I recently posted a question on Facebook asking, “if you gave birth with the support of a doula, what was something they said to you during labor that had the most positive impact on your birth experience?”.
A client had inspired me to do this after expressing just how helpful my words were for her during her labor.
Now I’m sharing this collective wisdom in the hope that others can benefit from hearing what so many birthing people have found to be so useful and encouraging.
In no particular order...
1. “Go low”. This cue encourages the birthing person to drop their body weight, or drop the tone of their voice. The instinct can be to resist the intensity of sensations by lifting up and away from them either physically or vocally. This contrasts that impulse with the reminder that the only way out is through. “Going low” is that way through.
2. “Breathe”. Sometimes the intensity of labor causes us to tense our bodies and hold our breath. This reminder helps us relax, oxygenates our bodies and keeps our mind focused and present.
3. “You were born to do this!” This voice of encouragement is the ultimate affirmation of our body’s capacity to do exactly what it is being asked to do during labor. Another version of “you were made to do this”.
4. “I want to remind you, you wanted to birth on hands and knees...” Sometimes a birthing person will lose track of something they wanted during labor. Being reminded of a birth preference can be so supportive. That preference may no longer be desired which is fine, but if it is, this reminder will leave a birthing person feeling so grateful someone remembered.
5. “You couldn’t disappoint me if you tried”. It doesn’t get better than unconditional acceptance and approval.
6. “You’re so graceful, so good”. No need to be graceful in labor, but if you do in fact labor gracefully, it can feel amazing to have this reflected back and affirmed. Also “you’re so powerful, strong, beautiful, amazing” can feel wonderful.
7. “You are doing it”. In the thick of self-doubt when you feel like you can’t do it, or whatever you’re doing is not enough, this reflection, that you ARE doing it, can be the exact encouragement a birthing person needs to hear.
8. “The truth”. Hearing the truth about where you are in labor can be comforting and encouraging. Knowing where you’re at, (for example, that this is a natural break your body is taking before you’re ready to push) can put what’s happening into context in a way that can be helpful and reassuring.
9. “It feels like this because you are so close. Keep going. You’re doing great.” The reminder that this intensity is just a sign that you are on the verge of meeting your baby can give us the faith we need to hang in there.
10. “Soften your shoulders, your jaw, your face, etc...” Tensing our bodies is a common response to labor sensations. But tension only increases a person’s experience of pain. Being reminded to soften (or relax, let go, release, melt, etc...) specific body parts guides us into deeper relaxation and surrender, reduces our experience of pain and passes the time during contractions by giving us something to focus on other than wondering when it’s going to end or how painful it is.
11. “Talk to your baby”. Remembering what everything you’re experiencing is for. Remembering the other person who’s going through labor with you. Encouraging baby as an indirect way of encouraging yourself can powerfully lead birthing people through the depths of active labor and transition.
12. Say nothing. Sometimes the perfect words are silence. The holding of space with quiet affirmation, trusting that you are doing everything right.
This is by no means a comprehensive list, but a great start.
For newer doulas, I hope you’ll consider bringing these into your repertoire. For expectant parents reading this, I hope this encourages you to get a doula and if you have one, to discuss with them the things you’d like to hear during your labor.
If you have something to contribute to this sage collection, please add your own “something my doula said” words here in the comments.