Even if they’ve done it before, being a birth partner can still be daunting. So read our tips together to help you both get ready.
Getting prepared as soon as possible can relieve nerves for birth partners. This could be especially important in the unfamiliar surroundings of a hospital (Symond et al, 2011).
Being a birth partner is a crucial role for helping you feel supported in labour. And no one knows this more than midwives, who’ll actively encourage your birth partner to support you (NICE, 2014).
There are lots of fantastic ways your birth partner(s) can prepare for their role. The best place for you to help is by sitting down to talk through what they can do when you’re in labour. Antenatal classes, such as NCT classes, are a brilliant way to find out more about what will happen on the day and how they can support you.
You could go through – or even write – your birth plan together. That way they’ll know how you want to give birth and they’ll feel confident speaking up for you if needed. During the throes of labour, you might not be at your most intelligible.
"It’s useful to find out about the different stages of labour and what is likely to happen, to minimise surprises along the way."
Another thing to both be clued up on is the types of pain relief. Then if you’re offered something you both have a clear idea of what it is and whether you want to take it.
Of course, as well as acting as your spokesperson you want your birth partner primarily to provide you with some TLC. Make sure they know that reassuring you and helping you relax can help make the experience better for you – and in turn, them.
Ask your partner to come with you on a tour of the labour or obstetric unit at the hospital where you are booked in to give birth (if they offer tours). You can use the Which? And Birth Choices Tool to find out contact details and how to book a tour.
You’ll have so much to think about when you’re in labour that navigating to a hospital you aren’t familiar with is the last thing you’ll want. Make sure you both know how to get to the hospital and plan alternative routes in case of traffic.
If you’re driving there, check you both know about parking in the hospital car park. Do you need change for parking meters? Or can you download a smart cashless app in advance so you don’t need to hunt for spare change on the day?
If you’re taking a taxi, make sure your partner has the correct contact details for your nearest taxi company. To minimise any hold-ups, speak to the cab office beforehand to check they’re happy to drive you to the hospital while you could be in active labour.
What to take
Try when you pack your hospital bag to show your birth partner what’s in it so they can fish something out for you when needed. See our article about what to pack in your hospital bag.
You could be in for a long wait and the hospital might have limited facilities (Symond et al, 2011). So it’s a good idea for your partner to get a bag ready for themselves with drinks, snacks, cash and a change of clothes to help them feel more comfortable.
Check whether drinks and snacks are available to buy at the hospital too, in case either of you run out. If there’s a café make sure you know when it closes and what payment they take.
Useful questions to ask
Finding out a few things in advance can help everything run smoothly when the time comes. Be as prepared as possible by finding out answers to the following questions beforehand:
- What is the phone number for the labour ward or obstetric unit? You can ring them when labour starts. Make sure both you and your birth partner have the contact details written down, or even better stored on your mobile phone.
- Can your birth partner stay with you all the time during labour? Is there any reason they might be asked to leave the room?
- Will your birth partner be able to come into the operating theatre with you if your baby is born by caesarean?
- Will your birth partner stay with you or the baby if they need specialist care after the birth?
- Can your birth partner bring in equipment from home, for example, music or essential oils?
- What happens after the birth? Can your birth partner stay with you and the baby? If not, what are the rules about visiting?
- Where can birth partners sleep if they stay overnight? Is there anywhere for them to wash and change?
- Can your partner use a mobile phone in the hospital to keep family and friends informed? Is WiFi available and if so what is the password?
What else can birth partners do?
Labour can go on for a long time, and in hospital midwives might be too busy to give you continuous one-to-one care throughout. In which case, a supportive birth partner can help you cope better and might make a straightforward birth more likely (Bohren et al, 2017).
"Your birth partner can ask for help for you, and make sure doctors and midwives know what you want."
They can also ask questions so you both can make informed choices (NICE, 2014; Bohren et al, 2017).
If medical staff suggest an intervention, a birth partner can ask for more time to consider your options. This is especially important in hospital because women are more likely to have interventions like ventouse, forceps, episiotomies or caesareans (Hollowell et al, 2011).
On a practical level, a birth partner can remind you to keep taking sips of water and to go to the toilet regularly (Bohren et al, 2017). They can also encourage you to keep moving around and changing positions if you can. They might help you relax, too, by running through breathing exercises with you, dimming the lights if possible and playing music you’ve chosen beforehand.
Rubbing your back or giving you a massage can really help – make sure your birth partner is comfortable themselves before they get started. Above all, giving you reassurance, praise and encouragement is one of the most important things your birth partner can do for you.
This page was last reviewed in September 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.
Bohren MA, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. (2017) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Available at: http://www.cochrane.org/CD003766/PREG_continuous-support-women-during-childbirth [Accessed 21st May 2018].
Hollowell J, Puddicome D, Rowe R, Knight M, Li Y, Linsell L, et al (2011) The Birthplace national prospective cohort study: perinatal and maternal outcomes by planned place of birth in England research programme: final report. NIHR Service Delivery and Organisation programme. Available at: https://www.npeu.ox.ac.uk/birthplace [Accessed 21st May 2018].
NICE (2014) Intrapartum care for healthy women and babies. Available at: www.nice.org.uk/guidance/cg190/chapter/Recommendations [Accessed 21st May 2018].
Symond AG, Dugard P, Butchart M, Carr V, Paul J (2011) Care and environment in midwife-led and obstetric -led units: a comparison of mothers’ and birth partners’ perceptions. Midwifery. 27(6):880-886. Available at: https://www.midwiferyjournal.com/article/S0266-6138(10)00153-1/fulltext [Accessed 21st May 2018].