There once was a time when fathers considered their job during labour as getting some pints in and pacing up and down the pub or hospital corridor smoking cigarettes. Culture, hospital practice, family make-up and expectations have changed. Partner support has become a key factor in any heathy relationship. Pregnant women now, more often than not, view their other halves as partners, as best friends, who they want, and need, to be there during labour. I’m still surprised at how often I’m asked if partners should attend my antenatal classes. The answer is – that whoever you plan on having present during the birth can, and should if possible, attend. Often, I can sense at the start of a class that many birth partners feel that they don’t have much of a role to play in the labour and birth, but throughout the session I build up a picture of their significant importance. Then, towards the end of the class, I do an exercise about partner support. I split them into two groups – pregnant women and partners, and ask them to answer, “what do I want my partner to do for me during labour?” and “what can I do for my partner during labour?” respectively. I usually get the partners to go first and I watch the expectant parent. I watch their delight and surprise at how right their loved ones got it, at what the partners thought of that they hadn’t. And then I look back at the partners, the relief that they got it right, the confidence that they have an active role to play.
A number of themes emerge from both groups regularly:
- Remember the hospital bags, know the route and parking options and bring chargers and snacks
- Know the birth plan/preferences
- Sort any other children and manage family communication
- Inform Health Care Providers of the birth plan/preferences
- Remember the BRAIN questions (What are the Benefits? What are the Risks? What are the Alternatives? What is our Intuition telling us? What if we wait or do Nothing?)
- Be mine and our baby’s voice
- Be educated on our options
- Be present
- Stay calm, at least outwardly. Especially at home, don’t keep suggesting we ‘go in’ if I’m happy at home
- Be patient
- Encourage and reassure me, tell me that you love me, that I’m doing a great job, that you’re so proud of me
- Ask what I want
- Keep me calm
- Back me up, stay on my side
- Protect the labouring and birth ‘zone’, facilitate oxytocin (the love, labouring & birth hormone!)
- Remember what transition looks like and remind me
- Remember different positions and breathing techniques if I need a reminder • Encourage me in our birth plan but respect my decisions if I deviate
- Facilitate pain management (be that massage, aromatherapy, water, pharmacological or any alternative we have discussed or is offered)
My own pro-tips for partners that complement the above include;
- Pack the hospital bag yourself, or at least
- unpack and repack it so you know what’s in it.
- Know what size clothes your partner may wear after birth so that if a stay is longer than anticipated, or something is forgotten, you can pick it up easily.
- If there’s a parking app that covers the hospital area download it and sign up before labour.
- Be gentle but firm in your management of family communication and remember supporting your partner in the moment is more important than any communication with family.
- Don’t just know the birth plan/ preferences, understand them, believe in them.
- If the labouring person is being offered an intervention that you ( collectively or singularly ) are unsure of ask “do we have to decide right now or do we have time to discuss it alone?”.
- Believe in yourself: no one wants your partner and baby to be safe and happy more than you.
- Remember that, ultimately, the choices lie with the pregnant person.
- Know what she knows, read the books she’s reading, ask for blogs and references. Keep dialogue open and frequent during pregnancy.
- Practice physical support measures during pregnancy (e.g. massage, acupressure [practice on yourself if only safe during labour] and the double hip squeeze [ Google it! ].
- Don’t be offended that if in the moment she doesn’t want any of the physical support measures practiced during pregnancy. 12. Make your partner feel like a goddess, because she is, she is literally life giving, be in awe.
Michel Odent (famous woman-centred obstetrician and childbirth expert) said “Reduced self-control, as an effect of reduced neocortical activity, appears as the main factor that makes human birth possible…for a woman to give birth easily by herself, without any pharmacological assistance, there is a time when she cuts herself off from our world, forgetting what she has been taught, forgetting her plans, and behaving in a way that might be considered unacceptable for a civilised woman: for example, screaming or swearing…When …Nature is understood, it becomes easy to analyse and summarise the basic needs of a labouring woman: she needs to feel protected…” Partner support is a vital part of a positive birth experience. They have a role in protecting the labouring space, making the labouring person feel safe and loved and allowing her to switch off her ‘thinking brain’ (neocortex) and to let nature take over. The birthing person will remember how you made them feel during this immense, influential, life event, make sure you’ve done your best, there’s no more that can be asked of you.