Birth is an intense and magical adventure. No matter the outcome, it will change your life forever, always keep you on your toes, and lead you to a constant state of discovery of yourself and the world around you. By now, your partner may have already picked up your nursing pillow, carrier, and a bunch of other products you didn’t know you’d need, and are preparing to give birth! But birth is not just a thing a pregnant person does. Birthing partners are just as important in creating the positive memories we all hope to have surrounding the births of our children. Keep reading to for some tips to become the BEST birthing partner you can be and have your partner gazing upon you with eyes of gratitude and adoration, while they shower you with presents! Ok. Maybe not presents, but they’ll sure appreciate it!
The doula who shared these tips, Ashley Blankenship with Supported Season, had so many great tips we created a partner support blog series! Stay tuned for more doula advice!
Part 1: PREPARATION
Read the room
This is one of the most important pieces of advice for birthing partners. It is incredibly frustrating to be uncomfortable and trying to focus on just getting through the next few minutes, while your birthing partner is in the corner cracking jokes about the noises you’re making. Sure, in the beginning of labor, jokes are acceptable and even encouraged as long as the person giving birth is laughing and joking back, but the mood will surely change as labor progresses and increases in intensity. Change right along with it. When the person giving birth is chatty, be chatty. When they’re quiet, be quiet, too.
Go to classes and get educated
It’s so easy to think that partners don’t have to worry too much about what’s going on because they aren’t the ones giving birth, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. During labor, there will be times when choices need to be made and when things may take a turn away from the original plan. Having a partner who is knowledgeable and can help make an educated decision is such a soothing presence for a person giving birth. If the plan to birth without medical interventions is desired, a knowledgeable partner is even more important. The person giving birth will likely have moments when they aren’t all there or they are so engrossed in contractions that they’ll need someone to help them navigate questions or concerns. Taking a birthing class or reading books/articles about birth will help you be their rock in all situations.
In the movies, it’s very common for birthing partners to be crazed and disorganized and rushing to the hospital, speeding down the highway with their partners screaming in the background. The truth is, it’s very, very rare that birth is an emergency situation. It usually takes HOURS and there is plenty of time to relax or rest at home before heading to the hospital. In fact, it’s encouraged! The more relaxed a person giving birth is, the less painful and faster dilation is (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0002937878907421, https://obgyn.onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1471-0528.2012.03433.x). Talk to the person giving birth and make a plan for how you both think things should go. Understanding how the person giving birth feels about the trip to the hospital and what your doctor or midwife would like to happen is very important in knowing when to hop in the car. If you’re birthing at home, allow the person giving birth to take the lead after calling your midwife or doctor.
Focus on the birthing person
No doubt, emotions will be high for both of you, but if you’re panicking and making a scene, all of the attention will be on you, not the birthing person. If you are having a lot of anxiety about becoming a parent, try not to think about what will happen after baby arrives. Take one step at a time. First, the baby needs to be born, which means the focus should be on making sure the person giving birth has everything they want and need. You can worry about life after baby…after baby (or way before the birth!).
Don’t be afraid
If this is your first baby, or you’ve had a difficult experience in the past, you may be thinking, “yeah, right!” But you are going to be armed with as much information as you can gather, you’re going to be involved in doctor appointments as much as possible, and you’re going to be having lots of discussions with your partner about wishes and expectations, right? There’s an exercise I do at the end of my birthing classes that helps put fear on the back burner. First, physically write down ALL your fears with pen and paper. Anything you can possibly think of that’s causing you fear or anxiety regarding birth, parenthood, your relationship, all of it. No one has to see it, so you can be as honest as possible. Next, take a look at what you’ve written down. Is there anything you have any more questions about? Anything you need to learn more about? If so, find the answers you need. If not, destroy that piece of paper. I mean, really physically destroy it because the truth of the matter is, if you’ve learned all you feel you need to learn, you’re ready. Parenthood is scary sometimes and we all make mistakes. If you have a bunch of “what-if” fears, congratulations! You’re 100% normal. You’re going to love your child and do the best you can do for them, and that’s all they need. Love and support. The rest will fall into place.
Be flexible and respect choices
Throughout all of your education and discussions about birth and parenting, you may have a pretty solid plan of how you want things to go. Sometimes, things go exactly to plan and everyone feels accomplished and wonderful. Most of the time, plans go very differently than expected and need many adjustments along the way. Sometimes that leads to feelings of inadequacy or depression. But all births, no matter the outcome, are a success. The object of birth is an end to pregnancy. To my knowledge, there are no known cases of a 33-year-old still in his mother’s womb. Instead of having a birth “plan” Let’s call it birth “preferences” or “dreams.” Remain flexible and keep your eyes on the prize! Anything that happens in between pregnancy and birth is simply a means to an end. You may find that what you thought would be helpful during labor is causing stress in the person giving birth. That’s okay. Just change your approach. During labor, it’s important for the person giving birth to rely on intuition instead of a plan. Depending on how the baby is positioned, different tactics may need to be enacted to best move baby down and out. Respect the process and choices of the person giving birth. It’s their body and they know what they are feeling better than you do.
Part 2: COMMUNICATION
Giving birth is really hard. Like, really, really hard. There will likely be times when the person giving birth looks up at you with tears in their eyes and says, “I can’t do it.” Don’t panic, that’s a very common feeling during labor. If you know they were adamant about giving birth without any interventions, gently remind them of their goals and talk about whether or not those goals have changed. Let them know how proud you are of them and what a great job they’re doing. This is not a sport, so don’t come at them like they’re on a field and need to score a point. Focus on how amazing they are instead of what they need to do. A good idea is to have a code word for pain management. When they say, “I can’t” that means they’re venting. If they say the code word, that means call the anesthesiologist.
Don’t bombard with questions
When a person is giving birth, they are focused internally as labor progresses. Too many questions can take them out of the zone and cause irritability or anxiety. A good rule of thumb is to not ask them anything until AFTER the contraction passes. If someone comes in the room during a contraction and wants to talk or ask something, let them know they have to wait a minute until the contraction is over. Protect the person giving birth during contractions. If you ask a question and there is no answer, don’t keep asking. Just let it go. The answer is probably no.
Practice active listening
Active listening is a great skill to use. Period. It’s particularly great during labor. When your partner tells you something, repeat it back to them so you both know you’re on the same page, then respond AFTER repeating. It’s a skill that will help you in all aspects of your life. It’s also a skill that feels weird at first, so it’s important to practice before the big day. During labor, when they need something or are feeling something, use active listening to help you remember what they said and to make sure you understood correctly. It can help reduce frustration and irritability for both of you and keep things running smoothly.
Don’t try to fix anything. You can’t.
This one is pretty self explanatory. You can’t make birth easier, or nicer, or less painful. All of those things fall on your partner’s shoulders. What you can control is environment. Keep the environment calm and peaceful and make sure your partner has everything they want and need. Let them vent to you and use your awesome active listening skills to repeat back what they said without telling them what they need to do to fix it.
Don’t downplay, talk facts instead.
Never downplay the experience of the birthing person. You’re not going through what they are, so you can’t possibly know what does and doesn’t feel like a big deal to them. Instead, talk about the facts of what you’ve learned about birth and the laboring process.
If the person giving birth is in transition and they’re having a hard time coping, instead of saying, “You’re fine. It’s not even that much longer. Stop thinking about it so much.”
Say, “I see how hard this is for you. You’ve done such an amazing job up until now. I think you’re in transition. Remember this phase usually doesn’t last very long, so it’s almost over.”
If birth isn’t going well and a c-section is required, don’t say, “It’s not a big deal. The baby will be born anyway. It’s fine.”
Say, “I’m so sorry. I know how much you didn’t want a c-section and I saw how hard you tried. I’m glad this option is here to keep you and the baby safe. You’re so incredible and I’m so proud of you!”
Be an advocate or allow space to advocate
Sometimes, your medical team may have a different idea about how things should go. Unless there is an emergency, you and your partner are in charge. Ask questions and make sure you feel good about the decision. A great acronym to remember how to advocate is B.R.A.I.N.
Benefits of the procedure
Risks of the procedure
Alternatives to the procedure
Intuition. How do I feel about this?
Nothing. What will happen if we don’t do anything?
If it’s something you know you both want, you can advocate for both of you. If you’re not sure, or it’s something you haven’t discussed before, allow space for your partner to advocate for themselves. Ask them something like, “Do you have questions before you decide?”
Protect the environment of the room. Protect the person giving birth. This is done by following all of the tips above, and also by avoiding confrontation whenever possible. Keep the peace as much as you can. Remember the medical team is on your side. If you need to speak a little firmly to anyone, calmly leave the room first.
Part 3: PARTNER & SELF-CARE
Get rest and food when you can
Have a conversation with your partner about your rest during labor and delivery. Make sure they know that you’ll need rest to make sure you can care for them to the best of your ability, and you’ll need to eat, too. Make a plan together for how and when you’ll try to rest and eat. There’s no reason why you both need to be exhausted. Once baby comes, the person giving birth will need to rest and recover, which leaves you to care for both your partner and the baby. Making sure you’re rested and nourished is extremely important. Asking your partner how this will be handled will help your partner cope with feelings of abandonment or jealousy when you can eat or rest and they can’t.
Feed and hydrate your partner
Figure out your birthing facility’s guidelines for food and liquids. It used to be that people giving birth were only allowed ice chips, but that is no longer the case at most facilities. Modern research proves it’s important for your partner to remain hydrated and fed, and may even shorten labor (https://www.ingentaconnect.com/content/wk/aog/2017/00000129/00000003/art00014). Imagine running a marathon and not being allowed to eat or drink! Since there are a lot of emotions and physical exertion ahead of you both, keep the meals light and easily digestible. Drink for thirst. No need to pound gallons of water.
Remember to go to the bathroom
Since you’ll be nice and hydrated, potty breaks are a necessity. A full bladder can make contractions less effective (https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/abs/pii/0002937867900750). Remind the person giving birth to take a bathroom break at least every 2 hours. Walking is great for helping baby get into the right position and sitting on the toilet helps people giving birth relax as they’re conditioned to relax on the toilet. Don’t feel bad for making them get up. It will benefit the labor progression and may make them a little more comfortable. If the person giving birth received an epidural, a catheter will be inserted so they will not need nor be able to walk to the bathroom.
Be ready to roll!
Don’t leave planning to go to the birthing facility to the last minute. Have all needed phone numbers saved in your phone, make sure your gas tank is always full, have a bag with snacks and drinks ready to go, and make sure all the bags make it into the car. Don’t forget your nursing pillow and baby carrier. You’ll definitely want those at the birthing facility. Figure out the best route to the birthing facility ahead of time and keep track of when traffic is bad on your preferred route. Make sure you have a good idea of how long it takes to get there because chances are, your partner will be very uncomfortable in the car. Letting them know “5 more minutes until we’re there,” can help ease anxieties more than saying “soon” or “almost.”
Encourage movement, but respect wishes.
Encourage your partner to move during labor. The birth canal isn’t a straight tube that baby slips down. There are nooks, crannies, bones, and tissues that get in the way of a straight shot outta there. Moving around not only helps baby into an optimal position, but also helps baby work around and through all of these obstacles. Remember, it’s not a sprint, it’s a marathon. The person giving birth should not be doing anything too aerobic, but walking, swaying, sitting on a ball, rocking, etc. all help to get baby out! If your partner isn’t in the mood to move, don’t push it. They’re going through a lot and may just need a break.
Part 4: BONDING
Baby’s here. Now what?
Once baby arrives and you both gaze into their eyes, it’s important to try feeding your baby right away. Feeding your baby for the first time can be an exciting, but potentially anxiety-inducing event. Making sure everyone is comfy is very important so focus can be on the task at hand, and not on a sore back or arms. Finding a pillow made specifically for feeding is so helpful.
After birth, your partner may have some energy for a while, but they will soon be exhausted! While they rest, it’s the perfect time to bond with the latest member of the family. Although you may have gotten some rest during the labor, you’re likely to be pretty tired yourself. Cue the Comfyhug Baby Carrier! Out of the womb, your baby craves close contact with others. Skin-to-skin is best. It’s called “Kangaroo care” and it regulates baby’s heart and breathing and calms and soothes them (https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1111/j.1552-6909.1996.tb01483.x). Strapping on a carrier is such a simple way to bond and soothe baby. So while your partner rests, enjoy the incredible feeling of your baby snuggled to your chest! Your arms will thank you, and the soft fabric of the Comfyhug Baby Carrier ensures you’ll both be comfortable as it cradles your skin.
I know you will be the very best birthing partner at your first (or next) birth! Stick to these tips and you’re sure to wow your partner with how supportive you can be! With patience, support, and love, your baby will come into this world knowing they are cared for, and that’s all that matters. Congratulations!