When your wife or partner gives birth, it’s likely to be one of the most intense and emotional experiences you’ve had as a couple. Until the day comes to finally meet your baby, you may be wondering how you can be most helpful to your partner in a situation where you have very little control over the proceedings.
The good news is that there are lots of preparatory measures you can take to make giving birth a much more positive experience for your partner, and while you may not be going through the physical travails of childbirth, you can certainly provide the support, encouragement and tenderness your partner needs as her labour progresses.
From having delivered hundreds of babies, I know each couple is different and that there are lots of nuances when it comes to providing the right type of support that your particular partner will find most useful. For example, some women hate to be touched during labour so hand holding or back rubbing may not be the best way to show your support, but for other women, this kind of physical touch can be very reassuring.
I’ve put together some of my top tips for helping your partner through labour and birth. It’s a good idea to discuss these measures with your partner to see which ones she feels she agrees with, because as we all know, when it comes to relationships, communication is key. Start being supportive now by talking about her wishes, needs and wants for her labour. It’s important to also talk about how you view things too so you can agree on the role you’ll play. Do this and the chances are things will run a lot more smoothly when D-Day finally comes!
A primary labour or birthing partner is simply the person that is going to help you (or your partner) to give birth, providing the primary source of emotional and psychological reassurance and support for when things get challenging. Most often the primary labour partner is the husband, boyfriend or partner of the woman giving birth, but not always. Labour and birth are highly charged environments and not every life partner is necessarily equipped to deal with what is often a high-pressure situation. People have skills in different areas after all!
An alternative choice of primary labour or birth partner could be a private midwife, a professional doula, or a good friend or a family member – quite often women like to invite their sister or mother to their labour. As childbirth is a uniquely feminine reserve, I’ve found over the years that a lot of clients benefit from having another woman in the room with them, who understands what they are going through or who is able to provide them with the emotional support they need.
That’s not to say that men can’t do just as good a job. In fact, sharing the experience of bringing your baby into the world can be for many an incredibly important thing to experience together and something that will become a defining moment in each of your lives.
It’s also worth saying, that if you and your partner decide to include an alternative labour partner at the birth, that it doesn’t mean you as the father can’t be there too. Often when an alternative labour partner is present, the father and the additional labour/birthing partner can play different, but equally important supportive roles.
Women require good coping strategies for labour and having the right people around them giving them the right support is often the most important coping strategy of all.
As a primary birth partner it’s your job to provide a positive and reassuring environment and to see to her immediate needs in a prompt and understanding manner. Being able to keep calm is vital – as well as responding to the labour situation as it unfolds.
There’s no definitive list of what you should or shouldn’t do when your partner is in labour, because support can come in so many different forms.
From calling the midwife or hospital, to rubbing her back, running her a warm bath, getting her a glass of water or turning on her TENS machine – these actions are all demonstrative shows of support. The key is to be helpful and alert to her needs.
Other ways of making her feel more comfortable are helping her to remember active labour exercises or positions, going through breathing exercises together, or going over any coping techniques that she has prepared – like visualisations or hypnobirthing.
Discussing the type of birth she would like to have, and how she envisions your support is vital. Ask her how she imagines your role during labour and discuss what you are both happy with. If you don’t fancy getting into the birthing pool with her – that’s ok! – the important thing is to agree on how you can provide the support she needs.
It would be wonderful if every labour partner could have the following qualities; empathy, patience, understanding, a sense of humour, caring, proactivity, comfortable in a hospital environment and able to cope with the unknown.
This is, of course, a very specific set of qualities, which is why a lot of women feel more confident going into labour with a doula or private midwife with whom they have worked to discuss the support they would like. Having someone present who is employed to see to the needs of the labouring woman can take the pressure off the partner and the relationship, allowing more peace of mind and more of a ‘plan’ as to how your partner will be supported during birth.
It can be reassuring for both parties to know that the mother will be receiving the support she needs, while the father or life partner can be present and supportive without the fear of ‘getting things wrong.’
It’s not a reflection of whether or not you will be a good parent. No other part of parenting is quite like the experience of childbirth, which is a medically dominated situation. Try to see it as a positive if your partner is keen to have a doula or privately hired midwife present.
Feelings of helplessness are normal for many men who are witnessing their partner give birth. Men are natural protectors and fixers and during labour they very often feel useless as they feel those natural roles have been made redundant.
It’s worth remembering that labour and birth are natural processes and only require ‘fixing’ if there is a complication – in which case the medical team will decide what needs to be done.
Time to get practical. If you’re the primary birth/labour support for your partner (and most life partners are), there are some practical steps you can take to prepare for the big day.
First and foremost, make sure you attend an unbiased antenatal course that is inclusive of partners and easily accessible. The HATCH online course includes specific content to help prepare and support partners so you can feel completely prepared. [LINK TO HATCH]
It’s vital to have an open and honest conversation as a couple so you can manage each other’s expectations and go into the labour on the same page.
As the birthing partner, be realistic about what you’ll be able to do. It’s not your job to take away the pain or to make labour feel any more bearable. Rather it’s your job to make your partner feel supported and stronger. Labour and birth are a primal process and doesn’t need ‘fixing’. In the event that there is a complication, your obstetric team will decide what needs to be done.
Being present and staying as calm and as reassuring as possible is the best way to support your partner. Don’t worry about doing things perfectly, do your best and that’s more than enough.
It’s normal for labour and birth to feel outside of your comfort zone, but as a labour partner you need to feel happy with the roles you have. For example, only do what you feel comfortable with; if you’re not keen on cutting the cord yourself, it’s ok. Keep in mind that labour isn’t a test of how good a parent you will be.
When your partner is in early labour, have a list of things ready to suggest that can make her feel more comfortable and relaxed. From her favourite music, to running a bath to putting on a hypnobirthing video, there’s lots you can do to help her feel calmer and more confident.
You’re bound to have heard that sometimes women in labour don’t take kindly to certain suggestions or actions. Accept that labour is an unpredictable rollercoaster and that your partner is trying her best to get through it. Don’t take any outbursts too personally – she is going on one hell of a ride!
There are lots of practical measures you can take to charge of when she is in labour – from putting the hospital bag in the car, to ordering a taxi, to making sure she has enough to eat or drink, or calling her list of family or friends. These things will give her peace of mind and make you both feel more in control.
It sounds obvious, but one of the most helpful things you can do as a partner is to believe in her ability to give birth. During labour you’ll see her mind and body go to a place its never been before. It’s bound to feel disorientating for you both, but the experience is going to be unique and will stay with you forever
In lots of ways labour is like a marathon. It’s physically, psychologically and emotionally draining and like every marathon runner – she’ll require some cheering from the side-lines to help keep her focused and positive. Giving her vocal encouragement and praise will go a very long way in making her feel like she’s got this – and you’re right there behind her.
For regular expert and peer support in navigating pregnancy, early parenthood and work, join the HATCH™ community now.
photo credit: Albany J. Alvarez
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