Birth partners can help a woman feel supported in labour and make the experience more positive. Here are some top tips for being a brilliant birth partner.
Whether it’s your partner, daughter or friend due to give birth, it‘s an honour to be asked to be a birth partner. Yet this exciting role can also be daunting. Here we discuss some top tips to help you get ready.
You’ll find a whole number of ways you can help support the mum-to-be during labour (NHS Choices, 2017a). One place to start is by talking to them in advance about their expectations of you – ask them how they’d like you to support them. This will help you both feel more prepared ahead of the birth and confident in your role as birth partner (NHS Choices, 2017b).
Watch this video for tips on how to support your partner during labour.
1. Be prepared
Birth partners should be prepared and ready. The weeks around their due date are not a good time to book an impromptu holiday or be in a meeting with your mobile phone switched off.
You should talk through their birth plan (if you have one) with the mum-to-be well in advance. Attending birth classes like an NCT course together can help you learn about what to expect in labour (Which? Birth Choice, 2018). Classes will also help you write a birth plan if you want one (Which? Birth Choice, 2018).
Ask the woman if there are any specific ways they would like you to support them during labour and the birth. Also ask about any no-go areas. And know your limits too – if there are bits of the birth you prefer not to get hands on with, make it clear beforehand. For example, let her know if you don’t want to help cut the baby’s umbilical cord.
If you’re planning to use any new kit during labour like a TENS machine, make sure you test it out ahead of time and know how to use it.
2. Be there and know what she wants
The number one thing you can do for a woman in labour is be there as continuous support for them and help them with whatever they need at the time. Research has shown that having a familiar birth partner present throughout labour can help improve the birth experience (Bohren et al, 2017).
Whether that’s simply being there to hold her hand, or offering moral support and bringing some positive energy to the room (NHS, 2017b). Try to talk about what emotional, physical and practical support she would like too. Help her write down a birth plan or talk through it if she would like to. That way, you know her preferred birth choices like the back of your hand.
3. Provide company
During the early stages of labour you can help keep her company, make sure she is comfortable and help pass the time together.
You might be able to go for a walk together in the early stages of labour, watch television, listen to music or read together.
You can assist with whatever helps the mum-to-be feel comfy. She might like you to help her to bath, you could fetch her some relaxing creature comforts, or give her a hand to keep moving.
You’ll also need a break. Make sure you bring some snacks for you too and wear comfy clothes to keep yourself in top form (Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS, 2015).
4. Give her practical support
You can help in lots of practical ways. You could drive the mum-to-be to the hospital, carrying her hospital bag and helping her check into the birthing suite or hospital (NHS, 2017b).
When you get there, you could do things like helping her to move around the room and change positions. She might love you to give her a back rub or get her a cup of tea.
If she is planning a home birth you can help set up everything she needs at home, whether that’s a birthing pool or somewhere comfy for the mum-to-be. On the day you could offer to get the mum-to-be a hot drink and make phone calls to keep family updated.
The key here is to discuss and plan in advance what practical support she would like you to provide.
5. Provide emotional support
As the mum-to-be’s labour progresses and contractions get stronger you can be her rock, comforting and reassuring her. Simple gestures like holding or squeezing her hand and giving positive words of encouragement can really help.
6. Support her physically and take care of yourself
You can encourage the mum-to-be to keep active during labour and help her move about or change positions so she feels more comfortable (NHS, 2017b). You could also offer to massage her back and shoulders, wipe her face with a cold flannel, or simply give her a reassuring hug. You might also find you need to back off a bit if she needs space. Ask what she’d prefer.
To continue to support the mum-to-be well during labour, you also need to be on top form. You might be supporting and providing comfort to her for a long time. You may even find you haven’t slept all night and are extremely tired.
So take time out if you need it – whether that’s going for a quick toilet break, getting a hot drink or stepping out to make a phone call. Make sure you bring snacks and wear comfy clothes (Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS, 2015).
7. Listen to her
Try to really listen to what she needs on the day. It can be easier said than done but you will need to be intuitive and try and understand what she needs and when. Especially if she is in too much pain to express it well herself.
Be aware that her needs might change as her labour progresses. At times during labour, the mum-to-be might like emotional and physical support. Yet there might be other times when she would like to be left alone to help her focus.
8. Be confident, encourage and motivate
If you are upbeat and confident in a woman’s ability to give birth, this will help encourage and support her.
Words are powerful. You can help your partner stay motivated during labour by offering words of encouragement. Tell her how much you love her, how well she is doing. Also respect her wishes if she asks you to be quiet.
Encourage her to use any relaxation and breathing techniques you have learnt, perhaps by doing them with her. She might not be able to see what is happening as the baby is being born. So help to motivate her by telling her what is happening and when you can see the baby’s head.
9. Be an advocate
You might need to express the mum-to-be’s needs to the midwife or doctor (NHS, 2017b). So help to explain to the health professional what she would like. You might also need to explain to her any new information from the health professionals.
Support the mum-to-be’s decisions, even if they're different from what's in her birth plan. She might want to choose a different type of pain relief, for example.
10. Be flexible
Be prepared to be flexible. No two labours are the same and, although you can prepare, you will need to adapt to whatever is working or not working during labour. It’s possible that everything will go to plan but you might also find that an urgent medical situation arises and alters the course of the labour.
If this happens, tell the mum-to-be what’s happening if you can and continue to encourage and reassure her. This will help her feel more in control of the situation.
You might be waiting a long time for her labour to progress, or you may have to make quick decisions based on medical advice and her best interests. Be prepared to be flexible on the day and go with the flow.
Give yourself a pat on the back too
Being a birth partner can be an incredibly rewarding experience. Yet it can also be nerve wracking and emotionally draining.
As well as congratulating the mum-to-be on their new arrival, don’t forget to take some time out for yourself afterwards and talk to a friend about it. Make sure you give yourself some recognition for the part you have played in the baby’s birth too.
This page was last reviewed in April 2018
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.
Bohren MA, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. (2017) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 7:CD003766. doi: 10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6. Available from: http://cochranelibrary-wiley.com/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub5/pdf [Last Accessed: 1st April 2018].
NHS Choices. (2017a) Tips for your birth partner. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/what-your-birth-partner-can-do/ [Last Accessed: 1st April 2018].
NHS Choices. (2017b) Pregnancy, birth and beyond for dads and partners. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/dad-to-be-pregnant-partner/ [Last Accessed: 1st April 2018].
Northern Lincolnshire and Goole NHS. (2015) Role of birth partners. Information for patients and visitors. Available from: https://www.nlg.nhs.uk/content/uploads/2015/04/IFP-0697-Role-of-birth-partners.pdf [Last Accessed: 1st April 2018].
Which? Birth Choice. (2018) Choosing your birth partner. Available from: https://www.which.co.uk/birth-choice/getting-ready-to-give-birth/choosing-your-birth-partner [Last Accessed: 1st April 2018].