Congratulations, you’re a dad to be! Do you know what to expect when your partner is expecting?
Apart from watching your partner go through a myriad of physical and psychological changes, pregnancy provides you with time to fully prepare for birth and fatherhood.
There’s plenty of helpful reading material available on this subject, with many pregnancy books for dads. Mark Harris’s book ‘Men, Love & Birth’ is excellent, and gives you an insight into pregnancy and how it affects women, as is ‘Commando Dad’ by Neil Sinclair.
During pregnancy, spend time openly discussing both your hopes and fears for pregnancy, labour and parenthood, as it is likely they will differ widely.
How to be a Good Birth Partner
As a birth partner you have a vital supporting role during labour. Here is how you can provide that emotional and physical support for your partner:
- Pack your ‘hospital bag for dad’, so she doesn’t have to worry about it.
- Make sure you have read and understood your partner’s birth plan; the research behind it, and why those choices are important to her.
- Keep the birth environment as calm and as comfortable as possible; is it too cold/warm? Too bright? Too noisy? Is she able to move and change positions?
- Ensure that she has enough to eat and drink, and make sure that you are drinking and eating well, too.
- Remind her to visit the loo and empty her bladder regularly; this is often overlooked but it can prevent problems during labour and afterwards.
- Encourage your partner to move into upright positions – like sitting, all-fours, standing, etc – as these can alleviate some of her discomfort and make contractions more effective.
- Provide back pain relief by rubbing her back. Our Marvellous Massaging Stick is ideal for massage, helping to ease and soothe pain and discomfort. Take a look at our blog post for the best ways of how to massage pregnant women, so it benefits her, you and your baby. A warm wheat bag or hot water bottle will also help to ease back pain.
- Encourage her to use all methods of non-medical pain relief available, including lots of emotional support from you, before requesting stronger, pharmacological options. Yet do listen to her if she’s requesting something stronger.
- Discourage her from lying down on her back, as this can reduce the frequency of the contractions, increase her discomfort and prevent baby from moving down the birth canal in an optimal way.
• Saying that, do encourage her to lie on her side (left side, if possible) to rest. A pillow or ‘peanut ball’ placed between her knees will help to keep the pelvis open and provide more comfort.
- Use a calm, soothing and quiet voice and language, and limit any unnecessary conversation.
- Offer physical support, if needed. This may look like letting her lean on you, swaying from side to side during contractions, massaging her lower back, hugging her or holding her whilst she is squatting.
- Encourage her to keep going, no matter how tired you or she has become. Tell her she *can* do it, offer her sips of energy drinks, cold flannels on her face & neck, and lots of cuddle. There is always a point in labour where women don’t think they can do it anymore – this is normal.
- If you are having difficulty watching your partner in pain, try not to panic or stress. Keep quiet, ring a supportive friend/relative, take 5 minutes and go for a walk (if she’s being supported by someone else), do some deep breathing. Your partner will be deep in ‘labour land’ and needs all the encouragement & support possible. It is hard to see them in pain, and it is also part of labour and birth. Prepare yourself beforehand by watching birthing videos and documentaries.
- If things are not going to plan, explain this to her clearly and gently, and tell her what is being recommended but avoid the temptation to make the decision for her.
- Make sure you have regular breaks.
How to Prepare for Labour
There are many ways you can prepare for your partner’s labour and birth of your baby. Attend good, midwife-led antenatal classes with her, read books, get involved in writing her birth plan and discuss all things labour and birth with her during pregnancy. When labour does happen, being knowledgeable and prepared will help you stay calm and relaxed. If anything about your partner’s behaviour surprises you, it is important that you do not let her see or realise this. Encouragement and gentle support during this time works wonders.
You don’t need to empathise with her contraction pains – just supporting her through them is enough. Also, don’t feel bad or guilty if your partner is coping fine on her own, especially during the early phase of labour. If she is ok, use that time to get some rest or sleep. She’ll need you to be rested, strong, reassuring and supportive once her contractions become more intense and when she begins to actively give birth.
With that in mind, try to avoid telling your partner (or your midwife) that ‘she is tired’ or ‘can’t do this anymore’. Believe in her and she will believe in herself.
Labour is physically and mentally exhausting, so negative thoughts will only make it harder. Think of it as a marathon, not a sprint. So be patient, encouraging and keep positive. It can be difficult to see your partner in pain, and if you find you are struggling to cope, remember that your partner is doing what her body is asking her to do (groans and moans included). Birthing a baby is a very primal and guttural experience and one that her body has been designed for. Put your worries and fears to one side and tell her how amazing, incredible and strong she is, and always put her and how she is feeling above all else.
Having a coping strategy in place can be invaluable for you and, in turn for your partner, especially during a tiring or difficult labour. This can look like deep breathing, hypnobirthing, music, shaking your body, going out for some fresh air (as long as she is calm & supported), or calling a trusted friend or relative to debrief with.
How to Support Your Partner During Labour
Once you are on a labour ward the atmosphere may change and you may find it more challenging to question situations that you are unsure or unhappy about. You are your partner’s advocate so make sure that your midwife understands your partner’s birth plan and any wishes for the birth. There may be occasions when your midwife or obstetrician discuss possible interventions that they believe may be needed - for example, the hormone drip. This may make you feel overwhelmed with responsibility and doubt.
In order to ensure that you both have all the information needed to make a true informed choice, use the following B.R.A.I.N. acronym to help you navigate the process and reach a decision that’s right for your partner, firstly, but also for you:
B Benefits of the proposed treatment or intervention?
R Reasons it may be needed?
A Alternatives to the proposed interventions?
I Instincts, what does your partner feel she wants to do?
N Nothing, if you don’t act what will happen?
By using this questioning tool, you will be able to ascertain whether or not the intervention is entirely necessary and be reassured as to the reasons for it. During this discussion, ensure that your partner has heard and understands the information, and ask her to make the final decision.
Labour is exciting, tiring and emotional, and your partner needs you to be there for her.