Supporting someone you love through the birth of your (or their) baby is going to be one of the most important times of your life. You have such an influential part to play! And that means being prepared and knowing what you can do to be the best birth partner ever.
Understanding the ways that birth partners can provide physical and emotional support can increase the chance of labour going well and can even reduce the distress that may be experienced if things don’t go to plan. A good birth partner can turn a straightforward birth into a magnificent and life changing experience!
So, now you know how vital your role is, you will want to know what you can do to best prepare. Here are our top five tips:
1. Know your partners wishes but keep listening...
Working on the birth plan together means that you’ll have a good idea of what is really important to your partner and why. Understanding what matters to her means you are in a better position to advocate for her when labour starts. Remember that you can’t speak for her - she is still the only person who can make decisions - but you can support her words. For instance, if she has decided she does not want pethidine, yet the midwife keeps offering it and your partner has been declining it, you can say “She’s said she doesn’t want it, please could you stop offering – she’ll tell you if she changes her mind.”
At the same time, listen carefully. Your partner may have made the decision before labour that an epidural is not for her but, if she starts to say she wants one, then listen! Talk to her and, if she is very clear this is the right decision for her, then you can help to advocate for her wishes.
2. Boost that love hormone
One of the most important hormones in labour is oxytocin. This hormone is vital for effective contractions and can also triggers the production of the body’s own natural pain killers, endorphins. Oxytocin also helps us to relax and so can be wonderful for everyone involved. If you’re feeling stressed or anxious, a bit of an oxytocin boost may be just what you need, too!
Loving touch, hugs and tender words can boost oxytocin in both of you. Tell your partner how proud you are of her, how beautiful she is, how much you love her. Any touch can help to boost oxytocin, including stroking and massage, so do whatever feels right to her. Some women hate being touched in labour, and this is totally normal so, if that’s the case, keep the love flowing with your actions and words.
3. Use positive language
Your job is to cheerlead, to tell her how great she’s doing and to encourage her when she’s struggling. Some great phrases are, “You are doing so well – I love you”, “You can do anything for a minute… it’s passing… nearly there…”, “Relax your shoulders, relax your body.” If your partner decides to accept the offer of a vaginal examination, make any progress sound fantastic, even if it’s only a small amount. “Wow, that’s another whole cm your cervix has opened – you are wonderful!”
4. Understand the natural progression of labour
How your partner feels early in labour may change as it progresses. She might be quite chatty or be happy to laugh and joke in early labour - in fact, this is a great way to just relax and let the love hormones flow! As labour progresses, however, she may go deep inside herself and become less communicative. This is completely normal. It is often called the ‘birth bubble’ and it actually helps her to really focus on managing the sensations of labour.
The ‘bubble’ can be interrupted by people asking your partner questions and her needing to respond. You can help to protect that ‘bubble’ by answering questions for your partner that you know the answers to – but each time say to her “is that right?” so she can just nod or shake her head rather than trying to form words. The decisions are still hers.
As labour progresses further it can be very hard for partners to watch their loved one in pain and it is very normal for them to want to take the pain away. Trying to encourage her to accept pain relief when she is not asking for it can undermine her faith in herself, so aim to really listen to what’s right for her rather than trying to fix things on her behalf, even if you feel distressed.
5. Take care of yourself
Being the best birth partner means that you will need to stay hydrated and energised. Look after yourself so that you can take best care of her. You’ll have to choose the right time, though – popping off for a sandwich when she’s telling you she needs you with would not be great. So, refill and relax when it’s ok with her, not necessarily at the point you want to.
Supporting your partner may mean getting into all sorts of positions which may not be easy if you are wearing tight jeans! You’re best opting for comfy and stretchy clothes.
Watching your baby being born can be one of the most extraordinary and magical days of your life. Being the best birth partner possible means being prepared and being ready for many eventualities - in the end, you’ll have been a critical part of this miraculous event!