A very important part of your role as a labor partner is to recognize tension in the woman. During labor, the woman may be so involved in what her body is doing that she becomes tense without even being aware of it. During practice, you should visually and physically check her for signs of tension. During labor, to avoid disturbing her, check her only visually for relaxation both during contractions and, as labor progresses, between contractions to ascertain that she is resting completely. If you observe tension, you will need to begin using one or more of the various techniques presented in this section to help her relax. Because each woman responds differently, it will be up to you to determine which techniques and comfort measures are the most effective for your partner. Additionally, certain measures may be more effective at different times in her labor.
To check your partner for relaxation, first check her visually. Is she frowning? Is her jaw clenched? Do her shoulders and neck look rigid? Are her toes flexed or curled? Are her fingers clenched?
Second, check her physically for relaxation by doing the following:
• Check her neck by gently rotating her head from side to side.
• Check her shoulders by placing your hands on them and gently moving them from side to side. Tense shoulders stay put, while relaxed ones move easily.
• Gently pick up her arm, firmly supporting it under the elbow and wrist. The upper arm, lower arm, and wrist should each move separately and feel heavy in your hands. If the arm is rigid and stiff, or if your partner lifts it for you, the arm is tense. Gently lower the arm to the supporting surface, never drop it! If you move her arm too abruptly, your partner will not trust you and will tense, rather than relax, to your touch. Repeat with the other arm.
• Check your partner’s hip by placing your hands on the outside of each hip and moving the pelvis from side to side. Relaxed hips move easily.
• Lift one of her legs, supporting it under the knee and ankle, and check it the same way you checked the arm. A relaxed leg will be very heavy and its parts will move separately, the same as the arm. Gently lower the leg. The knee should flop to one side when the leg is set down on the pillow. Repeat with the other leg.
If you are checking, you find body parts that are not completely relaxed, try on of the following techniques:
• Quietly repeat, “Let your (body part) relax”.
• Tell your partner to tense the body part as tightly as possible, then to slowly release it to the count of 10.
• Firmly stroke the tense body part or lightly massage it using circular motions.
Use whichever technique, or combination of techniques, works best for your partner.