a demonstration of this classic birth partner technique here.

3. Keep her hydrated. Staying hydrated during labor is essential for a healthy and positive experience. Hydration can help her avoid a variety of complications caused by dehydration, but often women in labor will forget to drink or only remember by the time they are thirsty, which is already too late. As her partner, you can help by keeping water bottles and glasses refreshed. A bendy straw is a useful tool for making it easier for mothers to take a sip between contractions without the added effort of handling the water bottle or glass herself. It can be helpful to alternate between water and something like juice or vitamin water, as the latter will also help boost energy.

She won’t be inclined to drink anything during a contraction, but having something to drink ready for her after each contraction passes will be most helpful. Once in active labor, a sip in between every contraction, or at most every other contraction, will be your best rhythm to keep. Adding ice at this point can also be refreshing since women tend to heat up as labor progresses.

4. Your greatest contribution is your unconditionally caring presence. The presence of a loving supportive partner is ultimately the most important thing you can bring to this party. Being attentive and following her lead is the most any woman can ask for. Sometimes it looks like having your hand to squeeze. Sometimes it’s the way you will hold or look at her. Sometimes it’s advocating on behalf of your birth preferences. Sometimes it’s supporting her decision to get an epidural.

Whatever it is, knowing you’re there for her no matter what, knowing how unconditionally loved and supported she is, can free her up to do the work of childbirth.

Join me at the upcoming Parent 2 Be Virtual Conference as one of many amazing speakers to continue this conversation and prepare yourself for a confident entry into parenthood.