The Role of the Birth Partner
What do you see your role as in the birth room? Has the image of the day stemmed from the horrors of One Born Every Minute, with dads’ blowing up latex gloves and pissing off mum? Maybe you’ve seen them faint, in the corner on a mobile phone or just bored and looking a spare part. The reality for the birth partner is far from the TV perception; there is so much for you to do and know that will make the experience positive, make you feel prepared and that you have a role to play other than, ‘the back rubber’.
I’ve been teaching something called Hypnobirthing to couples for a year. The name is truly crap, but actually my courses come from a place of preparing couples to positively approach their birth using relaxation techniques, knowing what actually happens to the body in labour and loads of practical advice, so you feel confident and ready for birth. I’ve put together some key things you can do help your partner prepare for a calmer birth that are so simple. Some you’ll probably think, ‘no shit’, but you can guarantee someone somewhere (err my husband) has not done some of the more common sense points noted. Home birth partners, there are a few things thrown in here for you too.
So get involved in pregnancy. Work obviously permitting, try and attend any antenatal appointments. It helps you to be involved with any discussions around the birth and any choices the midwives would like you both to consider. If mums are feeling a bit overwhelmed it can sometimes be nice to have another head in the room to ask some questions and take in the information.
If you are doing courses like Hypnobirthing or antenatal relaxation work, get onboard with it. Your wife may have been given a series of MP3’s to listen to, which will contain loads of positive wording to soak up before birth. Listen to a few of them with her, if not all. It shows you are committed to this as a team, and you will have a far greater understanding of what she is trying to achieve in birth. Also, a dad who hasn’t prepared with mum for this type of preparation will struggle to get mum back into her ‘good zone’ if she comes out of it. So team work makes the dream work!
I advise to spoil her in the run up to the due date/ week for a very good reason. This doesn’t have to being anything expensive or lavish, just her favourite chocolate bar on your way home from work, or a bunch of flowers. It all fuels the feel good hormone, Oxytocin, which is the number one birth hormone! You’ll get the brownie points and it may help kick start early labour… everyone is a winner!
Help pack the hospital bag. Mum will know she has everything that she wants in there whilst you know where it all is. Do not forget to pack things for yourself. Things like fresh pants, deodorant and a toothbrush will keep you fresh for your stay. Pack snacks for you too, you’ll need to feel energised if you’re going to support mum.
Home birth dads, its never a bad idea to have a trial run of setting the pool up and knowing how to drain it. Follow the instructions that come with the pool to the letter! Also make sure you get in tea, coffee and biscuits for your midwives. They will no doubt help themselves to it when the birth starts however, a good cuppa and a Hob Nob will go down a storm!
If you’re birthing at a Hospital or Birth Centre, do a full reccy of the car park and knowing a few routes that avoids rush hour is golden. Hospitals like LGI in Leeds are notoriously hard to park in due at, so have an idea of where you could dump the car. For those thinking a taxi might be a good shout, check with the company before that they will take you. Not all companies are insured to take pregnant women and some straight up don’t want to, annoyingly. Tip from my husband to you… have enough petrol in the car before setting off when the big day arrives. We got in the car at 12.30 am to set off from Leeds to Harrogate and the tank was empty. I loved having to stop at BP with late night drivers looking in on me, giving me the knowing eye in my dressing gown!
When you get to the delivery suite, introduce yourself to the midwife looking after you, or the midwife coming to your house. It is a good way of building rapport and saying you are fully involved in this process. Hand your partner’s maternity note pack to them; again it’s all little things you can do whilst your partner cracks on with, you know, the big part.
Any home comforts that have been packed can be set up at this point. It might include putting mum’s essential oils on a piece of muslin, putting up some positive birth statements to read, setting up the iPad to watch her favourite comedy, or simply dimming the lights, popping a lamp on and giving her a huge cuddle. A dark and intimate room encourages the melatonin hormone to flow, which gets oxytocin flowing smoothly. Not the bright room I had in my first labour where my husband sat at the end of my bed reading the newspaper. It nearly ended up around his head but hey, I digress.
Always make sure mum has water by her side. Have it in a sports bottle or through a straw. It really is easier for her to drink from; the effort of lifting a glass and sipping seems like nothing normally, but in labour, its everything. With this, and as long as she feels like eating, offer her snacks to keep her energy levels up. This goes for you too, make sure you are eating, drinking and taking toilet breaks! It sounds daft but its easy to forget yourself in the moment.
Vocal prompts from you will be essential. Your voice is the most comforting thing she will hear, so statements like, ‘you are amazing’, ‘I’m so proud of you’, will go a long way! On that note of being near her, if she decides you’re doing her head in, just go with it... it’s not personal, she might just want a bit of time to herself. Sure enough a few minutes later she will want you back next to her wondering why you ever moved, so ride the emotions and let it happen, but never take it personally!
If decisions need to be made in birth about your pathway of care, be present in helping make these. You as the voice in this situation can be rational and logical. Mum will obviously be involved in those decisions but if you are there to voice both of your input and choices, she can keep her focus on remaining calm and knowing that you have her back.
Then when you make it to the other side, not before you have reminded he to breathe throughout the whole thing and you are euphoric with your new bundle, rest assured the work hasn’t quite finished! You will then enter the 3rd stage of labour (it’s not over?!) where again you can be that voice to just remind midwives of both your choices. This will include a possible discussion that mum wants to either deliver the placenta naturally or with the synthetic oxytocin booster (basically the latter brings it out quicker), permission to give baby’s vitamin k injection/ drops (they’re born with a deficiency in this) and whether you would like to delay the cord being cut by around 3 to 5 minutes (super big benefits for baby are said to include baby getting 60% more red blood cells into their body and enough iron to last them for their first year). This can be put in your birth plan beforehand but don’t be afraid to affirm anything after. Other than that, the first hour is for you three to connect, cuddle and marvel at what you’ve both made!
So your role is of mega importance and you’re needed and loved in that space more than you’ll ever know. Even if all the other stuff goes flying out of the window, just being there emotionally is the most important thing you can do, but please, fill that car up and don’t put the Euro’s on as your partner is pushing… (yes I speak from experience, HUSBAND...)