Going into labour is a nerve wracking time for mums-to-be, but it is also a nerve wracking time for birth partners, usually the dad-to-be. What if you say the wrong thing? What exactly are you supposed to be doing, anyway? We know how hard it can be to be the birth partner: you're likely to feel like the only one in the delivery room without a defined role. But you'll also want to make sure you do the right thing for mum-to-be. With that in mind, here are some top tips on how to be a good birth partner:
1. Make sure you're prepared.
Be as prepared as possible. It will be harrowing, and it will be tough, but the more you realise what is happening, the more in control you both will feel. Read up on your partners pregnancy books about birth (most pregnant women own at least one baby book or magazine) and attend all of the antenatal classes so you know exactly what to expect and when. But don’t be a know-it-all. Whilst you can question anything you like, don’t think you know more than the medical staff because you read a few chapters on birth and labour. It’s important that you work with the team, not against it.
2. Incentivise, don't sympathise
If it were you in labour, would you rather hear how well you're doing, or sympathy for how horrible it all seems? Leave the 'poor you's' at home, and instead offer encouragement. Tell her, she’s doing well, that she will meet her baby very soon, that she is strong, that you are proud of her, that you love her, and that this will all be over soon. In the last stages of birth tell her what you can see, i.e. ‘I can see the baby’s head’ which can give her a boost for the final push.
3. Think practical thoughts
In the excitement of the impending arrival, don't forget your practical responsibilities. It is your responsibility to make sure the car is full of petrol, that you know where to park, you have change for the car park, her labour bag, birth plan and maternity notes are with you, and that she has enough food, drink and distractions between contractions. She should only have to focus on the labour and birth, and try to clear all other worries from her mind. If you have other children, reassure her they are safe and happy, and that she will see them soon.
4. Look after yourself as well as her
It is ok to have a break. You may feel guilty taking time out when your partner has to grin and bear it, but it is important that you pace yourself. Labour can last for twelve hours plus so make sure you get regular rests, don’t forget to eat and keep yourself well hydrated. Bring your own music to listen too (although save the headphones for when she is asleep rather than during a contraction), and stock up on newspapers, magazines and books. Don’t forget that maternity wards are often very warm, to keep babies at a constant temperature, so you may need a couple of shirts to change into. Pack a T-shirt and shorts for the birth, as you will get hot and it can get messy and make sure you have a change of clothes for afterwards. If you are finding it tough, have a quiet word with the midwife, who can relieve you whilst you get some fresh air.
5. Finally, smile!
Try to look positive and happy about everything that is happening rather than looking horrified. Lots of women are worried about making noises during labour, or accidentally urinating or passing a stool. This may or may not happen, but if it does, laugh it off, give her a kiss and carry on with the encouragement. If you look upset or anxious, these feelings will transfer to mum-to-be.