Compassionate Communication in the Birth Space

Otherwise known as Nonviolent Communication (NVC)

A quality of heart connection.

Would you love to know how to most effectively be with a mother in labour who says “I can’t do this anymore” or a partner who says “there must be something that can be done to help her with the pain” or the doctor who says “if nothing changes by the next examination, we will have to look at going for a caesarean”? What about how to be with yourself in empathy at those times of emotional contraction inside you?

The practice of Nonviolent Communication has tools and practices to offer which can bring compassion, clarity and empowerment for any situation that arises.

According to the HeartMath Institute, which focusses on expanding heart connections, the human heart generates the largest electromagnetic field in the body, greater than that of the brain. It feeds into the bioelectromagnetic communication within and between people. This could mean that whether a person in the birth space is radiating fear or compassion, it can be felt by another, up to 15 feet away. As I see it, this has profound implications in terms of the atmosphere in the birth space and how it effects the labour process and the experiences of everyone involved.

How do we as birth workers, contribute to the optimal conditions for a woman to labour and birth with safety, satisfaction, efficiency and pleasure? How do we ‘birth’ compassion and harmony within ourselves and support the mother and baby as well as others present in the room?

The word nonviolence comes from the Hindi word ‘Ahimsa’ which refers to a state of openheartedness where our ‘heart’ embodies authenticity and compassion so fully that there is no room for any consciousness of hatred, anger or even ‘other’. We can be oriented in such a way as to see the beauty in a person, attribute positive intent and trust that there is some sacred reason ( Need ) underlying why a person says or does anything.

NVC is centered around our universal human needs or values, needs are defined as qualities of Life essence which are required for life. Examples are consideration, understanding, care, choice, comfort. For a woman during birth, I like to think of the foundation SLAB of Safety, Love and Belonging which link into the ‘old brain’ or body wisdom and instincts, major players during labour. 

Feelings as defined by NVC are neither positive or negative, instead, they are helpful messengers to let us know whether or not we are experiencing our needs as being met or unmet. For example if you feel distressed, it may be because your need for understanding is not being met or if you feel touched, it may be because your need for support is being met.

Giraffes have been coined as the animal representing compassionate consciousness or language because they have the largest heart of any land mammal, weighing up to 26lbs! They have a longer view perspective and stick their necks out in vulnerable courage. They also have a property in their saliva which dissolves thorns.

Compassionate Presence and communication is often conveyed by way of empathy, the kind, curious enquiry and desire to understand and connect to a person’s experience in any given moment. In NVC this usually involves putting our attention on feelings and needs. Let’s see how this plays out in the birth space.

In the labour room, instead of reactivity, would you like to have additional options as to how you respond to a challenging message?

How about the one where the lady in labour says “I can’t do this anymore”?

Consider these four possibilities in terms of your thoughts/consciousness in response: 

  • ‘What is she talking about, of course she can do it, she should know that this is just transition and that it means she will get to see her baby soon.’  ( Blame outwards, likely to lead to irritation or anger energy inside you )
  • "Oh no, I haven’t prepared her well enough, it’s all my fault, I didn’t get her to
    embrace the hypnobirthing techniques fully." ( Blame inwards, likely to lead to guilt, shame, depression energy )
  • "I’m actually quite excited and feeling positive hearing that, trusting that she’s
    made considerable progress." ( Feeling; excited, Need; trust or flow )
    ( Tuning inwards to our feelings and needs is an act of self-empathy, which
    can be grounding and empowering.
  • "I wonder if she is feeling distraught and really wants relief from the intensity
    right now." ( Feeling guess; distraught, need guess; relief, or could be a need
    for trust in her body etc. likely to convey a compassionate empathic energy -
    Be With her in her experience
    . )

An orientation of emphatic presence even without words out loud can influence the energetic field around a mother and baby as they are in labour. This will add to our other strategies for cultivating more oxytocin and compassion in the room such as eye contact, massage, encouraging couple closeness, laughter etc. contributing to a safer and more satisfying birth experience.

From personal healing and development through to relationship skills and social change, NVC offers a wide range of trainings to support a heart of connection. 

If you would like to explore the dance of communication and connection further, you can contact me, doula Annie Scott, at Transform Connections Facebook page. 

The Author

Annie Scott is a doula based in Leicester, UK. Trained with Nurturing Birth and is a member of Doula UK. 

She first came across Nonviolent Communication ( NVC) when Marshall Rosenberg was the opening night speaker at La Leche League International breastfeeding and parenting Conference in 2003 in San Fransisco. She also works as a life coach and workshop facilitator.

You may be able to locate a practice group or NVC Facilitator local to you at or