How birth partners can support labour

Having a birth partner or doula can help a woman to feel more in control and better supported during labour. Find out about more about the role of a birth partner.

Having a birth partner present during labour helps to improve birth experiences. So it’s important to think about who you would like to support you during this exciting time and plan ahead. Read on to find out more about birth partners and the important role they have in supporting women in labour.

What is a birth partner?

A birth partner is someone like your partner who is present during labour and the birth of your baby to help support you with what you need at the time. They might provide encouraging words, sips of water or maybe a snack, or even just a quiet, comforting presence. Birth partners may also play an important role in helping you prepare for giving birth by attending parenting classes and helping you with your birth plan.

You can read our top ten tips for birth partners for more practical ideas for how they can help.

Who can be a birth partner?

Anyone who you are comfortable with being at your labour and your baby’s birth can be a birth partner. It could be your partner, a close friend, or a family member.

You might also wish to consider having a paid professional present. This could be an independent midwife or a doula.

What is a birth doula?

A doula is someone who provides physical and emotional support to you (and your partner) during labour and delivery. They don’t do anything medical but are a continuous, reassuring presence. They are there to listen to you, support your decisions, help you understand what is happening and help you have the kind of birth you want. Most (but not all) doulas are mothers themselves and may have done additional training.

NCT has a service provided by specially trained doulas, called NCT Doula, which provides one-to-one support for parents. They support you from late pregnancy, through labour, delivery, and into the first weeks with your new baby.

Why do I need a birth partner?

Having a birth partner or partners will give you continuous labour and birth support. Just having a friendly and familiar face will help to put you at ease. If you give birth in a hospital, it is likely that the midwives will be looking after more than one labouring woman at a time. They also need to manage technology, keep records and may begin or end work shifts in the middle of a women’s labour.

Research has shown that having a supportive birthing partner with you continuously through labour can help give you an added sense of control, comfort and competence. This in turn will help you have a better birth experience and decrease your chances of experiencing complications or having a medical intervention like a caesarean (Hodnett et al, 2013).

How do I choose my birth partner?

You can choose who you would like to be present at your baby’s birth. Some women would like their partners to be present, while others prefer their mum, an independent midwife or doula, or a close friend or another family member. Read more about how to choose your birth partner in our article.

How many birth partners can I have?

It depends on where you choose to give birth and what you want. For example, some women ask a family member as well as their partner to be there. Some hospitals and birth centres may restrict the number of birth partners you can have so you’ll need to check this with your midwife (Tommy’s, 2018).  

Having more than one birth partner can help because it can take the pressure off a bit. It can also come in handy if one birth partner needs to take a break, so you still have someone with you. Find out more in our article on choosing your birth partner.

What is the role of a birth partner?

The main role of a birth partner is to support and encourage you during labour and birth. In early labour they can provide you with company and chat. As labour progresses, they can help to keep you calm and comfortable and offer you support by:

  • providing emotional support like encouragement, praise, reassurance and listening to you
  • giving you physical support like rubbing your back, wiping a cool flannel on your face or helping you change positions and get more comfortable
  • providing you with practical support like getting you a drink or making phone calls to keep relatives updated.

(Northern Lincolnshire and Goole, NHS 2015; Which? Birth Choice, 2018)

What is it really like to be a birth partner?

For most birth partners, being there to see a baby being born is a moving experience. Many birth partners say it is one of the most memorable moments of their life. For some it can also be daunting and nerve wracking. Read our article about what it’s really like to support a woman during labour.

Plan ahead

The most important thing is to read up on what to expect in labour and decide on the right birth companions and support for you. Think about what type of labour you would like, who you would like to be with you and how you would like them to support you. You’ll also want to discuss it with them in advance.

This page was last reviewed in April 2018.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.

We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.

Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.

Find out more about NCT Doulas and how they can during labour. NCT Doulas provide women, and their partners, with skilled physical and emotional assistance during labour. They have up-to-date knowledge and information about labour and birth and help provide encouragement to woman. This helps enable them to have the type of labour and birth they would like. NCT Doulas are qualified professionals who have completed a professional Doula UK course, developed by NCT in partnership with the University of Worcester.

 

Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C. (2013) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database of Systematic Review. Available at: http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5/pdf [Accessed 17th April 2018]

Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS. (2015) Role of birth partners. Information for patients and visitors. Available at: https://www.nlg.nhs.uk/content/uploads/2015/04/IFP-0697-Role-of-birth-partners.pdf [Accessed 17th April 2018]

Tommy’s. (2018) Who can be my birth partner? https://www.tommys.org/pregnancy-information/labour-birth/labour-and-birth-faqs/who-can-be-my-birth-partner [Accessed 17th April 2018]

Which? Birth Choice. (2018) Choosing your birth partner. Available at: https://www.which.co.uk/birth-choice/getting-ready-to-give-birth/choosing-your-birth-partner [Accessed 17th April 2018]

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