5 Ways Birth Partners Can Support During Epidurals
Almost 70% of women opt for an epidural. It's the most popular method of coping with labor pain by far. But interestingly, so many of the conversations about how birth partners can support during labor tend to center around unmedicated labor.
There are three issues with this:
First, all women will experience labor pain and need the support and techniques to help cope. For an epidural to work most effectively, it needs to be administered long after labor has progressed. So essentially, all women (and birth partners) need to be trained in unmedicated labor.
Secondly, an epidural does not put childbirth on autopilot. Moms still need support both physically and emotionally. I always encourage birth partners to be present and aware of how labor is progressing. Ask the provider team questions!
Thirdly, sometimes epidurals don't turn out so great. Mom may still feel a lot of pain while also experiencing numbness at the same time. There can also be side effects like itchiness and nausea. So it's actually possible the epidural can lessen her ability to cope with labor.
But, let's say mom opts for the epidural and you're both waiting on the anesthesiologist. What should be going through your mind? How can you plan out your support moving forward? Well, here are 5 simple ways to support her during and after the epidural is administered:
1. Help her get into position: Not all hospitals want dad in the room while the epidural is administered. But if they let you stay, you can help her get into position. Usually this is sitting upright at the edge of the bed. She may be unstable if contractions are coming quickly, but she’ll need to be as still as possible while they administer the epidural. You can be there to help steady her and remain calm.
2. Physical proximity and verbal support. She may feel frightened, exhausted, or be in a lot of pain. Bear in mind that epidurals aren’t always magical and effectiveness may vary. So, your closeness and support will keep her grounded and feel secure. Simple affirmations like “you’re doing great” or “you’re so strong” or “I’m proud of you” can go a long way. This can be especially helpful if she didn’t originally plan for an epidural.
3. Rest. After she feels relief, she may want to sleep. You can rest too! Pull up a chair to maintain close contact. It’s a great opportunity for you both to get some needed rest before the baby comes.
4. Change positions. It’s SUPER important that she changes positions regularly to keep labor progressing, and you should discuss this with the provider team. If the team is staying current with best practices, they will agree. If needed, you can help her move into different positions with nurse or simply be an encouraging during this time if mom is really not feeling it. Check out our birth class if you’re interested in some video demonstrations of the best epidural labor positions and a more in-depth discussion about their benefits.
5. Capture the moment. Once the epidural kicks in, mom might be feeling really, really relieved. This can be a good opportunity to take pics and shoot some video. You can both give a recap of labor so far and give your soon-to-be-child a video tour of their delivery room.
If your loved one gets an epidural, don't just sit on the sidelines the whole time. Your job isn't done! Be active and aware. The evidence shows that effective birth partners lead to more positive birth outcomes - and that includes births with epidurals.