One of the most important roles at any birth is that of the birth partner. A birth partner can make all the difference to how the mother feels during and after the birth, and preparing together is a crucial part of the precess so you are both on the same page and the birth partner can then advocate for what you both want with confidence, knowledge of your options and help to create and keep the birth space.
What does a birth partner do?
There is evidence that having one-to-one continuous support from someone you love, trust and/or know well can help women to cope better with labour and have a more positive and happy experience. With the right support from a birth partner, the birth can also be shorter, more efficient and more straightforward, so it’s an important role not to be taken lightly.
So, what exactly is your role as birth partner? In brief, you are a tower of strength: a rock, a supporting beam for the mother to literally hang from if needed in different positions for birth; as well as providing emotional support, encouragement, motivation and comfort as and when needed/requested/demanded.
If you have been chosen to be the birth partner, whether you are a husband, wife, partner, family member, friend, colleague or professional, it is a huge honour. Yes, it is a big responsibility which you are more than capable of and can carry out with pride, ease and confidence…….with a little preparation.
Preparation is key
As with any important job, it pays to be prepared and know what you are doing. You can give better support if you know what is happening, could happen and should happen. Find out about labour and birth and the rights and choices available. Use reliable online resources to read up on the signs of labour and when to go to hospital/call the midwife so you can help your partner decide what to do together. Research the stages of labour so you both know what to expect and can help support each other in the best breathing techniques, movements and positions for each stage of the birth journey.
Doing an antenatal class or workshop together is a great way to prepare as you share the learning, and ask questions together. You can then practice afterwards and build on your communication and practical skills – your birth toolkit.
You don’t need an in-depth knowledge of every part of labour but a good overview of the process can really help build confidence in both of you. Once you have knowledge, you have power, and once you start to understand what is happening and why, it becomes more natural and instinctive to work with the body’s natural resources. This can then help labour to progress as you realise the importance of creating and maintaining a relaxed, low-adrenaline and calm environment for a more efficient and positive birth experience, however it happens.
What to expect
Once mum is in the throes of labour, she may go into a ‘birth bubble’ and forget to breathe properly or ask questions when options are presented. This is where you come in. With a little preparation beforehand, you can learn the same breathing techniques and positions that can help her. You can remind her and talk her through them if she needs you to – even breathing with her to set the pace and rhythm to help keep her on track. You can reassure her simply through holding hands if she wants to, or giving her eye contact to let her know you are with her. This can really help to keep her calm and relaxed. Comfortable and easy communication, and respecting her wants and consent, is so important between birth mum and birth partner. Sometimes all anyone needs to hear are words of encouragement or positivity. ‘Dig deep’ and ‘you can do this’ were the two phrases my husband and birth partner kept saying that really did keep me going and helped me to believe I could during my labour. And I did!
Mum may also forget to drink or eat or look after herself as birth takes over, so this becomes your job. Make sure mum is hydrated, offer water or squash often; make sure she has enough energy and fuel through food if she can stomach it before, during and also after labour. You are in charge of stocks, supplies and bringing change for vending machines! Encourage her to rest when she can; remind her to go to the loo; keep checking she is comfortable, warm and feels safe and listened to and you aren’t just tending to her needs, you are actively helping her to increase her levels of oxytocin – the fuel for labour.
Remember that you are there for her, ready and prepared to help, but also prepared and ready for her not to want you to help in the moment. Don’t take anything she does or says to heart: birth is an incredibly physical and emotional experience and no-one knows how they will react until they are in it. Even if she has given birth before, each one is different.
Birth planning process
Knowing what your partner wants and being part of the birth plan process is really important too. This helps to ensure that her wishes and preferences – and perhaps yours too if you are the father or mother of the child also – are listened to, and help her to make informed decisions on the day if things take a different course. Similarly, if other options, pain relief alternatives or treatments are offered, which is quite likely as its rare for birth to go completely ‘to plan’.
Encouraging your partner to make a birth plan, whether visual or written gives you the confidence to be able to speak up on her behalf if she isn’t able to. Sharing the load of making potentially big decisions and researching options before the birth can really help her to feel supported and like she isn’t doing this on her own. Which of course, she isn’t!
You can make a real difference!
Preparation really is key and gives you both shared confidence and is something you can do together to increase trust and communication too. This is such a pivotal moment in both of your lives, and you wouldn’t buy a house, sit an exam, get married etc… without a little planning and preparation first. It makes sense then not to be a birth partner without knowing what to expect, what is expected of you and how you can best support each other through the incredible birth journey.
“A birth partner should always be by her side and on her side.”