What does the birthpartner do at the birth?
That’s a really simple question, actually, with a ridiculously difficult answer, because the variables on it depend on the birthing woman, the environment, the birthing assistants, experience, relationship and about as many other things as you can imagine!
*For the purpose of this post, the birth partner is assumed to be the dad, but can be anyone the birthing mother wants or needs!
Never the less, men, especially, often find themselves completely hands off and lost when it comes to the birth of their babies. You only have to watch an episode of One Born Every Minute (which I strongly recommend as a contraceptive, but not as birth instruction!) to see how dads can feel uninvolved and at a loss when it comes to childbirth.
In my experience, home-birth dads are more involved. They have been more involved in the planning and preparation, if only as a sounding board to bounce ideas off of, but they are more aware of what’s going to happen and what to expect – of course that’s not always the case either though! Remember what I said about variables?
So there isn’t a list of ten step-by-step jobs for birth partners, but I thought I’d share some of the things my husband did during our daughter’s birth which you could consider assigning to your birth partner, so that they go into this with some idea of what to do.
- Depending on the manner of your birth, there will be a few practical things that need doing – a pool to be inflated, sheets to be placed, new born clothes to be laid out.
- A labouring woman needs to have sustenance – make sure she’s drinking enough and if she wants anything to eat, make sure there are snacks on hand. If the mother to be has prepared all this in advance, make sure you know what’s in the cupboards and how she likes it prepared.
- Field phone calls and visitors. Make sure the mother-to-be is comfortable with whoever is present. This counts especially for parents, inlaws and other family members who might want to be present for the birth. If the birthing woman isn’t comfortable with them being there, it’s the birth partner’s duty to make them leave.
And guys: if it’s between your mother’s preferences and those of the mother of your child, you always go with the woman in labour. Always.
- Make sure all electronics are working. Have spare batteries for the cameras, put film in the video camera, and make sure the MP3 player is charged.
Jennifer at Hybrid Rasta Mama says of her birth experience: “Since my husband is not brilliant at keeping me calm and relaxed I simply wanted him there to take pictures and video and to record the moments I could not see. My doula was there to provide all of the emotional and mental support. She was in tune with me, knew what I needed, and offered a strong support during a very stressful birth. My husband took great photos!”
Hands-On Birth Support
Here again, the variables are monumental.
As every birth is different, so too every birthing woman’s needs are different. The most important bit of advice I can give you is this: listen to her and respond to her requests.
Here are some suggestions for things to keep the birth partner busy providing hands on support during labour and delivery:
- Breathing exercises, such as golden thread breathing, relaxation techniques and massage can help massively with pain relief in labour. If you know these techniques before the time, you can provide a very solid foundation during the birth of the child. My husband was a ‘pace setter’ for my breathing. He would start breathing the ‘right’ way, and I’d follow him. It provided amazing focus during pushing.
- Setting up the TENS machine
- Supporting labour positions, recommending positions when appropriate
- Managing the temperature of a birth pool
- Having a hot or cold flannel available – hot is useful to help minimise perineum tearing during pushing, either can be useful for cooling or warming the forehead
- Ensuring hydration
Christine from African Babies Don’t Cry says: “My birth partner was my mom. I really liked the idea of having a woman guiding me through it, especially one that had been through labour before. Unfortunately I only heard of the word ‘Doula’ some time after I had given birth. My mother was fantastic, she kept me calm, kept telling me that I can do this and to push with my lower abdomen muscles as she didn’t want me to burst blood vessels in my face as she had done once in labour LOL. The pushing, however, came really naturally to me. I birthed in a hospital and they did allow my husband in to see Jesse immediately after he was born. Next time I hope to have a homebirth and then will have my mother and husband both in attendance.”
Isil from Smiling Like Sunshine had a very supportive husband at both her births.” My birth partner was my husband. He knew exactly what I wanted and supported me perfectly. My first labour was very straight forward and we enjoyed a beautiful water birth. The second time around, baby was back to back. I had lots of pain. Again he supported me perfectly, massaging through contractions, wiping my face with a cold flannel, bringing me water as I felt so hot and tired. It was more difficult than the first time but in the end, we got our water birth again! I am so happy that we experienced both labours together like this.”
Emotional Birth Support
Emotional support is hard to quantify. Again, the most important advice I can give you here is to listen. Provide support, but don’t hound her. Don’t say you know what she’s going through – unless you’ve had a baby you really don’t.
- Positive encouragement is good. Praise is good. But be sincere too and don’t be offended if she’s not appreciative of it. In fact, don’t take anything personally. Some women really do lash out from pain and exhaustion – at least that’s what Hollywood will have us believe.
- Tell her how proud you are of her. Tell her she’s doing well. Never ever criticise or be negative
- Don’t show your anxiety and fear. Men especially hate seeing their loved one in pain. This isn’t the time to be thinking about how you’re feeling. It’s about her.
- It’s useful, if the mother to be has been practicing positive affirmations, for the birth partner to have them written out and handy. I remember my husband repeating affirmations to me in the birthpool, whispering in my ear all the things I’d been telling myself for months. Looking back, his voice is the one steady, calming influence I remember all the way through.
- Emotional support also comes in the form of managing who is present during labour and child birth. If the mother doesn’t want someone there, this isn’t the time for discussion. It’s time to be her enforcer (see the next section on advocacy.)
Shannon from The Artful Mama says, “My birth partner was my husband. What I valued was that he never left my side during the entire 22 hours and did not second guess any of my decisions throughout the experience – even though I changed our plans during the labor. He told me that whatever I thought I needed was going to be what happens. I also appreciated that even though my mom was supposed to leave during my active labor he did not make a big deal about her still being there because he judged that the rhythm of the room would change if it was disrupted.”
Your birth partner is your birth advocate. The hormones released during child birth are counterproductive to fighting or negativity, and both of those will also hinder childbirth.
Your birth partner needs to know well in advance what your wishes are, which is why I recommend a birth plan. It’s a good way to cover the things you need to know about birth options and choices, and a solid foundation from which to start discussions with your birth partner, to ensure they really know your wishes, both in an ideal and alternative circumstance.
You cannot be an advocate for someone if you don’t know what their wishes are, so it’s essential to have those discussions before going into labour.
- To advocate for your partner means that you are the go between for her and medical professionals. It means when they give her a form to sign, you’ve read it. It means when they are pressuring her to do something you know she doesn’t want, you can speak up for her and request time to think. This often frightens people because they feel that they don’t know what the medical staff do, but you do have time. Even an ’emergency’ caesarean takes at least half an hour to prepare for. There is time to stop and think. When our midwife told my husband that I was still at 4cm dilation after 44 hours of labour and we would have to consider transferring to hospital, he asked her to give us two more hours. We changed position, retreated to our room to be alone and I progressed from 4 – 8 cm in those two hours.
- It means advocating for her with well meaning friends and relatives. I’ve mentioned this a few times, but I’ve heard so many stories of mothers, mothers-in-law and other family members who’ve insisted on being present at the birth and have made it an incredibly uncomfortable or unpleasant experience for the mother-to-be, who really needs to feel supported and respected during labour. If person x is so desperate to be involved, let them have a baby. This is about supporting the woman in labour. Your mother/mother-in-law/sister/friend’s wishes never get to take priority.
- Being conscious of her comfort. A room full of students will be intimidating. A room full of unnecessary visitors. A corridor. Be aware of her comfort. So many women talk about the ‘loss of dignity’ in labour. Help her not lose her dignity.
A good guide to judge circumstances by is this: Would I have sex or go to the toilet in front of these people/in this situation? If the answer is no, don’t expect the person you’re supporting to want to give birth like that. The biology involved in childbirth is similar to that of sex and the mechanisms are based on those of orgasms. If you could have sex in a busy room full of people with bright lights and achieve orgasm that way, great, but most women couldn’t – neither can they have a peaceful birth that way. In the same way, you probably wouldn’t want to have ravaging sex with your parents or in-laws sitting in the next room sticking their heads in every two minutes to see if you’re done yet. You’d also probably feel really uncomfortable going to the toilet in a corner of the room they’re sitting in. It’s pretty much the same for a woman giving birth. As her birth partner, it’s your job to look out for her comfort, advocate for her and support her.
“My incredible husband was my birth partner,” says Joella of Fine and Fair. “The most important thing he did was to trust me when I refused to schedule our daughter’s birth, which was by cesarean due to some complications. When I went into labor, he helped me stay calm (I was near phobic about surgery, and terrified of the surgical birth) by keeping a sense of humor and making me and the surgical staff. During the surgery, he stayed right by my side, telling me how brave I was, how proud he was of me, and what a good job I was doing bringing our daughter into the world. My husband helped me to feel that what I was experiencing truly was giving birth, and not just the surgical removal of our baby. In the recovery room, he again trusted me and helped me fight off nurses who were pushing formula. Since they were not supportive, he did the best he could to help me position our daughter for nursing and capture the beauty of that stressful moment with the camera.”
What have I left out? Can you think of other ways your birth partner did or could support you during childbirth? Please share your thoughts below!