Advice on how to prepare for being a birth partner and the best ways you can provide support during labour and birth.
Birth partners play an important role and it’s completely normal to feel both excited and frightened about taking on this responsibility. But remember: the mum-to-be has chosen to have you present at the birth because she trusts you and believes that you can support her through this experience.
Preparing to be a birth partner
Being asked to support someone through labour and birth, one of the most vulnerable and intimate experiences of their life, may feel daunting – especially if you’re also getting ready to become a parent for the first time, or don’t know what to expect from the birth process.
But there are many ways you can prepare, to ensure you’re able to help in the best way possible during the event.
Know the mother’s birth preferences
Everyone has different ideas about what their ideal birth would be like. The more you understand about how the woman you’re supporting feels, and why, the better you’ll be at supporting her to have the birth she wants.
- If she hasn’t yet decided where to give birth, you can help to research birth options by using our Birth Choice tool to see how her priorities match the maternity options in her local area.
- Ask to read through her birth plan, or be there when she writes it, so you’re aware of her preferences when it comes to things like pain relief, positions during labour and skin-to-skin contact after the birth.
- Go to antenatal appointments with her, if possible, so you know about any medical concerns or specific worries she has. You can also ask the midwife any questions that you have about the birth.
Help her prepare for labour and birth
Knowing what happens during birth, and when, can help you feel more prepared for assisting the mum-to-be when labour starts.
- Attend antenatal classes together. These are a chance to learn about labour, birth and parenthood and the perfect opportunity to ask questions and talk to other birth partners and parents-to-be.
- If the mother is learning specific relaxation techniques, such as hypnobirthing, do the exercises with her so you can help her to use them during labour.
- Read up on what happens during birth, for example the stages of labour, so you know what to expect. But also be prepared for if things don’t quite go to plan – for example, if she ends up needing an assisted birth or emergency c-section – so you’re not taken by surprise if things change on the day.
Plan for the practicalities of birth
By arranging all the practical details around the birth and getting as much as possible organised in advance, you will help the woman you’re supporting to feel more relaxed, knowing that everything is taken care of.
- Be involved with planning how to get to the hospital or birth centre when labour starts.
- Get the house ready if she’s planning a home birth – for example, by practising how to fill the birth pool or making space for the delivery in a bedroom.
- Help her pack her hospital bag so you can easily find what she needs during labour, and make sure you pack a bag of essentials for yourself as well.
Being a birth partner during labour
You’ll be of most use to the mother during birth if you’re supportive, calm and organised – this way she can focus fully on her body and the baby, without having to worry about anything else.
- Help to create a relaxing space for her to give birth in, for example by putting on music and dimming the lighting to create a soothing environment.
- Take care of practical things like fetching drinks and snacks, and grabbing anything she asks for from her hospital bag.
- Make her comfortable in any way you can, for example by massaging her lower back during contractions if she wants this, to help ease the pain. Midwives can show you how to do this most effectively.
- Support her physically as she tries out different positions for labour – you may literally need to be a shoulder to lean on.
- Have a copy of the birth plan and help her achieve the things that are important to her. For example, if she’s said that she wants to try using a birth ball in early labour, ask the midwives if they can get one.
- Communicate with the medical staff and ask them to explain anything the mother or you don’t understand. You know her better than they do and are best placed to notice if there’s anything she’s scared or worried about. You can also help to affirm her wishes and discuss options if a decision needs to be made about her care.
It’s also important that you look after yourself: make sure you eat and drink regularly, and if there’s another birth partner, take turns to give each other short breaks.
Being a birth partner during a c-section
Whether the mum-to-be is going into hospital to have a planned caesarean or they have to have an emergency c-section, you being there for support is as important as during a vaginal birth.
Before the c-section starts, you’ll have to change into theatre clothes, or ‘scrubs’, and once you go into the operating theatre you’ll get to sit by the woman’s head where you can support her during the surgery.
- Hold her hand or stroke her face, if she wants this. Getting some human touch can be very valuable in a sterile environment where everyone else is wearing gloves.
- Check in on her regularly during the surgery by asking how she’s feeling and if there is anything she needs.
- Help her communicate her thoughts and wishes to the medical team, she may struggle to do so herself.
- Respect her wishes for the baby – for example, if she wants to discover the sex for herself or have the baby skin-to-skin as soon as possible.
- If the baby’s taken to a resuscitation table for checks after delivery, let her know what is happening.
- If the mum’s not able to, you may be the first to hold the baby.
C-section under general anaesthetic
Rarely, a woman has to have a caesarean under general anaesthetic, for example if there is a medical emergency and the baby needs to be delivered immediately. In these cases, you won’t be allowed in the operating theatre.
The hospital staff will usually bring the baby to you straight after the birth, to look after until the mother wakes up. You may also be able to have the baby skin-to-skin.
It can be very distressing for a new mum to miss the first hours of her baby’s life, so try to be very mindful of what you do with the baby before she wakes up. For example, it’s a good idea to hold off sending birth announcements or pictures to family and friends.
Supporting the new mum and baby after the birth
After the birth, you have an important role to play in making it as easy as possible for the mum and baby to rest and start to recover from the birth. There are many things you can do to help out.
- Take photos. The first few hours of the baby’s life will never happen again and the mum may be too tired to think of snapping pictures, so make sure you do.
- If the baby has to go to a neonatal intensive care unit (NICU), support the mother’s thoughts on what should happen next – many new mums want their partner to go with the baby.
- After a home birth, make sure the mum and baby are tucked up in bed and have everything they need, and try to get the house back in order.
- If the mum and baby have to stay on the postnatal ward for one or more nights, you may be able to stay with them. Otherwise, you can come back to visit every day, bringing supplies that may have been left out of the hospital bag.
- If they’re staying on the postnatal ward, offer to hold the baby between feeds so the mum can go to the toilet and shower as soon as she wants to after the birth.
- When the mum and baby are ready to come home, make sure the baby car seat is ready and attached safely in the car.
- Once back at home, your support will be crucial to help the new mum recover after a vaginal birth or c-section, and for you all to bond with the baby. Read our advice on how to make the most of your paternity leave.
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