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Baby & child.

How to pick your birth partner and what they need to do

Giving birth can be a daunting prospect, so having a supportive birth partner can make a big difference to your experience
Martha Roberts
Gb whats the role of a birth partner 483778

Your birth partner’s main role is to support and encourage you throughout labour and birth.

They can help in practical ways - such as helping you try out different labour positions - and can also communicate with the medical team to help you understand what’s happening if you’re not sure what’s going on.

Having a supportive birth partner when you give birth can help give you an added sense of control, comfort and competence. 

Multiple studies have found it can make you less likely to experience birth complications, and that having an experienced person (for example, a loved one or a doula) there only for you throughout labour and birth can have a positive impact on your experience and outcomes.

How many birth partners can I have?

A birth partner can help you to cope with the various stages of labour, from the start right through to the actual birth.

You can always have one birth partner with you when you give birth, but the number varies between maternity units - some will let you have more so check with your chosen unit.

When maternity units do limit the number of birth partners, this is often because there's not enough space or to stop people coming and going during labour.

If you’re planning to have a home birth, there's no limit to the number of people you can have present, which can be a real advantage if you want to have the support of several birth partners.

If you’re still deciding where to give birth, use our Where to give birth tool to see which birth setting could be best for you.

Who should I choose as my birth partner?

That decision is completely up to you. All that matters is that your birth partner is someone you feel comfortable with, a person who can help you feel calm and reassured.

Your partner

Most women want their partner at the birth of their child, as they feel comforted by their presence and it's easy to communicate with them. Seeing a baby being born is also an unforgettable experience for both parents.

However, there are also some women who don’t want their partner to see them during labour or are worried that they won’t cope. Talk to your partner about their wishes and find out how they feel. Also share your thoughts.

Your mum

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, with them during labour.

Remember that if your friend or relative hasn’t had a baby of their own, they might not be prepared for what to expect.

A doula

A doula is someone who is paid to support you during labour and birth and although they don’t get involved in your medical care, they can provide emotional and practical support in the run-up to the birth, during labour and also in the first few weeks after your baby’s birth. 

You might opt for a doula if you don't have any other support during labour.

An independent midwife

If you give birth in a birth centre or labour ward, your independent midwife can come along to offer support. They can’t, however, get involved in your care or in delivering your baby.

Read more about doulas, independent midwives and other private maternity care options.

Top tips for birth partners

There are lots of ways you can get prepared when you're asked to be a birth partner.

Being asked to support someone through labour and birth — one of the most vulnerable and intimate experiences of a mother's life — may feel daunting but there are many ways that you can prepare.

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 where to give birth tool for guidance.
  • 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 such as 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 might 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 are 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 remember things don’t always go quite to plan, so also be prepared for unexpected changes 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'll help the woman you’re supporting to feel more relaxed, knowing that everything is taken care of.

  • Make sure you know how you are going to get to the hospital or birth centre. If driving, plan your route well in advance. 
  • Get the house ready if a home birth is being planned.
  • Help to pack her hospital bag so you can easily find what she needs during labour, plus pack a bag for yourself.

Birth partner's hospital bag

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.

Download our free birth partner's hospital bag checklist to make sure you have all of the essentials packed and ready.

There is a file available for download. (pdf50 KB). This file is available for download at .

  • Smartphone and charger. To help to keep people in the loop and take photos and videos. You can listen playlists or watch something if the labour is long. Have essential phone numbers saved so you can share important news and information – and don’t forget the charger.
  • Loose change. You may need cash for the car park and hospital vending machines.
  • Toiletries and medication. Babies can arrive at any time during the night or day, so don’t forget a toothbrush, toothpaste and deodorant. Take any necessary medication of your own in case it's a long labour, as well as painkillers – you may need them yourself.
  • A change of clothes, plus swimwear. If you’re at the hospital for some time, you’ll be glad of a change of clothes. Pack multiple layers, as labour rooms can get quite warm. Take swimwear for a water birth, 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. Don't risk having sore feet.
  • Glasses or contact lenses. Bring solutions and containers for contact lenses, or extra packs of disposable lenses.
  • Printouts for labour. Important documents should be kept together in a plastic folder. Keep information from antenatal or hypnobirthing classes, as well as a copy of the birth plan, if there is one. 
  • 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 films). 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 have a nap 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 to pack could also include a TENS machine and a birth ball.

Birth partner's 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.

Download our free getting to the hospital checklist to make sure you've taken all the steps needed to get to the hospital or birth centre with as little drama as possible.

There is a file available for download. (pdf54 KB). This file is available for download at .

  • 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. If possible, try to avoid routes with bumps.
  • 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.
  • Know where to park. Can you park in the hospital car park and for how long? Find out whether 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 payment. Some maternity units will give you a permit during labour, so check beforehand.
  • 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 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 power 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, such as fetching drinks and snacks, and getting 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 you 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

Supporting a mum-to-be during a c-section is just as crucial as during a vaginal birth.

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 operating theatre clothes or ‘scrubs’, and once you go inside you’ll get to sit by the mum-to-be’s head where you can support her during the surgery.

  • Human touch can be very valuable in a sterile environment where everyone else is wearing gloves - hold her hand or stroke her face (if she wants this ).
  • Check 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, especially if she's struggling 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 is taken to a resuscitation table for checks after delivery, let her know what is happening.
  • You might be the first to hold the baby, if she isn't able to.

C-section under general anaesthetic

On rare occasions there might be a medical emergency that requires the baby to be delivered immediately by caesarean under general anaesthetic.

Although 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 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 photos to family and friends.

Supporting the new mum and baby 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. Whether the birth is straightforward or more complicated than anticipated, there are things you can do to help out.

Don't forget to take plenty of photos. The first few hours of a new baby's life are precious and won't happen again so make sure to document them in pictures.

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. Then 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 extra supplies that may have been left out of the hospital bag and holding the baby between feeds to help the mum out.

When the mum and baby are ready to come home, make sure the baby car seat is ready and attached safely in the car.