Birth can be a challenge for any woman, but being well prepared makes all the difference in helping her stay calm as she goes through the changes.
First things first: a birth partner is anyone who you choose to be there at the time of your birth, who is there to actively support and encourage you through your labor.
This could be your hubby, mom, sister or friend. It’s the person you will rely on the most both physically and emotionally (aside from a doula, if you’re having one).
Why is a birth partner so important?
Many women describe the active part of labour to be a time in which they are so immersed in their bodies and the sensations that they become unaware of their surroundings.
This is great, this is most certainly what we want!
However, it does mean that mom can be so deep within herself that she may not think of changing positions, drinking water, moving around or whatever can help baby come along easier.
If you give birth in hospital, midwives will likely not be able to stay with you for the entirety of your labor, so it’ important to have somebody you can rely on when they’re not there.
If you’re trying to have a natural birth in a hospital, you’ll need to have someone on your side as sometimes they can suggest procedures to help you, that you don’t feel are right for you.
Having someone there with you will help you when you feel vulnerable and more likely to opt for a procedure you later regret.
Even if you plan on having a home birth, you’ll find that the midwife will come along towards the end, as early labor can take some time.
At a home birth, it is equally important that you feel safe, comforted and protected.
A birth partner is there to…
We’ll go into the different ways your birth partner can help you, but just so we’re on the same page:
- Encourage you when you’re feeling tired
- Make important decisions on your behalf
- Provide physical support
- Help you manage the pain
- Make labor easier and shorter thanks to the support
And much more…
So let’s talk about how your birth partner can help during the stages of labour..
This is the time when the excitement kicks in for most women – the contractions start and she’s aware that in a few hours she’ll have her baby in her arms!
Contractions are not usually very strong or ‘effective’ at this time, which means that it’s a time when she needs to rest as much as she can and save her energy for later on.
She might not be able to sleep from the emotion or the contractions, but even if she can’t, lying down on her side or finding a comfortable position is best.
If she feels up to it, a little light stretching will do her the world of good.
Now’s also an excellent time to get in a light meal before active labor begins. Even just a little fruit and granola is ideal.
Not all women feel the urge to nest, but you will recognize it by her organizing the home one last time, getting things ready for baby’s arrival.
If this is the case, it’s usually a sure-fire sign that labor is around the corner. Help her move things, prevent her from doing too much.
Her wish is your command!
As long as she doesn’t need all her concentration on her contractions, it can be nice to distract her with a series or a film that you can cuddle up and watch together on the sofa.
Labor is also mentally challenging for a new mother, so if you can drive her attention into something else for a little while, you’ll be saving her mental energy too.
If she doesn’t feel up to it, another idea is to have a playlist to listen to. If you’ve done hypnobirthing together, play the soundtrack from early on so she can ‘get in the zone’.
During active labor, a woman might not be able to keep a conversation anymore – her tone might have changed, she might become a little tired or anxious.
The most effective contractions are towards the end of dilation, so it’s normal for labor to become stronger as it progresses.
It’s also a time, as I mentioned before, that she may not be fully aware of what’s going on around her and she needs you to tell her.
She may start to close her eyes to zone out, so if she hears people coming in and out of the room, gently let her know what’s happening and reassure her.
I found that for me, it was really useful to understand why my mood had suddenly changed – I’d read all about the stages of labor but it was good to be reminded: ‘oh, it’s cause I’m in active labor now’.
Emotional support during active labor
As she retreats into her own body, she may either need you close by her, or to take a step back and let her handle it alone.
Watch her reactions and give her either the space or the support she needs.
She’ll be feeling more tired and achey at this point, before the final adrenaline rush of pushing so it’s important to keep her spirits up.
Tell her she’s doing great, let her cry if she needs to, just be there.
If you’ve taken antenatal classes together, you probably already know some techniques that you can use for when labor becomes stronger.
Some of these pain management techniques may include:
- Leaning on you for support and to rest her pelvic muscles
- Needing you to hold her up
- Bringing her hot or cold flannels
- Gentle massage on certain points of her body
The best site I have come across for labor pain management tips is Spinning Babies.
Here’s a very informative article by them on Recognizing labor patterns (as every labor is different) and how to react accordingly.
Every woman is different – some women like to be touched, caressed and supported and others won’t feel like that at all.
During my labor, in between contractions I would kiss my partner a little – I’d read about it in Ina May’s Guide to Childbirth and thought I’d give it a go.
Let me tell you – even if you’re feeling reluctant it’s a really good release of the famous love hormone oxytocin, which will help you relax more and release your tired muscles as a result.
My midwife didn’t really treat transition separately to active labor, though it is usually more intense.
Transition happens when the body goes from dilating the cervix to preparing itself to birth the baby.
If a woman has been laboring nicely and kept calm and relaxed, she will be able to handle transition with more ease.
That said, for any laboring woman it is a time where you will probably need to encourage her the most.
Emotional and physical support in transition
You will likely here ‘I can’t do this anymore’ or ‘This is too hard’ – this is perfectly normal, and ironically signals that the end is near!
She can become a scared from the sudden changes a lot of women experience such as:
- Shaking/suddenly cold
- Hot sweats
- Nausea or vomiting
Usually, transition doesn’t last a long time, but for a laboring woman there is no sense of time at this point anymore and it can feel like forever!
As a birthing partner, you can help her get through it by:
- Becoming in tune to her needs – she may not want the same techniques you’ve used before
- Not feeling offended if she speaks to you in a harsh tone, it’s just the moment
- Help her change positions as she’ll be feeling uncomfortable staying too long in one position
- Help her to stay focused by keeping the atmosphere dark and quiet wherever possible
Second stage of labor/pushing
Thankfully, she’ll get a shoot of energy at this stage which will help her in this final stage of labor – getting baby out!
You’ll notice a sudden lift of mood in her and probably her saying she needs to do a poo – again totally normal.
It feels like needing a poo because this is baby descending the first part of the birth canal.
Emotional support during pushing
Allow her to push if she feels the urge, but the key is not to use all of her energy in what’s known as ‘premature pushing’
If she’s having an epidural, she may not feel the need to push at all in which case a little coaching from you wouldn’t go a miss.
Otherwise, how she approaches the pushing stage should be something you’ve already talked about so you’re both on the same page
(some women support like to be left to their own instincts, others feel they would like to be told when so as to control better the sensation)
Each woman will adopt a position that’s the most effective for her body to push – as long as she still has the freedom of movement to do so.
Popular positions for pushing usually are:
- Hands and knees
- Stand and lean
Moving into this position will most likely be instinctual for her, so she’ll need little guidance. If you see her getting tired though, it may be useful to suggest changing positions.
Of course, there is always back lying, but this is becoming more and more uncommon as we move into an era in which we support other gravity-producing birthing positions.
She might need you to hold her hand, hold her or use counterpressure as she pushes.
I did back lay because I was in a birthing pool and supported by the water underneath my body, and able to grip on the sides.
My partner held my back and neck when I felt I had no more force.
Birthing the placenta
By this point, you’ll have your lovely baby in its mother’s arms , but there’s one more stage of labor to go.
If all goes well and the mother releases a good amount of oxytocin after giving birth (this happens naturally from ‘falling in love’ with baby) and both mother and baby are kept warm, birthing the placenta shouldn’t be very tricky.
If the surroundings at the place of birth change or the mother feels unsure about something, the oxytocin release can be harder to achieve.
In this case, in a hospital, she would be offered active management to birth the placenta (an injection of oxytocin in her thigh).
If you plan on this or need to make this decision, reassure her that everything is okay, baby is here safe and healthy.
If she’s in pain after giving birth for whatever reason (stitches, tearing, or after pains) she may want you to take the baby so she can rest.
Skin to skin is always ideal, whether it’s mom or dad.
Immediately after birth
Mother and baby need to be moved from the place of birth into a bed or comfy place where breastfeeding can be established if that’s your feeding method of choice.
She may need help with going to the toilet, getting dressed and getting comfy propped up with pillows.
It’s a good idea to have painkillers at hand as she’ll be sore for a few days after birth.
If you’re her partner, this is a time in which you need to take over a lot of things in the house or discuss bring in extra care from relatives or friends.
I’ll be writing an article soon on how partners can help during the postpartum period, so watch out for that.
I hope this post helped, and you feel more informed and confident to support your birthing woman/friend!