A Partner’s Role in Childbirth
When I was pregnant with my first child, I had no idea what I would want or need from my support team during labor. I did my research on how to create a positive birth environment, found a supportive medical provider and hired an experienced birth doula.
With all the planning I was doing to address my own wellbeing, I somehow overlooked my partner’s needs and expected he would know exactly what to do when I went into labor. That assumption was wrong.
Most birth partners are unsure of how to support the expectant mother during pregnancy, labor and birth. The changes they see in their partners can be overwhelming and frightening at times. Birth partners often need just as much care and guidance as the laboring mother during pregnancy and birth. Thankfully, my husband voiced his concerns early in my pregnancy, and we worked together to make sure he too felt fully supported on the day our son arrived.
The good news is that birth partners don’t have to do it alone. The first step is to create a birth team that can support both parents. Next, the birth partner can take an active role in childbirth education and birth planning to help him or her feel like an active participant in a partners’ pregnancy and birth. Third, birth partners can learn and practice hands-on comfort measures that will provide relief and strengthen the partners’ bond during and after the birth of their child. Finally, birth partners can practice voicing words of encouragement and love during labor.
Help create a birth team. Birth partners are already experts on the expectant mother. They know, trust and love her the most. Hiring professional support that works for both partners is essential. Both parents should be prepared to collaborate on interviewing and finding a doctor or midwife who supports the couple’s birth wishes. A supportive provider will truly listen to the wishes, fears and concerns of both partners and work to help the couple achieve their childbirth goals.
Another support can come from a birth doula. A doula helps ease discussions of birth wishes, options and planning; she also helps prepare both parents for birth through hands-on comfort measure training and acts as a continuous support person throughout the labor and birth.
Some families also like to have support from additional family members or friends. Remember that all members of a birth team are there to support the parents, so limiting the birth team to nonjudgmental members whom the mother and birth partner feel comfortable with is imperative.
Participate in birth education and planning. Once the birth team is created, both partners can work with their team to plan for a healthy pregnancy and identify both parents’ birth wishes. Learning about the birth process is the first step. Attending childbirth education classes, baby care courses, breastfeeding classes and parenting support groups can provide the birth partner with valuable information to better support the mother.
Through the care and guidance of a supportive birth team, the couple can also create a birth plan and learn how to effectively communicate with medical providers during pregnancy and birth.
Practice comfort measures. Comfort measures can be used during all stages of labor to provide pain relief and emotional support to the laboring mother. The key is to practice a variety of techniques throughout pregnancy to learn what the mother likes, doesn’t like, and what might be helpful during labor.
The birth partner may incorporate elements of massage, movement and position changes to help support the laboring mother. Providing comfort measures for a laboring mother can be a lot of physical work, therefore it is helpful to share these tasks with other members of the birth team.
Birth partners can also help create a relaxing environment for the mother as she enters labor. Before labor begins, the birth partner can help create a birth music playlist, make homemade rice sacks to serve as heat packs during labor, and put together a care kit for the hospital with food, personal items and other comfort items to use during birth.
During labor, the birth partner can help keep the environment calm by dimming the lights, incorporating aromatherapy, and keeping visitors and interruptions to a minimum.
Become a cheerleader. Most laboring mothers need to hear words of encouragement throughout the birth process, and the most meaningful form of encouragement comes from their birth partners. Remembering to tell her she is strong, beautiful and doing a good job goes a long way during labor.
Vocalization and repetition of support is key through all stages of labor. You may start to feel like a broken record, but the encouragement is greatly needed. If you believe she can do it, she will believe it, too!
Supporting a mother through pregnancy and birth is a large task. It’s unrealistic for the birth partner to do it all on his or her own. Every woman’s needs are unique and often don’t fully present themselves until labor has started.
Providing the birth partner with the resources and guidance to effectively support the laboring mother helps strengthen the bond between both parents and establishes a positive environment to welcome the new baby into.
Danielle Montagne is a birth and postpartum doula and childbirth educator in the Syracuse area. She is the mother of two young children and a member of the CNY Doula Connection. She can be reached ammapranabirth.com and cnydoulaconnection.com.