5 things NEVER to say to a labouring woman & things to say instead

A wise Proverb says - "Thoughtless speech is like the stabs of a sword, But the tongue of the wise is a healing" and this is ever so applicable in birth.

We all mean well when we try to find the right words for a labouring woman. But there are some things that just NEVER should be said. 

1 - How are you doing?

How am I doing? How do you think that I am doing? When a woman is in labour it is almost impossible to answer questions. The woman has to come out of the "labour land brain" and use another part of the brain to answer questions.

Try this instead - tell her that she is amazing, that she is beautiful, that you are so proud of her. Tell her to let it out, that she is doing great. Or watch her, if she licks her lips, offer a sip of water with a straw. She will indicate without words if she wants a drink or not. 

2 - You need to relax.

Labour is just that - labour. Hard work. So when things get tough usually her reaction is to become more tense and scared. Unfortunately, when she tenses up, it causes more pain, which leads to more tensing up - you see the cycle - fear > tension > pain cycle.

So saying just relax isn't very helpful at all, because at this stage she probably feels like she doesn't know how to relax. 

Try this instead - Show her how to relax - place your hand gently on her shoulders and softly say - drop your shoulder, breathe, relax, open you jaw. This contraction will soon pass.

3. I'm so tired! 

You're so tired! Are you kidding! What about her, she is doing all the work. It might be true that you are tired, but labour isn't about you.

What to do instead - If you are feeling this way, take a break. If you have a doula, she will happily be there for your partner so that you can have a much needed break. Grab a coffee, have a quick bite to eat, but whatever you do, keep your mouth shut!

4. You don't have to be a hero.

I think what you really are meaning is that you hate your see your loved one in pain, you want it to stop. Fair call. But what about her, what reason's might she have to not want some kind of pain relief. Maybe she wants to avoid further interventions, like an epidural - which is a really big deal, or maybe she is wanting to avoid pethadine or morphine, so that her baby isn't drowsy or struggle with breastfeeding. Who knows, but whatever the reason, saying you don't have to be a hero is not helping her. 

Try this instead: Maybe she is looking for more support. It is very natural to ask for things that you didn't plan to use. But maybe what she is really asking for is more support. Maybe she thinks that she isn't doing it right, or things aren't going as quick as she thought they would, and so wants the pain taken away. So by reminding her that she is doing just what she is meant to be doing, she is doing great, and things are normal can help her keep going. Maybe she really does want pain relief, and that's ok, maybe helping her have as much info as possible about the risks and the benefits will help her feel more sure about her decision. The best thing to do is validate her feelings.

  • Say 'wow! what you did took a lot of courage.'
  • Tell her that you know she’s a good mum and wants the best for her baby.
  • Tell her that even though the pain relief was not her first preference, it’s important to still stay present and work hard for her baby.  Tell her that her baby needs her to not check out. (if she decides to have pain relief)

5. I can't stand seeing you in pain!

Women rock birth. Yes it is painful, yes it is hard, but women are built to birth. But how does saying I can't stand seeing you in pain going to help? This again is making the birth all about you. The person watching doesn't like the way she is feeling, and wants the pain to stop, so that they can feel better. But birth is about mum and baby, not the birth partner or anyone else. 

What to say instead: Let's just put it out there - birth is painful, there is no way around that, it's intense and can be very vocal. But that doesn't mean there is something wrong. It is a pain that is necessary for the body to go to work and do it's thing. Besides there are wonderful hormones that help her cope with that necessary pain. You don't need to fix anything. You don't have to take the pain away. You just have to be there and let her know that she is AMAZING and she is rocking it. Tell her that this pain in normal, she is getting closer and closer to meeting her baby, things are vamping up because things are progressing, which means things are working as they should to meet her baby. Put your feelings aside and watch your beautiful woman rock at birthing your baby.