Why You Should ‘Hold Space’ 

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When Flourish Baby clients tell their birth stories, they always say they couldn't have done it without their partner.  Every so often a partner/coach will say, "but I didn't do anything."  In once such case, the mother summed it up perfectly by saying, "you held the space for me."  

What does it mean to "hold space" for someone?  Why is this important in birth?

Holding space means that we are willing to walk alongside a mother in her journey through labor and birth - without judging her, making her feel inadequate, trying to fix her, or trying to control the situation.  

Some moms will need lots of hands on coaching or verbal cues, and some will turn inwards without lots of talking or touching.  Regardless of the coaching she needs, every woman needs to feel safe and secure.  One of the best ways to avoid interventions in labor is to feel safe.  When mom feels safe, labor continues as it would in nature.  Holding space is a way we can make mom feel secure.  We must open our hearts, offer unconditional support, and let go of judgement and control.  This support will allow mom to focus on her labor and allow her body to do the work it needs.

How do you hold space?  

Give mom permission to trust her body and intuition. Moms will often doubt their abilities and having someone encourage them to believe in their body and do what feels right can make labor go quicker and less painful. Like a woman in labor, coaches will intuitively know what mom needs (without having witnessed a birth before), or being told what to do in the moment.  Remember, the body was designed to give birth and this is what nature intended.  

Keep your own ego out of it. This is a big one.  As we support moms in labor, we can fall into a trap of believing her success is depending on our intervention.  To truly support a woman in labor, we need to create a place where she can have the opportunity to tune into her body and interact with her labor, rather than having us try and control her and the labor as it progresses.  When a coach holds space it can feel like he/she didn’t do anything.  Coaches may not have taken an active role in helping mom into different labor positions or guided her through relaxation exercises, but they made a space where mom is relaxed and feels protected.  

Create a container for complex emotions.  Labor is a very emotional time and can bring out a range of emotions - everything from joy to fear.  Let mom experience the emotions she needs without judgement or shaming.  It’s important to show mom empathy, tenderness, compassion, and confidence (especially when fear is present).  Because birth is so emotional for coaches too, I encourage parents to consider hiring a doula.  A doula can help to support the emotions of both mom and her partner.  She can provide coach with a pep talk and reassurance that allows him/her to better support mom.  (Click Here for more information about doulas.)

Give mom only as much information as she can handle. During contractions is not the time to bombard mom with information.  That is why it's crucial to do research and discuss all options before labor, so during labor, you can give mom just the information she needs.  Moms in labor won’t remember everything from class - she goes into primal place where logical thinking is difficult.  She is relying on her coach to advocate for her and protect the space so she can focus on labor.

Don't take away mom's power. In a medical setting, staff with often make decisions for mom without her input. These situations can leave mom feeling useless and incompetent.  A good birth plan can help communicate birth wishes and allow mom to have the labor she wants.  If something does come up, help mom make decisions based on the discussion you've had before birth and following your intuition. 

Make mom feel safe enough to change the plan.  It is our hope and wish to have a natural childbirth, but our true goal is healthy mom and healthy baby.  Sometimes that can mean a medical intervention - either necessary or elected.  Labor can be very surprising and unpredictable.  While we practice and prepare the best we can, we won’t know what to do until we’re in the middle of it.  A mom might hit a wall emotional and/or physically.  She may have labored for 40 hours, is exhausted and fear how she will care for a newborn if she labors for several more hours.  In this situation, she may choose to have an epidural for a few hours, just to get a little bit of sleep and regroup emotionally.  For her, this choice might be the difference between having a vaginally birth verses having a surgical birth.  Situations can arise in birth that require medical intervention (and from our classes you’ll know what questions to ask if this comes up).  It’s important to reassure mom she didn’t fail, the plan just changed and that’s OK.  

Coaches play an important part in labor.  They make sure mom is drinking water, using the bathroom, and  relaxing with each contraction.  One of the most important task of a coach is to hold the space.  So even if you feel like you didn’t do anything in labor, know that you held the space for mom, which  is everything.

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