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Supporting Someone in Labour

Labour and birth is a very complex process that involves the whole person, mental, emotional, physical, and spiritual. When supporting a labouring person, they will need support in all of these areas. Continuous labour support has been shown to reduce stress, fear, and anxiety.3 It has also been shown to decrease labour interventions.3 4 Penny Simkin provides excellent advice about how to support someone in labour in her book: The Birth Partner. Here are some of her suggestions:

  • Be positive. Praise and encouragement are very important.
  • Have confidence in their ability to give birth.
  • Give them your undivided attention.
  • Do not leave them alone.
  • Provide specific direction to them.
  • Protect their privacy.
  • Try to anticipate their needs as best you can.
  • Speak to them in a slow, soft voice.

In order to support someone in labour well, it's important to:

  • have a bond or feeling of commitment towards them and willingness to help them continuously throughout labour.
  • have an understanding of the emotional side of labour.
  • have flexibility to adapt to their changing needs during labour.
  • use a code word to ensure the way they wish to work with their pain is respected.

To learn more about what labour support options there are, go to our Labour Support Options webpage. The following are some specific ways to support them through the different stages and possible challenges of labour:

Early labour:

  • Encourage distracting activities, such as reading, listening to music or playing cards.
  • Suggest a shower.
  • Give them a massage.

Active labour:

  • Help them to use a focal point.
  • Breathe with them. Match their rate of breathing.
  • Use dim lighting.
  • Stroke a tense part of their body, encouraging them to relax it.
  • Help them change position.
  • Support them as they walk around.
  • Take a shower with them.
  • Remind them to empty their bladder.
  • Massage their abdomen, thighs, lower back and feet. Do effleurage (gentle fingertip massage over their  abdomen).
  • Offer lip balm and sips of water between contractions.
  • Encourage them to shake their hands out to release the tension.
  • If they are hot, put a cool cloth on their face and neck. Fan them.
  • If they are chilled, cover them with a warm blanket.

Back pain:

  • Apply an ice pack and/or counter pressure.
  • Slow dance and apply pressure to their lower back as they wrap their arms around your neck.
  • Use the double hip squeeze.

When labour is long or slow:

  • Help them to visualize their cervix opening up and the baby coming down.
  • Encourage them to remain upright to allow gravity to assist.
  • Offer them a massage.

When hyperventilating, dizzy or lightheaded:

  • Encourage them to match your rate of breathing and set a slow pace and shallow depth.
  • Encourage them to breathe into a paper bag or cupped hands.
  • Encourage relaxation through massage.

The Take Charge Routine1

Each person responds in their own way to the stress and pain of labour. At times the intensity of labour may become completely overwhelming and it is helpful for you to step in and “take charge” until they can regain their coping rhythm and ritual again. It entails that you move in close, be firm, confident and kind and encourage them to open their eyes and look at you and breathe with you. Help them pace their breathing with your breath, head or hand. Talk with them soothingly in rhythm. Remind them of their goal, the baby. Consider pain medication. This depends on:

  • How strongly did they want to avoid medication before labour?
  • Are they asking for medication or just more support?
  • How many more centimeters do they have to go?
  • Are they responding better when you “take charge”?
  • How easily can they be persuaded not to take the medication?

Try to respect their birth plan but be willing to change the plan if needed. Remember the code word you decided on together.

Last but not least, take care of yourself:

  • Wear layers of clothing. Hospitals are warm.
  • Bring snacks for yourself.
  • Relax between contractions.
  • Don’t take rejection personally.
  • Try not to be intimidated by hospital equipment.
  • Ask questions of the caregivers if you do not understand.
  • Ask your nurse, doula, or midwife for suggestions or support if needed.
Date of creation: February 10, 2016
Last modified on: November 12, 2019


1Simkin, P. (2008). The birth partner. (3rd ed.). Boston: The Harvard Common Press.
2Simkin, P., Whalley, J., Keppler, A., Durham, J., & Bolding, A. (2010). Pregnancy childbirth and the newborn: The complete guide. (4th ed., p. 256). New York: Meadowbrook Press.
3Bonapace, J., Gagné, G., Chaillet, N., Gagnon, R., Hébert, E., & Buckley, S. (2018). No. 355-Physiologic Basis of Pain in Labour and Delivery: An Evidence-Based Approach to its Management. Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology Canada, 40(2), 227-245.
4World Health Organization. (2018, February). WHO recommendations: intrapartum care for a positive childbirth experience. Retrieved from