Birth partners are exactly what they sound like, a partner in your birth. They can be anyone who can support and encourage you, empathise with you and who you trust to have your best interests at heart.
You should put a great deal of thought into who you would like as your birth partner and whether or not you would like to have more than one. You may wish for your husband to be present for the birth of your baby but worry that he will find it difficult to watch you in labour. In view of that you may decide that you would like a friend that has recently given birth to support you along with your partner.
The benefits of having someone who has recently given birth as your birth partner, or who has previously supported someone else giving birth is that they know what to expect and are able to reassure you. They are also able to reassure your partner that certain aspects of labour are perfectly normal.
However you need to avoid what is known as the ‘nosey partner’. This is someone who has never witnessed a birth and wishes to experience someone give birth. Although they may be well-meaning they tend to be overcome by the rollercoaster of emotions in labour. Because of this they can occasionally neglect their primary role as birth support and may be unable to give you the reassurance that someone who has witnessed a birth can.
Another pitfall is using someone as a birth partner who has had a particularly traumatic birth. They may begin to focus on the negative aspects of their birth and push alternatives as a way of helping you avoid a similar experience. They may also have their judgment clouded about certain aspects of care which may be inappropriate for your labour. A birth partner also needs to be aware of the length of time that they may be required to stay awake for. Pregnant women have spent months becoming accustomed to varying degrees of sleep deprivation and a few more days of this in labour does little to faze them.
Birth partners on the other hand, especially those who have never witnessed a labour or birth may be wholly unprepared for this. Having two birth partners allows them to take sleep breaks and ensure that the other is cared for. As you will be focusing on your own labour it is important that your birth partner recognises and ensures that you are fed and kept hydrated. It is also vital that they make sure that they eat and drink and have regular breaks themselves. During labour you do not have the emotional energy to worry about your partner and how they are coping, so do not. They are there to support you.
Make sure that your second birth partner (the one who has experienced labour) is aware of what you want. Discuss your birth plan with them beforehand and give them clear roles such as asking them also to take care of your partner and listen to their concerns too. It's also worthwhile asking them to attend your antenatal education classes with you, be it private or NHS classes, so that they fully understand the journey you will be on. You may also wish them to advocate on you and your partner’s behalf which will take some of the pressure from your partner.
Do bear in mind however that legally the only person who can give consent for treatment is you. Staff will discuss things with you both but ultimately it must be you that gives consent. If, for any reason you are incapacitated then the medical staff will do whatever is in your best interests. This will all be discussed with your partner but they will not be asked to give consent, as only you can give consent.
If you feel that your partner is more than able to cope with the role then the privacy of you as a couple experiencing this journey is far more fulfilling. If you feel that you need to employ a professional within this role to help your partner then 'Doulas' are worth their weight in gold. You can find more information on what a doula does here and you can find a list of local doulas here.
For Your Partner
You will have completed all your tasks and are now waiting patiently for labour to begin. When it does happen keep calm and keep smiling. There are many things about your partner’s imminent behaviour that may shock and surprise you and it is important that you do not convey that to her in any way.
You are not expected to empathise with the pain of every contraction and nor should you. If your partner feels that she can cope on her own for a while then don’t feel guilty, go to bed and get some rest. Women have been prepared for the sleep deprivation involved in labour, those not pregnant have not. Encourage her to drink throughout labour and offer her food and remember to do that too. When your partner’s contractions become intense she will need you to be strong, supportive and reassuring. With that in mind under NO circumstances do the following:
- Do not tell your partner (or your midwife) that ‘she is tired’.
- Equally heinous is telling your partner (or your midwife) that she is ‘in too much pain’ or ‘cannot do this any longer.
- And never, ever tell anyone how tired or in how much pain you are in – you will be summarily tortured by all.
On a serious note though, labour is similar mentally to running a marathon. All positive aspects must be reinforced and where there is no place for negative thoughts. Most importantly, when you are watching your partner in pain, ask yourself this question. ‘Is this upsetting my partner, can she no longer cope or is it me that it is upsetting and can I no longer cope?’ If it is the latter, remember that your partner does not have the emotional time to worry about how you are coping. Have a hard word with yourself and tell yourself to get a grip. Then, tell your partner how strong and amazing she is, because she is and she is doing all this for you and your baby.