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Birthing Language by Tara Thompson, BWI Birth Doula Student

Words are powerful, so it is important to consider what words to use around a laboring mom. Her senses are already elevated and she is on high alert, and she is perhaps now in her “primal brain”. What is said to her or in her presence is sure to have an impact on her labor and possibly even her labor progression. Words are not always necessary at birth, and even kind and encouraging words may inhibit the mother from fully being in her labor state of mind which could possibly interrupt her labor. Not all women enjoy listening to others during their labor. It is important to know when to talk and when not to. When language is needed or wanted, how we talk is of great importance. Please allow me to explain this further.

The volume at which we speak should be considered. Is the mom vocal herself, perhaps moaning loudly? Is the room full of distractions? Are you trying to assist her in finding something to focus on? She may appreciate a loud, direct tone, but often, I think it is more so the case that a woman needs a soft voice spoken to her. A whisper in an ear can be received stronger than a yell. The loudest voice in the room isn’t always the most impactful. It is important to evaluate the situation, know the mother and follow your intuition when deciding on how to speak to the laboring mom.

Where we are when we are talking to mom is also important. Are we across the room or are we near her and close to her in her laboring space? Depending on where a woman is in her labor, she may only be aware of the bubble around her. To properly communicate with a laboring mom, you must be near her and in her space, while being respectful of that space as well. It is hard to whisper across a room to someone who may not even see or feel you.

Once respecting the importance of volume of our voice and location of ourselves in relation to the mom, we must carefully craft our words. As a doula, I am careful to not interrupt a mom’s labor as sometimes silence is needed and wanted. With that said, I also know when to use words to encourage, reassure, inspire and affirm. I would not want to mislead her by using arbitrary words. I must also be careful to not give subjective medical advice if she asks
questions on what she should do if given options by her provider. These words could easily derail a mom from her labor.

A carefully crafted sentence is important and how we phrase what we are trying to convey to mom should be considered before speaking.
Nurse: “You are 4cm dilated.”
Mom: “JUST 4cm?!”
(insert pause to think, consider her feelings and gently touch mom while looking at her)
Me: “You are making great progress! Your body is working to open so your baby can
come out.” (Refrain from analyzing numbers)

In that exchange of words, I wanted to be careful not to mislead her. I didn’t want her to feel as if she had so much more to progress, but I also didn’t want to convince her that the next part of her labor would be fast. I simply wanted to support her by giving her well-earned credit for her hard work and remind her that her cervix is not a crystal ball.

“This is hard!”, says the mom. My reply would be simple, “…and you are strong! You are doing good work to meet your baby.” I would be careful not to choose words that give herself doubt. I want her feel confident herself. Labor is of course hard work, but it would not be helpful to affirm that or remind her. What would be helpful is to remind her that she is strong enough to birth her baby.

What if mom says, “I can’t do this.” I can recall saying this when in labor with my first. I also remember hearing, “You have to, sweetheart.” Maybe the reply was said with empathy and some endearment, but it did not leave me feeling confident, positive or optimistic. I felt helpless. A better reply would have been, “…but you are already doing it. I am right here with here with you.” I think it would have been helpful to be reminded that I was doing it and that I
wasn’t going to be alone.

These are several examples of what can be said to a woman in labor, but ultimately it is important to remember the timeliness of our words, the volume at which we say those words and where we are communicating them from. If we remember to speak from our hearts, we are more likely to speak what is perfect at that moment in time.