The birth partner plays a really important role during labour. They are a one-stop shop of support, entertainment and advocacy for the pregnant woman, and evidence shows that women who have a companion during labour are happier with their birth experience.
Whilst it is now routine for the baby’s father to be the birth partner, personal circumstance, choice or religious or cultural beliefs might not make this the best or natural option for everyone. Many women and their partners now opt to have additional support, from a close friend, relative or professional doula (female supporter). If you choose to do this, make sure you check with your midwife that both will be allowed in the delivery suite with you, as this can vary from place to place.
What is the role of your birth partner(s):
That they understand the birth process
It is really important that your birth partner understands what to expect from a normal birth – and any interventions that may be needed – so that they can help you make informed decisions throughout your labour. Attending antenatal classes with you will give them the necessary tools to do this, as well as helping them understand the importance of keeping you active during labour and how to keep you comfortable when you are resting.
They are good company
Labour can be a lengthy process (yep, stating the obvious there…sorry!), so having someone who can help you pass the time, particularly in the early stages of labour, is a good idea.
They are supportive
Support is the cornerstone of a birth partner’s role and comes in many forms.
Advocacy: They are there to support your decisions during labour and be your voice if you are struggling. They should know your birth preferences and help you to follow them, but also support you should your choices and options change during your labour.
Emotional: Labour is a really emotional experience and your birth partner will need to understand this, knowing when to praise your efforts and offer encouragement, and to reassure you when things get tough.
Physical: Your birth partner should be able to offer all sorts of physical support, from holding your hand to giving you a massage or attaching the TENS machine pads. But also helping you to the toilet, or supporting you in the shower or bath.
They know you well and will listen to your needs
Someone who knows you well and can read you is really helpful during labour as they will know intuitively when to be hands on and when to give you space. They should listen to you and anticipate your needs, such as helping you with sips of water and snacks to keeping you cool and reminding you to go to the toilet!
Encourage them to learn your breathing and relaxation techniques so they can help you stay focussed and in control throughout your labour.
They can help establish a calm environment
Your birth partner should be doing all they can to make you calm and as comfortable as possible. This might include making a music playlist or adjusting the lighting in the room and getting out the aromatherapy oils but it also means acting in a calm manner throughout your labour – whatever it is you need to stay calm and relaxed.
They communicate well
Being able to communicate comfortably with your birth partner is really important as there are likely to be times during labour when you are pretty direct, and you don’t want them to take offence or for communication to break down between you.
Also, your birth partner should feel comfortable speaking on your behalf with the medical staff, from asking for help to asking for more information about procedures, and helping you to make informed decisions at key stages in your labour.
Giving someone the opportunity to be your birth partner should be considered an honour, as you are inviting them to witness an amazing, emotional and incredibly personal moment in your life. With this in mind, make sure you choose wisely!