Labor Support: Introducing the “Don’t Ask, Lead” Strategy

Category: Pregnancy
June 10, 2020

A Breakdown in Decision-Making

If you have ever experienced brain fog, forgetfulness, or a difficulty in making decisions during pregnancy, you are not alone. These symptoms, often referred to as “baby brain,” have actually been studied and validated in several published research studies.[1] Results conclude that pregnancy does in fact alter the brain, and one of the changes that many women experience is a difficulty in decision-making.

Some real-life examples that we have witnessed include:

  • Feeling like the mind is stuck in a loop while trying to figure out which swaddle blanket should be added to the registry
  • Getting irritated when a partner asks the question “What should we order for dinner?”
  • Second-guessing a choice of crib, glider, or diaper pail
  • Flip-flopping on a decision about the baby’s middle name

Making decisions during pregnancy can be difficult and making decisions while in labor can be close to impossible. However, learning about how the brain’s ability to make decisions during pregnancy is impaired will help partners plan their strategy for labor support more effectively. We recommend a strategy we call “Don’t Ask, Lead.”

Breaking Down the Don’t Ask, Lead Strategy

The key to this strategy is to avoid asking questions. It might take a bit of creativity, but usually any question can be transformed into a statement. We recommend partners providing support to avoid phrases like “Do you want…” and “Which…” and “Are you…” because these will all require you to make decisions, causing further stress. Instead, they can turn these questions into phrases like “How about we..” and “Let’s try…”

Here are some real-life examples from the labor and delivery room that demonstrate this technique:

  • Instead of “Do you want to change positions?” use the phrase “Let’s try the hands and knees position.”
  • Instead of “Do you need to go to the bathroom?” use the phrase “How about you go to the bathroom after the next contraction.”
  • Instead of “Do you want a sip of water?” use the phrase “Here is a sip of water” – and specifically, say this while holding the straw of a water bottle close to her mouth

Next Steps for Families

This strategy is simple, but it might feel uncomfortable at first. To overcome this initial awkwardness, we recommend that partners practice using statements instead of questions during the lead up to labor.

The first and most important step is to make sure that everyone is aware of the strategy. I have heard from partners that they don’t think it will be effective if they tell their partner what to do. Keep in mind, though, that leading is different from demanding. A lot of this difference stems from the tone of what is being said. For example, the phrase “How about you go to the bathroom” has a gentler tone than “Go to the bathroom.” If there are problems trying to figure out how to phrase something, they can stick with the following three phrases: “How about,” “Why don’t we,” and “Let’s try.”

Finally, if there is annoyance that results from this strategy during labor and birth, partners can always blame the strategy itself.  They can use the phrase “just trying out the don’t ask, lead strategy” so you know that communication has changed for your benefit, even if it might initially seem annoying. More importantly, try not to let criticism put an end to valuable support in labor. Ready to start this conversation? How about you forward this blog to your partner?

For more tips, techniques and actionable skills for Dads and partners preparing for labor, check out the SupportingHer online course.

Guest post written by Alice Turner. Alice is passionate about helping families have a positive birth experience. In addition to her work as a birth doula and childbirth educator, Alice created an online childbirth class specifically for partners called SupportingHer.