Written by Aly Folin, CPM, LM, North Star Midwifery & Erin Stertz-Follett, CD(DONA), Flutterby Birth Services
After attending many births, it is safe to say that we as midwives and doulas have heard just about everything you can imagine come out of the mouths of the beautiful, strong laboring women before us. These are instinctual, common things to say in the midst of this transformative moment in your life. Sure, we might occasionally think, “Wow, I’ve never heard that before!” But, generally speaking, here are the words and phrases that we as birth attendants most often hear, along with tips for what these may mean and what partners can do in response!
1) “I can’t do this anymore!”/”When is this going to be over?”
What this might mean: There are really two distinct transitions in labor – The transition from “early” to “active” labor; and “Transition,” which is the when the cervix is finishing its opening. Labor can be described as a “staircase,” with each step up becoming more intense. It can take a laboring woman by surprise and may take some adjusting, mentally and physically.
What you can do: Help her stay calm, focused, and breathing through the contractions. Often this feeling passes quickly as she adjusts to the new level of intensity. Remind her that she can do anything for one minute at a time, and that she will receive breaks in between each contraction.
2) “I CAN do it.”
What this might mean: In short, it means that she believes in herself, has educated herself on birth, and has built a wonderful support team! We see women all the time that are surrounded with loving support and skilled, caregiving providers who are confident and working with their labors.
What you can do: Keep giving your partner your attention and reminder that yes, she can do it, that she IS doing it. If she strays from this path, have her repeat with you, “I CAN do it.” Tell her you are amazed by her, that she is strong. Keep affirming her work in bringing this baby forth.
3) “Don’t touch me!”
What this might mean: Labor is full of big, new sensations that can require all of a laboring woman’s focus. As labor moves along, she goes more inward. If touched at the wrong moment, it can distract her from her work. She may love that foot massage one moment and want all hands off at the next.
What you can do: Don’t take it personally! It is all she can manage right now, and this too will pass. Help her get through by staying close and helping her to remember to breathe and release tension with only your words. A little goes a long way. Don’t forget to remind her that she is doing great!
4) “I am hot… I am cold.”
What this might mean: There are huge hormonal fluctuations in labor that often lead to women feeling overheated or very cold. Because of this, you may first spend all your time warming a mom up, and then during the next contraction, she throws off all the blankets and is roasting!
What you can do: Don’t worry; it is normal! It does not mean that she is running a fever (but feel free to ask your provider if you are concerned). Just go with whatever she needs in the moment. Heated rice sock? Check! Icy-cold washcloths? No problem, babe! Need the heat turned up when it’s already 80 degrees outside? Ok!
5) “I don’t know what I want to do.”
What this might mean: Sometimes as women are getting closer to that final transition, they get more agitated and indecisive. No position or comfort measure is helping any more, or they are just too inwardly focused to make up their minds (understandably so!).
What you can do: Again, remind her to breathe and help her stay calm during the contractions. Ask your doula or midwife to suggest some position changes that help moms when they are in this place in labor. If she wants to do something, but is having a hard time making a choice, take the lead and ask her to try a new position or technique for at least three contractions.
6) “It feels like I have to poop.”
What this might mean: Poop? Yes, poop. As midwives and doulas, we get very excited (quietly) when we hear this! It often means the mom is feeling the baby’s head descend and put pressure against the nerve between her vaginal canal and her butt, making her feel like she has to poop. This usually means things are getting closer and she may be pushing soon!
What you can do: Say, “YAY!” What?! No, really. Please don’t say, “GROSS!” Since you now know that this sensation is good and it means baby is closer to arriving, celebrate with her! Midwives and nurses/birth assistants are very quick to clean up anything that does come out. Be sure mom doesn’t feel self-conscious and remind her that she is close to meeting her baby!
7) “Baby’s coming!”
What this might mean: Typically is means that baby is about to be born! Occasionally, women use this saying in general during their labor to express their overall excitement and anticipation of baby’s arrival.
What you can do: If you are unsure if she means this literally, ask her to clarify. If so, get your midwife or the nurse – baby is coming and you should get ready to help catch!
8) [Insert favorite curse word(s) here]
What this might mean: In actuality, it is surprising how little women swear in labor. The way the media depicts it, you would think that women are cursing up a storm and telling their partners all kinds of terrible things. But in reality, it is usually a moment here or there where some choice words or phrases will come out.
What you can do: Nod your head “yes.” Give her an “Mmmm hmmm.” Show her that you understand that she is feeling an intensity like she never has felt before. Maybe curse words are a part of her everyday language, and you won’t even notice! Doulas and midwives love when moms curse, as again, it typically means that things are moving along.
9) “This is fun!” (What?! Yes, really… Women say this).
What this might mean: Ok, we’ll admit. This isn’t the most-heard phrase in labor. But it has been said; most often by moms who are “high” on the hormonal cocktail of birth. They have drunk the Kool-Aid. They are all in. I (Erin) hear women say this who are well supported and who value humor and laughter in their birthing time. Moms who use hypnosis for childbirth techniques are the most common purveyors of this phrase.
What you can do: Enjoy it! Your partner is a Certified Rock Star!
10) Nothing at all.
What this might mean: Women deep into active labor will become very internally focused. Sometimes the way that helps them get through their contractions is to moan or stay quiet. Every woman is different and will cope differently.
What you can do: Don’t worry if she isn’t talking to you – it just means she is working really hard to stay focused. Stay present physically, she will reengage when she can.
Any and all of the above are so, so normal for women to say in the heat of labor! The main thing you can do as a support person is to respond to her needs the best you can in the moment and stay present as she works hard. Don’t take anything she might say personally. Always tell her she is doing great and how amazing she is! If this feels overwhelming to do on your own, hire a doula! She will help you know what to say in the moment and help you support your partner through this wonderful journey.
Aly & Erin
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Photo Credit: Megan Crown Photography
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