What is the role of a birth partner?
What is the role of a birth partner?
Your birth partner’s main role is to be there to support and encourage you throughout labour and birth.
They can help in practical ways, for example by giving you sips of water, holding your hand, giving you a massage or helping you try out different labour positions.
Your birth partner can also make sure your midwives know what’s in your birth plan and take charge of communicating with the medical team; helping you understand what’s happening if you’re not sure what’s going on.
You can have a birth partner with you if you have a c-section. Your partner will then come into the theatre in scrubs and sit by the head of your bed during the birth.
Are there benefits to having a birth partner?
Every birth is different, so it’s impossible to know exactly what to expect in labour, especially if it’s your first baby.
How many birth partners can I have?
While you can always have at least one birth partner with you when you give birth, the number of people you can bring varies between different maternity units.
When maternity units do limit the number of birth partners, this might be due to a lack of space or to stop people coming and going during labour.
Talk to your midwife to find out if the maternity unit where you’re planning to give birth has a limit on the number of birth partners you can bring.
Who should I choose as my birth partner?
It’s completely up to you who you choose to be your birth partner. All that matters is that your birth partner is someone you feel comfortable with and who can help you feel calm and reassured.
Most women want their partner at the birth, as they feel comforted by their presence and they can communicate well with each other. Seeing their baby being born is also an unforgettable experience for the father-to-be.
But some women don’t like the thought of their partner seeing them go through labour or are worried that they won’t cope. Talk to your partner about it to find out how they feel.
Having given birth herself, your mother will know what to expect, and is likely to have plenty of experience of looking after you. So it’s not uncommon for women to want their mum there as well as, or instead of, their partner.
Make sure she knows what’s important to you and your partner before you go into labour so that she can be a support to you both and not clash with your partner over what’s best for you.
Your sister or friend
Women have supported each other in labour for generations and, sometimes, women want to have their best friend or a close relative, such as their sister, to be with them during labour.
It’s vital that you have a close relationship, though, so you can feel as relaxed as possible. And if she hasn’t had a baby of her own, she might not be prepared for what to expect.
A doula is someone you pay to support you during labour and birth. They don’t get involved in your medical care but can provide emotional and practical support in the run up to the birth, during labour and in the first few weeks after your baby’s been born. Sometimes, women who would otherwise have no support during labour opt for a doula.
An independent midwife
If you give birth in a birth centre or labour ward, your independent midwife can come along to offer support but can’t get involved in your care or in delivering your baby.
Top tips for birth partners
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 – use our for guidance.
- Ask to read through her , or be there when she writes it, so you’re aware of her preferences when it comes to things like , positions during labour and skin-to-skin contact after the birth.
- Go to 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 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 , 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 , so you know what to expect. But also be prepared for if things don’t quite go to plan 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.
- Getting to the hospital or birth centre is something you can be involved with planning.
- Get the house ready if she’s .
- Help her pack her so you can easily find what she needs during labour, and make sure you pack a bag of essentials for yourself as well.
Birth partner's hospital bag **NEW SECTION**
As well as being in charge of the mum-to-be’s hospital bag, if you’re a birth partner you should also think about what you need to take for yourself. Babies aren’t known for their timekeeping so be prepared in case you’re at the hospital or birth centre for a while.
Make sure you have the items on this list ready in advance – preferably a month before the due date as babies can arrive at unexpected times – so you’re as prepared as possible for the big day.
Download our free birth partner's hospital bag checklist to make sure you have all of the essentials packed and ready.
***NEW GRAPHIC/PDF OF 'BIRTH PARTNER'S HOSPITAL BAG' TO GO HERE***
- Smartphone and charger. This is to keep people in the loop, to take photographs and videos, to provide playlists plus to entertain you if the labour is long). Have essential phone numbers programmed in to share important news and information - and don’t forget the charger.
- Loose change. You may well need it for the car park plus for hospital vending machines.
- Toiletries and medication. You may need these if the labour is long. Don’t forget a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant, and take your own medication if needed as well as painkillers in case you need them yourself.
- A change of clothes plus swimwear. If you’re in hospital for some time you’ll be glad of these. Choose layers as labour rooms can get quite warm. Take swimwear for a waterbirth, just in case you get in.
- Comfortable shoes. Being a birth partner in early labour often involves lots of pacing around and even climbing stairs. You’ll need to have comfortable feet.
- Glasses or contact lenses. Don’t forget solutions and containers for contact lenses, too, or extra packs of disposable lenses.
- Printouts for labour. These might be from antenatal or hypnobirthing classes, as well as a copy of the birth plan, if there is one. Keep them all together in a plastic folder.
- Music and a bluetooth speaker. Talk to the mum-to-be about what kind of music she’d like during her labour so you can create playlists for the day (you might want different options to choose from). You could also have hypnobirthing tracks downloaded for her.
- Books, magazines, puzzles or downloaded entertainment (programmes, games and movies). There may be times when the mum-to-be is resting or doesn’t want to chat so have something to entertain yourself during those moments.
- Snacks and drinks. Choose slow-release energy snacks such as cereal bars to help you cope with a potentially long labour.
- A pillow. You may be able to grab a sleep sitting up in a chair so take a pillow to make yourself more comfortable.
- Pain management aids and birth aids. Massage oils are great for helping to provide natural pain relief. A massage tool can help, too, especially if your hands start to get tired. Other aids you to pack could also include a TENS machine and a birth ball.
Birth partner checklist for getting to hospital
Working out how to get to the maternity unit and where to park in advance can be the difference between a (relatively) calm car journey and a panicked one on the day when your baby decides to make an appearance.
Download our free birth partner getting to the hospital checklistto make sure you've taken all the steps needed to get to the hospital or birth centre with as little drama as possible!
***NEW GRAPHIC/PDF OF 'BIRTH PARTNER CHECKLIST' TO GO HERE***
- Keep your car charged or topped up with fuel. Make sure it's been serviced recently, too. The last thing you want is to discover your car won’t work at that critical moment.
- Work out the route and travel time in advance. Do practice runs of the best route (plus alternatives) so you don’t have to spend time working it out on the day. Download an app to help you if there tends to be traffic on your journey to the hospital or birth centre. Try to avoid routes with bumps if possible.
- Know where the labour ward or birth centre entrance is. It’s also crucial to know if there’s a different entrance for different times of the day, such as the middle of the night. That way you can make sure you’re in the right place rather than having to trudge around with your partner in labour.
- Know where to park. Can you park in the hospital car park and for how long? Find out if you’ll have to move your car after a certain number of hours to avoid a parking ticket. Know in advance whether you’ll need plenty of change to feed a meter or have the number saved on your phone if there’s telephone parking. Some maternity units will give you a permit during labour so check locally.
- Help mum-to-be pack her hospital bag. There’s lots to remember to bring for giving birth at a hospital or birth centre. As it’s you who’ll be looking through the bag on the day, it could be helpful for you to know exactly what’s in there.
- Pack your own hospital bag. There are a number of things you’ll need yourself - especially if it’s a long labour and you’re there for a while (possibly even overnight). See ‘Birth partner’s hospital bag checklist’ for further information.
- Bring the maternity notes and birth plan. The maternity notes tell the midwife and other medical staff how the pregnancy is progressing and if there’s anything else they should know. A copy of the birth plan will help you to know how the mum wants the birth to proceed if at all possible.
- Make sure your phone is charged at all times. Take a portable charging bank to ensure you’re topped up, even if you can’t find a handy socket.
- Put towels and bottled water in the car. Babies can sometimes arrive really quickly, despite your best efforts to get to a hospital or birth centre before it happens! Towels are for if the waters break and also to wrap the baby in, and bottled water is to wash your hands in case you need to help to deliver the baby.
- Learn how to fit the baby seat into the car. It isn’t always easy to do if you’re trying for the first time, so don’t leave it until you’re taking your newborn baby home to familiarise yourself with how it fits in.
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 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
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.
Birth partners' top tips
"Be there both in mind and body."
"Constantly reassure your partner that she's doing a great job, even when she's screaming her head off."
"Communicate between the mother and the staff. You know your partner and what she wants."
"Stay calm. Listen. Sit back rather than interfere. Do whatever mum-to-be needs you to do."
"Speak of the dream of when the baby is safely in your arms."
"Be ready to get your partner whatever she needs. Be kind and patient."
From a 2016 Which? survey of new parents.
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.
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.
Coronavirus and your birth partner
The RCOG (Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists) says that during the coronavirus pandemic, every woman should be able to have one birth partner stay with her throughout active labour and birth, unless the birth takes place under a general anaesthetic.
- If your birth partner has symptoms of coronavirus, they won’t be allowed into the maternity suite during labour and birth and should stay in self-isolation for 7 days.
- Consider potential alternative birth partners, should the need arise If you’re having an elective caesarean or instrumental birth in an operating theatre with a spinal or epidural anaesthetic, everything will be done by clinical staff to keep your birth partner with you. They will be allocated a staff member to support them during the procedure.
- If you’re having a caesarean under general anaesthetic (such as an urgent delivery), for safety reasons it’s not recommended for your birth partner be present during the birth.
- If your partner can’t be with you during the birth, your maternity team will explain this to you and do everything they can to ensure they can see you and your baby as soon as possible after the birth.
- If they are on the labour ward, partners are asked not to walk around unaccompanied but to use the call bell if they require assistance.
- If they are asked to wear a mask or any personal protective equipment (PPE) during the labour or birth, it’s very important that your birth partner follows the instructions carefully and to take it off because they leave the clinical area.
- If you’ve been allocated a named community midwife or continuity team, contact them to check on arrangements for all appointments and if you have concerns. If you haven’t been allocated one, contact your GP or local maternity order if you have any concerns and to check on arrangements for all appointments.