Birth Partners, this one is for you! It can be hard to know how to help your labouring partner at this important time, and all you want to do is be supportive. Every woman responds to labour and birth so differently, and it’s impossible to know how your partner will react, especially if you’re about to experience your first birth together. Below I have outlined 7 things that I needed and wanted from my birth partner, and having had two different births, I know that these impacted both of them and were really helpful. Also, before we begin, I want you to know how truly important you are as the Birth Partner. You play a huge part in this process, and your priority is to help your labouring woman to feel loved, safe, secure and calm during labour. When a woman feels this way, the needed hormones will be released and her body will soften, relax and ease, which is exactly what you need.
Here are 7 more ways you can help your birth partner:
Help to set the mood. If you’ve read my blog about a woman’s senses during labour, then you’ll already know the importance of the ambience (if you haven’t read it, click here!). This might be all down to you, depending on how your labouring woman is feeling. So, what sort of ambience should you create? A labouring woman’s hormones will respond to the same atmosphere as a home-made date night. Think I’m joking? Low lighting, gentle music, beautiful words, a calming energy, love and affection. All of this can be created at home or in the hospital, and it really, truly should not be underestimated! The right birthing atmosphere can be so powerful! Feeling safe and supported by you will allow her body to feel calm, and if she is calm, her body will release oxytocin, and if her body releases oxytocin, she will labour. It’s science! So, turn down the lights, put the music on (save the champagne for afterwards) and tell her how amazing she is. Her body will really respond to this.
Cold flannels! Ok, so this is quite specific, and I can only relate to how I reacted to a cold flannel, but this was my husband’s idea in my first labour and it was so effective that I specifically ordered him to do the same in my second and it felt amazing. Your job is to try a variety of different methods to help her feel more relaxed and at ease. If you know how she would respond when she is unwell, hung-over or in a bad mood, then it’s likely that the same techniques will work a treat during labour! Massage, stroke, hot water bottles, cold flannels. It could be reading poetry, song lyrics, affirmations, or telling jokes (ok probably not telling jokes) but whatever it is, just do it. During labour a woman often goes within herself and zones into her breathing and her body, and she may not be able to ask you to do something or explain what she needs. She may not even want to speak. Try to think out of the box and offer her some relief based on how well you know her.
Be her voice. As above, once in the thick of contractions and labour, a woman normally stops wanting to talk and instead, she focuses on the sensations and the process. This is normal and it’s also a good sign that she is totally focused. This is why you need to be her voice from this moment on. If a midwife wants to ask her a question, perhaps you could urge the midwife to ask you instead. If you don’t know the answer, it’s likely a gentle whisper to ask her yourself will get more of a response, because she trusts you the most. It’s also important to try and think for her too, if you can. I was once told a story about a woman who was in labour, and had reached 8cm dilated, but her body just wasn’t dilating any further. They were waiting for hours, and just as the midwives began preparing to intervene, her husband realised she hadn’t been to the toilet for hours. He remembered that a full bladder could be restricting her from dilating any more, and he asked her if she’d like to try going. She did indeed need to go for a wee, and as a result, her baby was born shortly after, having finally been given the space to move downward! Again, a labouring woman could be so focused on the contractions that she can’t feel anything else. Be her spokesperson, be her watcher. You could completely change the outcome.
Take photos! You may not think this is helpful during labour and I suppose it isn’t! But she will definitely thank you for it afterwards. I wish I had a million photos of my labours and births, and although I have a full video of my second birth, I want more! It’s such an inward experience for the woman, we go into a totally different place when we labour and our memories just cannot clearly picture the moment we were in. You can do this. Obviously, don’t use a flash, and turn your phone on silent, but taking videos and photos during labour will give you incredible memories to re-live together once your baby has arrived.
Be the calm in the storm. If you haven’t read my blog on the transition period of labour please read it here. But put simply, as labour progresses and your woman gets closer to the end, she is likely to build in noise, groaning, moaning, maybe even crying. This is normal, and it’s often known as the transition period. During this time, be her calm. Try to ground her and encourage her to relax. Simply a calming hand on her shoulders, a loving reminder in her ear, can make all the difference. It’s likely that at this stage, she will begin telling you that she can’t do it any more. This is how you know you’re near the end. Remind her of this and talk to her calmly, she will look to you as her safety and seeing you stay calm may encourage her to mirror this feeling.
Breathing. A very important but simple task, is to help her breathe! I teach women week in, week out about the importance of breathing for labour and birth and I really do think it’s the game changer, the secret weapon. Labour is a process that’s happening to the woman’s uterus, which is a muscle. Muscles need oxygen to function to the best of their ability, and if the uterus is functioning to the best of it’s ability, a woman will dilate quicker (labour will be shorter) and she will feel more comfortable throughout the process. So, tell her to breathe, and help her to do so. Encourage her to inhale for 4 counts, exhale for 6 counts. Count for her, whispering in her ear, so that she can really focus on and hear the softness of your voice.
Just be there. I hear a lot of birth partners say ‘I didn’t know what do do really’, but the chances are, you were doing just what you needed to do! You may think that because it isn’t happening to you, you’re helpless. But you’re SO helpful! There is a simple exercise I practice with birth partners in class, and it requires the pregnant woman to stand on one side of the room, and the birth partner to stand on the other side. With the pregnant women’s eyes closed, the birth partners will gradually walk closer to her. Both are asked to just ‘feel’ that they are there for each other. It’s such a lovely exercise because it shows people that they already have the connection they need, without touching one another. The woman knows that her partner is there, and she feels assured with this feeling. So, if in doubt, just being near her and connecting with her is all you need to do. A soft touch, a hand-hold, a stroke can all be powerful, but so can your energy. If you feel you’re not doing anything, remember that actually, you are.