Although it has not always been the case in the past, pregnant women are now encouraged to choose a birthing partner who will help and support you throughout your labour. Some hospitals may allow you to have more than one birthing partner while other hospitals prefer you to choose one.
A birthing partner can make your labour easier as they will be able to give you continuous one-to-one support which should hopefully allow you to cope with your contractions better. Although you will get support from a midwife during your labour, there are times when the midwife will have to leave you either to look after another pregnant woman or because the shift is ending and a new midwife will take over.
What does a birthing partner do?
Your birthing partner will provide you support throughout your labour. You may need your birthing partner to provide physical support such as helping you with your breathing and relaxation techniques or may want them to give you a back rub or massage to help with the pain, you may need your birthing partner to help put your TENS machine on or heat up a hot water bottle for you. You are likely to need help to go to the toilet, have a bath or enter the birthing pool. You are likely to get thirsty during labour and your birthing partner will run around getting your drinks, snacks, lip balm for dry lips and just making sure you have everything you need. You may also need your birthing partner to offer you emotional support too, which may be in the form of encouragement: reassurance and praising you. Some women finding having their hand held throughout the process to be very comforting and reassuring. Having this kind of support from your birthing partner helps to keep you calm and relaxed and can also reduce your anxiety and pain.
Sometimes, your birthing partner will need to speak up for you. They may need to ask for help if you need it, or ask questions for you as you may not be able to talk much between contractions. Your birthing partner may need to explain to you what is happening or what the midwife wants to happen next, they should be able to remain calm in difficult situations.
Choosing a Birth partner
Your birth partner can be anyone you want. Many pregnant women choose the father of the baby although many do not and favour their mum, a sister, a friend or even a paid doula instead. The choice is yours although your birthing partner should be someone that:
- You can trust
- You feel comfortable with
- You can be honest with
- Can empathise with you
- Can support you
- Can handle difficult or distressing situations
- Is not squeamish
- Understands the process of labour and childbirth
Once you have chosen you birth partner, you should encourage them to make sure that they understand what usually happens in a straightforward labour and also what may happen if there are complications or if you need an assisted birth.
Your birthing partner may want to attend antenatal courses with you in order to learn everything that they need to or they may prefer to research online or from books. If you are giving birth in hospital or at a midwife-led unit and are going for a tour, your birthing partner may want to come with you so that they can understand beforehand what the situation may be like.
You and birthing partner should spend time together discussing what your hopes are for labour. If you have written a birth plan, you should show it to your birth partner and talk through in detail what you do and do not want. It is important that your birth partner understands how quickly things can change during labour and they should be aware that your birth plan may change and that they must keep an open mind, but make sure they understand what measures you would most like to avoid and the methods you would prefer to try.
by Jenny, mum to William and James