Birthing partner

Birth partners can be over-looked with so much necessary focus on the mum-to-be in labour. Here's how you can prepare for being a birth partner.

It’s no wonder that most mums-to-be will want their partner, friend or close family by their side. Especially when you consider mums-to-be are about to go through an event as life-changing and unknown as childbirth.

But what is it really like for dads, partners, family or friends to be present at the birth? Mums can feel like they’re doing the ‘hard’ bit (and yes, let’s face it, they are). But the positive contribution that birth partners make to their experience shouldn’t be downplayed.

Research shows that having a birth partner at the birth can help labour progress more quickly and can lead to a better birth experience (Bohren et al, 2017). So it’s important for women to choose their birth partners wisely.

Being asked to be a birth companion can be exciting and daunting. Read on to find out what to expect.

Be prepared

The birth may throw up eventualities you hadn’t bargained for. That means being prepared is still one of the best ways to feel like you’re in control of the situation (NHS, 2017a).

NCT classes are a fantastic way to mentally and physically prepare for the birth and get a good idea of what to expect.

Something else that you can do to get ready is put together and discuss a birth plan. It can help to think through what you both want to happen in what can be a very fast-moving situation (NHS, 2018).

In the birth plan, the mum-to-be can say who they would like to be with them during labour, and you can jointly decide your role (Which?, 2018). A birth plan is also great for helping to extract as much information as you can from the mum-to-be before the birth (NHS, 2017b).

The birth plan can tell you about what she’d like you to do or not do during labour. This is useful as you might find she’s not at her most talkative when the baby is about to arrive.

Of course, no matter how much preparation you do, there’s always going to be an element of ‘winging it’.

Expect the unexpected

Childbirth doesn’t always go to plan, and while mum is ‘living through’ it, their birth partner can feel the weight of responsibility to make sure the needs of mum and baby are met.

You might feel quite daunted by the unfamiliar environment if you are in a hospital or birth centre (Symond et al, 2011). You also need to prepare yourself for the lack of control. Try to make peace beforehand with the fact that you just can’t solve some things, like your partner’s pain levels.

Labour can be extremely tiring for the birth partner as well as the mum – so in the weeks leading up to the due date, make sure you get lots of rest.

In a scenario you haven’t been in before, good advice is to stay calm and remember what you’ve learnt at your antenatal classes. Make sure you’ve got plenty of drinks and food to hand – for both the mum-to-be and you. This will help you keep your energy levels up. Many partners say they were surprised by how many snacks they needed.

On the flip side, a first labour can be long and dare we say it – boring. So, for both your sakes, pack some entertainment for both mum and you in your hospital bag in case of a long wait.

Try out new gadgets beforehand

This isn’t the moment for you to start reading an introduction to hypnobirthing or start working out how to set up a birthing pool or how pain-relieving aids work. Neither is it the time to test out a TENS machine for the first time (NHS, 2017c). Make sure you have tried and tested any new birthing gear beforehand.

Women in labour can be unpredictable

You might think you’re prepared for the birth and know how to soothe the mum-to-be. But don’t be surprised if on the day she reacts differently in labour to how she did before.

Try the techniques to relax her that you’ve been taught or read up on. Just be prepared to change strategy if she suddenly seems not to like it.

She might make noises or act in a way that she hasn’t before, which some birth partners say can be disconcerting or even quite scary. It’s just her way of dealing with what she’s going through. Don’t be put off being there and comforting her as this is probably the time she needs you the most (Bohren et al, 2017).

Even if you’re shouted at, sworn at, ignored or have your arm squeezed to oblivion during labour, rest assured she still really wants you there (Bohren et al, 2017). Make sure you arrange to have someone you can call or visit to help you too. You won’t want or be able to discuss with your partner your experience of the birth yet you might just want to talk about it.

Focus on what’s important

There’s no getting around the fact that birth partners can be worried about what they’re going to see down there. They might worry how it may affect how they feel about having sex with their partner after the birth. Discuss what the mum-to-be would prefer – some birth partners focus on talking to and comforting their partner at the top end.

It’s also worth mentioning that although it can seem like a huge feat – which of course it is – the birth is only a very small part of having a baby. While a birth partner’s help during labour is invaluable, it’s just the beginning of life with a new baby.

So, plan the birth with your birth partner. But remember to (excitedly) think about everything that’s going to come in the future, too.

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. You might find attending one of NCT's antenatal courses or Early Days groups helpful.

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. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. (7):CD003766. Available from: https://www.cochranelibrary.com/cdsr/doi/10.1002/14651858.CD003766.pub6… [Accessed 21st May 2018]

NHS. (2017a) Pregnancy, birth and beyond for dads and partners. Available from: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/dad-to-be-pregnant-partner/ [Accessed 21st May 2018]

NHS. (2017b) Tips for your birth partner. Available from:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/what-your-birth-partner-can-do/ [Accessed 21st May 2018]

NHS. (2017c) TENS Machines. Available from:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pain-relief-labour/#tens-machines [Accessed 21st May 2018]

NHS. (2018) How to make a birth plan. Available from:  https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/how-to-make-birth-plan/ [Accessed 21st May 2018]

Symond AG, Dugard P, Butchart M et al (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://www.midwiferyjournal.com/article/S0266-6138(10)00153-1/fulltext [Accessed 21st May 2018]

Which? (2018) Choosing your birth partner. Available from:  https://www.which.co.uk/birth-choice/getting-ready-to-give-birth/choosing-your-birth-partner [Accessed 21st May 2018]

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