These days, it’s pretty much a given that you will have someone with you in the birthing suite; whether that’s your husband, partner, friend or family member, most women have a support partner with them when they give birth. However, it wasn’t all that long ago that men weren’t even allowed in the birthing suite – let alone encouraged to play an active role.
In this post I want to talk about why taking a prenatal class together with your support partner is just the first step in the role they can play in your birth. Whether you opt to do a hospital-based, private face-to-face childbirth classes, or an online childbirth course like our Ultimate Online Birth Course; education is just the beginning of their hugely important role.
My Mum has told me about when my eldest sister Eliza was born and how my Dad had to fight for his right to go in and be by her side when she gave birth. Seriously, that was only in the 70’s! As a side note, it was at the same time that Mum’s obstetrician would be smoking a cigarette and he was more interested in Dad’s golf game than Mum or the baby during her check-up appointments. We’ve certainly come a long way!
While it’s common place to have a support partner during childbirth, there are still many Dads that feel overwhelmed by the process of childbirth. They don’t feel as though there will be anything they can do to help or that they don’t have an important role to play.
One of the first things I think is important for both you and your support partner to remember is that birth is like a marathon. This is something I remind my Birth Beat mums and dads regularly throughout the Ultimate Online Birth Course. You can’t expect to be able to just rock up on the day without doing the prep work beforehand!
The first step in preparing for childbirth is to get educated. For many new parents, their first experience of childbirth is when they’re in the middle of it! Of course, you’re not going to know what to expect. The unknown, and worrying about ‘what-if’s’ that are based on other people’s birth experiences (remember, no two births are the same) are a key source of fear and apprehension about birth.
That’s why prenatal classes are so important. Learning the processes and what birth looks, sounds and feels like as well as all the ways that you can work with your body during labour are essential for removing the fear. Knowledge is what will enable you both to feel calm, prepared and empowered as you prepare for childbirth.
If there was one way to describe the power of education when it comes to childbirth for the support partner, I think it is best summed up by one of my favourite ever reviews from a Birth Beat dad:
“You took me from sh!t scared, to superhero.”
How awesome is that!?
And that’s exactly what you need your support partner to be for you during childbirth; they need to be your superhero who supports you, anticipates your needs, listens to you, encourages you and generally reminds you what an absolute Super Woman you are.
When your support partner is educated about the birth process they will be better equipped and less likely to feel fear. Of course, it’s only natural that there may be some nerves and that’s OK. Being nervous with anticipation isn’t the same as feeling fear.
Once you’ve undertaken prenatal education together, the next thing to do is to practice what you’ve learnt!
Imagine reading a book about marathons and then thinking that you’re capable of running one without doing any training? Sounds completely silly right? The same thing applies to childbirth – you need to practice the techniques, talk about your wishes and get prepared.
Your support partner’s role in the lead-up to childbirth:
Practice massage techniques:
Use these during labour to assist with pain management. It’s great to do the practice beforehand so that it’s not completely foreign on the day and it also has the added benefit of promoting relaxation and a sense of connection between you both.
Practice different birth positions with you:
It’s very hard to know beforehand what positions are going to feel right for in labour until you’re experiencing it! It’s important to practice different positions together, experimenting with support techniques and using different aids (such as a chair, birth ball, birthing stool, rebozo Mexican shawls etc.)
Help you prepare your labour bag:
This is a super-practical and easy thing that you can do and check-off together. It’s always best to have this ready ahead of time, but if you’re caught off-guard and need your partner to pack your bag, it will make a huge difference if you’ve spoken about this and planned it already.
Your support partner’s role during early labour:
OK, the time has come and you’re in early labour. Woo hoo! This is when it starts to get exciting and many couples get a little bit too carried away with all their tips and tricks. It could be a long time before bub makes their arrival so don’t be too quick out of the gates! Some practical ways your support partner can’t support you in this early phase:
Remind you that you need to rest:
If you can rest and even get some sleep during this early phase, then do. Your support partner can actively encourage you to rest and relax (as they should try and do too!). Let them do whatever they can to help you get comfortable as you try and rest your body for the big event.
Run you a bath or shower:
Hot water can be a simple yet effective tool to help relieve any pain.
Simply keep you company:
The early stage of labour can go on for many hours, or even days. Your partner can be a great support just by simply being with you and even distracting you. Try and enjoy this time together; whether that’s by going for a walk outside, watching a movie together or grabbing some take away from your favourite café.
Keep track of contraction length and time in between:
They don’t need to obsess over the contractions and chart them on a graph (Ross may or may not have done this when I was in labour with Polly…) but just keeping a general awareness about how frequently they’re happening and how long they’re going for can be useful.
Take care of all the practicalities:
Let you partner do all the things that need to happen for you to get out the door when the time comes. Let them pack the car with your bags, pillows and make sure you both have snacks to keep your energy levels up. Knowing all the little things are taken care of will help you relax and maintain a sense of calm and preparedness.
Help you relax:
If you’ve practised massage techniques and discussed the types of things you like in order to help you relax (music, aromatherapy diffuser etc.), your support partner can offer these things and try and anticipate your needs without you needing to ask.
Your support partners role in active labour:
Once you are in active labour, you will likely feel the need to really go within yourself and focus. Some of the ways your partner can help in this phase of labour include:
Remind you how well you’re doing:
Praise, support and words of encouragement can go a long way.
Remind you to stay active:
When you’re focused and in the moment during labour, it can be easy to lose track of time. Your support partner can help to remind you to stay active and change positions often, which will encourage a more efficient labour.
During this phase, it’s completely natural to want to go within and not talk too much. Your support partner can be incredibly helpful just by anticipating any needs without you having to ask. For example; hold up a cup of water with a straw, grab some lip balm (something as simple as dry lips can be super annoying during this time), brush your hair from your face, check that you’re not too hot or cold. It’s these little things that will help you to feel more relaxed and comfortable in your birth environment.
Your support partners role in the transition stage:
The next stage is transition and it often the time when women will think they can’t do it. It’s the shortest and most intense phase of labour and a time when you may need extra support and encouragement. Your support partner is going to be feeling incredibly proud of you, even more so than usual. I’ve seen just how much strength a woman in labour can get from her partner at this point just from being reminded how strong, powerful and capable she is in that moment.
Remind you that every contraction is one step closer to meeting your baby:
Unless you tell them to stop talking (which is quite possible at this stage, sometimes the smallest of things can be hugely irritating!), constant praise and encouragement is so valuable.
BE with you:
Hold hands, breathe together, look you in the eye, kiss your forehead. Connection and physical support will help you feel like you’re in this together. Because you are!
Remind you to relax in between contractions:
Having someone remind and encourage you to relax, catch your breath and make the most of the space in between contractions is important. Labour can be tiring so you need to both get in the rhythm of relaxing and then preparing to embrace the next contraction, which is one more contraction you’ll never have to have again!
Your support partners role in the pushing stage:
The baby is almost here! The pushing stage is when you’ll meet your gorgeous bubba. You’re so close now, you simply can’t resist that urge to push and bear-down any longer. Your support partner is going to be just as excited as you are – you’ve come such a long way. Here’s what they can do to help you on the home stretch:
Help you to find the ideal position for birth:
There are so many ways to give birth that don’t involve laying on your back in bed! Having your partner there to help you move and encourage you to try new positions until you find one that feels comfortable and productive (during a contraction there will be certain positions that you find feel more ‘productive’ when it comes to bearing down) will be invaluable at this point
Constant praise and encouragement:
They’ve been supporting you and praising you all throughout labour and now is the time to keep it up for the final leg of your marathon that you’ve run together. “You’re so strong” “I’m so proud of you” “I know you’ve got this”
Remind you to breathe:
When you’re focused on pushing and riding each contraction you may very well forget to breathe. Your partner’s gentle reminders and encouragement to keep breathing, especially in between contractions, will be so beneficial right now.
Once your baby has arrived, the journey you’ve been on together through pregnancy and childbirth now becomes the beginning of your journey through parenthood. There are a million ways you will both support each other on this next phase, but for now you can both soak up every precious moment of getting to know your new baby – which is a whole other blog post!
I hope you can now appreciate just how important your support partner is in the birth experience. And these are just some examples, there are many more ways they can support you. The key message I want you to take away from this post is that they are by no means a passive bystander, you can work as a team and the more that you do, the more enjoyable the experience can be for both of you.
If you want to discover more ways your partner can play an active support role and learn all the birth process together in the comfort of your own home, why not explore our online Ultimate Online Childbirth Course? I would love to welcome you into our Birth Beat Tribe so that you and your partner can prepare for your best birth, together.
P.S. Why not share this blog post your partner? It will give them lots of practical tips without you having to ask them and hopefully spark some conversations about what you would like to try.