For many of us, the first time we even think about what is involved with giving birth to a baby is when we find out we are pregnant ourselves! In our modern day culture we don’t grow up being exposed to the experiences of a close community of women and their birth journeys. In some more traditional cultures, it is very normal for children (particulary young girls) to witness the labour and birth of many women in the tribe, hence making the experience less of a mystery when girls grow into women and themselves become pregnant.
So as modern day women we read books and birth stories, we search the internet, attend classes, receive information from others (whether we like it or not) and madly educate and inform ourselves on the mystery of labour and birth before the big day arrives. But what about our partners? They can feel even more removed from the process and unsure of how they fit in or what they can do to help.
With that in mind, after attending over 100 births myself as a doula and having had my own babies, here is my list of the top 10 ways your partner can be involved and support you during your labour and birth. Often partners feel scared about what to expect and worry that they will feel helpless. This checklist is part of what I teach parents-to-be at my Active Birth Workshops.
- Learn about labour and birth – the most important thing you can do is to learn about what happens during labour and birth. Educating and informing yourself about the different stages is the best way to take away the ‘fear of the unknown’ and will also mean you won’t panic when something happens you aren’t familiar with. Demystifying what happens during labour and birth is definitely my number 1 thing you can do to prepare as a birth partner.
- Create a birth plan together – Birth plans often get a bad rap. It’s not about being a ‘diva’ and trying to control the process, but it IS about both parents-to-be sitting down together prior to labour and discussing what your options are, what choices you have, what you would like to have happen in the management of your labour and birth. The last thing a woman in labour wants is to have to make big decisions about things she hasn’t even contemplated. This also allows the birth partner to be clear on their role and what the birthing woman wants. One page is sufficient, only including things that are important to you and be clear and to the point, a 4 page essay isn’t going to be quite as well received!
- Be aware of what she wants – It’s really important to know what your partner wants for her birth experience. If she is aiming for a natural drug free birth, you won’t want to be suggesting pain relief to her, the same as if she wants access to pain relief, you don’t want to be denying her this. Does she want to be free to move around? Would she like some time after the baby is born before family shows up to visit? Sit down and talk about her feelings and what she would like, this is where creating a birth plan is a fantastic way for making this all clear.
- Know your limits – How are you feeling about your role supporting your partner? If you feel like you’d like some extra support, there are people out there that can support your role during labour and birth! Doulas (like me), are trained professionals that help support women during their labour and also assist the partners too by taking the pressure off, allowing you to be present without having to do all the other things ie. massaging, applying heatpacks etc. Maybe you’re not feeling confident about your role as a birth partner, that’s ok! Just know your limits and know that there are people there to help.
- Be prepared for hard work – Yep, it’s called labour for a reason – it’s intense work for the labouring woman, but it’s also a big event for birth partners too. Labour and birth can be a long journey and the role of a good support person involves some hard work too! You might be awake all night, spend hours massaging. She’ll need you to be providing emotional reassurance, physical support and all the bits and pieces in between.
- Create a safe space – A woman has a physiological and emotional need to feel safe and secure as she labours and gives birth to her baby. A safe space is a place where she feels comfortable, where she doesn’t feel like she is ‘on display’, a place with dim lighting and comforts. Often when women move from their safe and comfortable home environment to the hospital, their contractions begin to slow down and space out, this is because they are entering an unfamiliar environment – bright lights, strangers, noise, the hospital room. It’s important that you create a place that she feels safe and comfortable in and you can do this by making sure her surroundings support this ie. relaxing music, dim lighting, pillows, aromatherapy oils, minimal interruptions etc.
- Be hands on – There is a lot a birth partner can do to help. From rubbing her back, to getting ice cubes for her to suck on, from helping her move to a more comfortable position, to placing a cold washer on her forehead. Even though you can’t help birth your baby (though she is sure to wish you could at some stage!), you can be involved in lots of other ways.
- Offer your emotional support and encouragement – Emotional support and encouragement really does make a difference to a woman in labour. Labour and birth is not just a physical process, but an emotional and mental one too. Tell her what an amazing job she’s doing (because she is), that her you love her (she needs to hear this), that you’re proud of her (because you will be). When the going get toughs, get down close and breathe through contactions with her, hold her hands and let her know you are there for her.
- Be her voice – When a woman is in labour, the last thing she needs to be doing is thinking or answering questions. Her focus needs to be on what’s happening within her body and nothing else as this distracts her from the process. Be prepared with your birth plan and be the one to answer questions and to speak up for her when you need to.
- Look after yourself – Being a birth partner is a big job and as I mentioned before, hard work. It’s essential that you look after yourself during the process too. Make sure you keep hydrated, have some nourishing food to eat and protect your back when you are being hands on. It’s easy to spend hours massaging your partner’s back and then realise later you were hurting yours in the process so always be mindful of how you’re positioned. Rest when you can and take a break when you need to.
If you’d like to learn more about preparing for labour and birth, my Birth Preparation Workshop is the perfect way for you to feel confident in being the perfect birth partner!