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birth partner

Birthing partners clearly play a key role. Here are some tips for birth partners of women planning to give birth at a birth centre (a midwife-led centre).

Having someone present during labour who can care for and support a woman in labour can lead to a better birth experience (Bohren et al, 2017).  

The Covid-19 pandemic has created a challenge to birth companionship in hospital. But even in these circumstances, a woman in labour should have access to a birth companion of choice throughout labour, birth and immediately after their baby is born (Lavender et al, 2020)

Tips for birthing partners

Things you can do in advance:  

  1. Talk through your role and how your partner wants you to help when they're in labour.
  2. Ask your partner if they’d like you to come along to antenatal classes and/or midwife appointments with them.
  3. If you have one, talk through the birth plan with your partner so you know what they want. That way you can encourage them to keep mobile, change position, get into the water or whatever’s key yet easy to forget in the moment (Bohren et al, 2017).
  4. You could do a bit of light reading – important things to find out about include the stages of labour, pain relief and relaxation techniques.
  5. …Speaking of which, you could pick up massage oil to give your partner a relaxing rub in the early stages of labour (Bohren et al, 2017). It’s part of the job description.   
  6. If possible, go on a tour of the unit so that you can both get familiar with it. Use the NHS maternity unit search for contact details and how to book a tour if they offer them. Many units now offer virtual tours, which is even easier.
  7. Find out what’s available for you at the birth centre or midwife-led unit. You could see what facilities there are to stay over, for example. These centres often have more options for them than hospitals, which is something you're likely to appreciate (Symon et al, 2011).
  8. Make a plan for travelling to the unit. If you're driving, talk about routes. If you are going in a taxi, make sure you have the company’s number in their phone. Find out about parking too, to see if you’ll need to keep some change ready.   
  9. Run through your partner's hospital bag with them – and it's a good idea to pack your own too. Some drinks, snacks, cash and a change of clothes will come in handy.
  10. Be an advocate for your partner and support them during labour – this is especially important as they may be unable to communicate well at points (Bohren et al, 2017)

Things you can do during labour:

  1. Remember that support can include emotional support, for example your continued presence, reassurance and praise. 
  2. Help your partner use coping mechanisms and provide comfort measures such as touch, massage, warm baths or showers. 
  3. Encourage them to move around and make sure they're drinking enough fluids.  
  4. Tell the midwives about your partner's labour progress. You may also need to speak up for them, on their behalf if needed (Bohren et al, 2017). They won't want to process complex information, so communication should be clear and simple. As much as possible, ask them questions which just need 'yes' or 'no' answers.

Ten questions the birthing partner may ask the birth centre or midwife-led unit

  1. How do you make contact with the unit or centre when labour starts? (Make sure you both have the contact details in your mobile.)
  2. Can you stay with them all the time or might you be asked to leave the room?
  3. Can you stay overnight with them?
  4. Will you be able to go with them if they have to transfer to hospital? (Including in the ambulance.)
  5. What will happen if they need to be transferred to hospital?
  6. Can you stay with your baby and partner after the birth?
  7. Are there any facilities for birth partners, eg somewhere to wash and change?
  8. What happens and where do you need to go if the unit or centre is temporarily closed because of staff shortages?
  9. During the Covid pandemic each maternity unit has carried out a risk assessment. Check with your unit about any rules that birth partners need to be aware of , for example taking a lateral flow test, wearing a face mask and using designated bathroom facilities (NHS, 2020a)

It's your birth environment, and you should be able to bring in equipment like music or essential oils from home, as well as dimming the lights if you want to. But if you're happier checking in advance, go ahead.

Anything else to consider? 

Some birthing mothers choose to hire a professional birth partner called a doula, or an independent midwife, to support them in a birth centre. This may be someone whom the woman has met previously in preparation for the birth, for example during antenatal education. Research shows that women who hire doulas are much less likely to have a low birth weight baby or experience a birth complication and are significantly more likely to initiate breastfeeding (Gruber et al, 2013)

Women and their partners both rated the experience of labour with the support of a doula as a positive experience (McGrath & Kennell, 2008)

This page was last reviewed in March 2021.

Further information

Our support line offers practical and emotional support in many areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 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.

NHS Maternity unit search (NHS, 2020b) helps you to find services, contact details and information. 

Bohren MA, Hofmeyr G, Sakala C, Fukuzawa RK, Cuthbert A. (2017) Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (7):CD003766. Available from: http://www.cochrane.org/CD003766/PREG_continuous-support-women-during-childbirth [Accessed 30 March 2021]

Gruber K, Cupito S, Donson C. (2013) Impact of Doulas on Health Birth Outcomes. Available from: https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/3951/birth-companionship-in-a-pandemic-master-27-04-2020-002.pdf [Accessed 30th March 2021]. 

Lavender T, Downe S, Renfew M, Spiby H, Dykes F, Cheyne H, Page L, Sandell J, Hunter B. (RCM Professional Advisory Group) (2020) Rapid Analytic Review: Labour and Birth Companionship in a Pandemic. Available from https://www.rcm.org.uk/media/3951/birth-companionship-in-a-pandemic-master-27-04-2020-002.pdf [Accessed 30th March]. 

NHS. (2020a) Supporting pregnant women using maternity services during the coronavirus pandemic: Actions for NHS providers. Available from: https://www.england.nhs.uk/coronavirus/publication/supporting-pregnant-women-using-maternity-services-during-the-coronavirus-pandemic-actions-for-nhs-providers/ [Accessed 1st April 2021].  

NHS. (2020b) Find Maternity services services. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/Service-Search/other-services/Maternity%20services/LocationSearch/1802 [Accessed 1st April 2021]. 

McGrath S, Kennell J, (2008) A randomized controlled trial of continuous labor support for middle-class couples: effect on cesarean delivery rates. Available from: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/18507579/[Accessed 30th March]. 

Symon 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 from: https://doi.org/10.1016/j.midw.2010.10.002 [Accessed 30 March 2021]

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