In the current pandemic situation, there are restrictions on visitors on maternity units, however, there is clear guidance that anyone in active labour should be encouraged to have a trusted birth partner with them. It has been shown that women who have a companion during labour report more positive birth experiences.
It’s really common for birth partners to feel a bit anxious about birth – sometimes it’s fear of the unknown, or worry for their partner, daughter, sister or friend, it could be a dislike of hospitals, or blood, or just being unsure as to how they can help. So, here are my top tips to help.
Nail the practicalities
Get the logistics sorted! When Mama is labouring, she will get in the ‘birth zone’, focused inwards, in the moment, going with her instincts and probably less engaged with her surroundings and talking less. So, nail the practicalities so she doesn’t need to worry. Here’s some things to do:
a) Pack the hospital bag together (or if you’re having a homebirth – collect items together) – you need to know what and where things are in it. You don’t want to be tipping the bag upside down scattering the breast/maternity pads everywhere in search of Haribo at 3am..
b) If you’re going to hospital, know how to get there and know how to get to the back-up hospital in case your chosen one shuts for whatever reason. If you’re having a homebirth, make sure the midwife will be able to easily spot your house in the middle of the night, practice filling the birth pool etc.
During our antenatal hypnobirthing classes we discuss lots of practicalities, and there’s even a little list to help
Be informed and understand
As I said, often, it’s the fear of the unknown that makes us nervous. So, this one is quite simple – make it your job to know. Go to the antenatal class (preferably a hypnobirthing one!) together, learn about what happens during labour, what the different scenarios and options might be AND take the time to think about and discuss the options you have. Talk about and understand preferences for things like; where you’ll give birth, what kind of birth Mama might like to have, what types of pain-relief are available and which Mama might like to try and when, positions for labour etc. Writing out your birth preferences together is a great tool for these conversations. Whilst your midwife/obstetrician is there to support and care for your partner in pregnancy and labour, what happens to them and the baby is their choice – and they will need your support to make informed decisions.
Make Mama feel safe
To birth efficiently, Mama needs to feel safe. There are a number of reasons for this – we cover then on our antenatal courses – one reason is to get oxytocin, known as the love hormone, stimulates the uterine muscles to work. We produce it when we feel happy, safe and loved. Your presence will go a long way to make her feel this way, but here are some other things you can do to help create a warm, safe, loving environment:
a) If you’re transferring to hospital, get some good music going on the journey (perhaps you can prepare a playlist ahead of time)
b) Set up the birthing room – tealights, essential oils, cool flannel, familiar blanket, mini-Bluetooth speaker for music, do what you can to make things feel homely, so Mama can relax. This also gives you a really clear job when you get to the hospital, make things comfortable.
c) Cuddle, kiss, a gentle-touch massage – be warned, some Mama’s do not want to be touched! But, a reassuring touch can really help to make her feel loved and safe – great to get the oxytocin flowing.
‘Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind’ – Kipling.
This can start now, during pregnancy – you’re already talking about your birth preferences, so talk to about how your partner might like to be supported in birth – what does she want? It’s also important during labour that your partner feels encouraged and supported, and you can easily provide reassurance. Don’t worry about saying the wrong thing – just keep it simple ‘you are amazing’, ‘I’m proud of you’, ‘I’m in awe’ ‘you’re doing great’, ‘one step closer to meeting our baby’ – all simple but effective. If your partner has been using affirmations, you can read some to her, or if you’ve been doing hypnobirthing you can read a relaxation script in early labour.
You are also your partner’s advocate, it’s likely that you represent her continuity of care – you’ve been with her through her pregnancy, you’ve discussed her preferences and you know her better than anyone. Be empowered to take charge, listen to healthcare experts advice and opinions (they want the best for you too), but if you have questions, ask them, if you don’t understand something, ask them to explain. If a course of action is suggested that you’ve not discussed, ask them to leave whilst you take a moment to discuss it with your partner.
Look after yourself, Stay Calm
You’re going to be a great birth partner, but it’s easy to forget that you also need to eat, drink and rest. Birth is not often like TV, it’s not fast, many Mama’s will be in the early stages of labour for a while – so you can take this time to stay at home, keep things calm, relaxed and rest as much as possible. You need to be on you ‘A-game’ for the later stages of labour, the ‘pushing’, and the birth of baby. So, one final, practical tip – pack a bag for yourself – spare clothes, snacks, phone charger, camera, blow up pillow, whatever you think you might need to be comfortable – take care of you too.
You’ve got this – you’ve done the classes, you’ve read the internet, you’ve talked to your partner. You understand what’s going to happen and you’ve thought about how you might handle any unexpected twists and turns. So, take a deep breath, trust yourself and your partner. Helping your partner to stay focused on her breath, and focusing on yours too will help you both.