5 Tips for Partners during Labour
As a birth doula I’ve met many fathers and partners of pregnant women who all have one wish in common: They want to be the best possible support during birth that they can be.
It can be hard to know what birth will be like and you are most likely guided by what you've watched on tv, heard from friends and family and imagined in your mind.
What to say, do and how to be as a partner during labour will be unique for each woman. How partners react and deal with their own emotions at the same time can be overwhelming at times. Planning for the unknown and how to cope with the experience and emotions is a team effort and may require some extra support. Here are some suggestions for your journey:
1. Help partners understand their role during birth
It all begins with partners having the right expectation of themselves and what their role is during birth. Traditionally, men are wired towards ‘fixing problems’ and ‘making things better’ so witnessing the labouring woman in pain or discomfort is often emotionally challenging for them. Therefore, the first thing to understand is that it is NOT a partner’s role during labour to ‘take away the pain’ or having sole responsibility for their partner’s birth experience. It is their role to give support and to do this by being present, staying close to the labouring woman, speaking gentle words of encouragement and to carry the intensity of each contraction together by holding her and embracing the noises and power that come along with them.
2. Be clear on your needs during labour
It can be really helpful for women in the lead up to birth to find some clarity of their own needs during labour including what they might need from their partners. Of course, some things might feel different on the actual day but communicating about this before you give birth can be reassuring for both you and your partner. To do this, take a moment of uninterrupted time and write down what you might need from yourself (e.g. to trust my body, to accept support, to stay calm etc.), what you might need from your midwife/doctor (e.g. to be encouraging, to ensure my baby and I are safe etc.), your baby (e.g. to work with me, to stay well during labour etc.), your birth support team - if you have one - such as a birth doula or friend (e.g. to make suggestions that aid active labour, to use aromatherapy, look after the birth environment etc.) and last but certainly not least what you might need from your partner (e.g. to ensure I’m drinking after every contraction, to be calm, to believe in me, to remind me of my strength etc.). Once you’ve completed the exercise go through it together with your partner as this will help them have a better understanding of what is important to you during the birth but also what your expectations are of their support.
3. Learn about the process of birth
Things we don’t know or have never experienced before can seem overwhelming or scary even. Pregnancy and birth is full of the unknown for most men (and women too!) and it’s therefore not straightforward to expect our partners to be calm and knowing of what to do next. The answer for feeling confident and ‘in control’ during birth, even when things do not go according to plan, is to understand what physically and emotionally happens during birth for the woman, to learn about what is ‘normal’ but also to learn about common interventions and protocols. By doing this your partner will feel better equipped to deal with the unknown of supporting you during labour but also be trusting towards the process and what you need to go through to birth your baby. A partner who fully embraces the statement ‘labour pain is healthy pain’ and welcomes each intense contraction with you is the strongest support you could wish for.
4. Remind partners to take care of themselves during labour
Birth takes time and often partners completely forget about themselves as they’re so focused on the hard working labouring woman. But - a partner who is completely sleep deprived, dehydrated without having eaten in 12 hours and possibly not even taking the time for toilet breaks cannot give the support you need. So have a chat with your partner prior to the birth on how they can take care of themselves during labour and give them the permission to do it, even if that means they need to take themselves out of the birth environment for 15 minutes to get some fresh air. Pack healthy, nutritious snacks for them, their favourite juice or soft drink and don’t forget to pack a spare set of clothes and basic toiletries including their toothbrush. There is nothing better after a long night of labouring to take a quick shower, brush your teeth, putting on new clothes and being ready to return to supporting the woman with new energy and feeling refreshed!
5. Consider engaging extra professional support
Did you know that a professionally trained birth doula also supports your partner during birth? In fact, a good birth doula will never stand between you and your partner but enable them to be the strongest support to you they can and want to be. Birth doulas provide education, physical and emotional support during pregnancy and labour and are experienced in the realities of birth. This means they can also offer reassurance to your partner (‘This is entirely normal, she’s doing great’) and explanation of what is happening or the options available when decisions need to be made. This often takes a big weight off a partner’s shoulders, allowing them to be more relaxed as they ‘don’t need to have all the answers.’. Knowing the ins and outs of what is helpful during labour, a birth doula will guide your partner towards supporting you through massage and other physical support but also enable them to be more focused on you by taking care of necessary practical things. You’ll have a team around you that can also take it in turns allowing your partner to take a break when needed and at the same time always ensuring you have everything you need to give birth in the most supported, enjoyable way.