When thinking about preparing for childbirth, most of the attention naturally goes to the mum-to-be. After all, she’s the one who’s going to be doing all the work right?
That’s the exact attitude I had before the birth of my first baby. So much so that I told my husband that he didn’t need to bother doing antenatal classes. And I’m a midwife. I really should have known better and understood the hugely valuable role that dads and partners can play during labour.
Lots of partners feel a sense of helplessness when it comes to childbirth. They don’t know what they can do in a practical sense or how they can best support their partner.
It starts with education
One of the first things a partner can do is get educated about childbirth so that they feel prepared and understand what will be happening and why. While the mother may be the one actually birthing the child, having a supportive partner who understands the process is so critical.
For many parents, their first experience of birth is when they’re in the middle of it. Anything you can do to prepare through quality education (not just the stories of other parents) will help you both feel calm, confident and empowered as you prepare to welcome your precious baby.
An educated partner will be in far better position to be supportive than one who is overwhelmed and underprepared for the process. You need your partner to be your superhero – one that supports you physically and emotionally, listens to you and voices your shared concerns or questions, encourages you, anticipates your needs and reminds you what an incredible job you’re doing.
How partners can help during childbirth
If your partner is anything like mine, they’re going to want practical, actional steps they can take to support you during labour. Here are some of my top tips for expecting parents on how to best support their partners during childbirth:
Before the birth
• Practice massage techniques. Use these during labour to assist with pain management. It’s great to do the practice beforehand so that it’s not completely foreign on the day and it also has the added benefit of promoting relaxation and a sense of connection between you both.
• Practice different birth positions with you. It’s very hard to know beforehand what positions are going to feel right for in labour until you’re experiencing it! It’s important to practice different positions together, experimenting with support techniques and using different aids (such as a chair, birth ball, birthing stool, rebozo Mexican shawls etc.)
• Help you prepare your hospital bag. This is a super-practical and easy thing that you can do and check-off together. It’s always best to have this ready ahead of time, but if you’re caught off-guard and need your partner to pack your hospital bag, it will make a huge difference if you’ve spoken about this and planned it already.
During early labour
• Remind you that you need to rest. If you can rest and even get some sleep during this early labour phase, then do. Your support partner can actively encourage you to rest and relax (as they should try and do too!). Let them do whatever they can to help you get comfortable as you try and rest your body for the big event.
• Run you a bath or shower. Hot water can be a simple yet effective tool to help relieve any pain.
• Simply keep you company. The early stage of labour can go on for many hours, or even days. Your partner can be great support just by simply being with you and even distracting you. Try and enjoy this time together; whether that’s by going for a walk outside, watching a movie together or grabbing some take away from your favourite café.
• Keep track of contraction length and time in between. They don’t need to obsess over the contractions and chart them on a graph (Ross may or may not have done this when I was in labour with Polly…) but just keeping a general awareness about how frequently they’re happening and how long they’re going for can be useful.
• Take care of all the practicalities. Let your partner do all the things that need to happen for you to get out the door when the time comes. Let them pack the car with your bags, pillows and make sure you both have snacks to keep your energy levels up. Knowing all the little things are taken care of will help you relax and maintain a sense of calm and preparedness.
• Help you relax. If you’ve practised massage techniques and discussed the types of things you like in order to help you relax (music, aromatherapy diffuser etc.), your support partner can offer these things and try and anticipate your needs without you needing to ask.
During active labour
Once you are in active labour, you will likely feel the need to really go within yourself and focus. Some of the ways your partner can help in this phase of labour include:
• Remind you how well you’re doing. Praise, support and words of encouragement can go a long way.
• Use massage and touch. There may be times when you can’t bear the thought of someone touching you while you’re in labour and at other times, touch and massage will provide welcome relief. Connecting with your partner in this way through physical touch has many benefits during labour including; aiding the release of hormones that act as natural pain killers! (you’ll learn all about this in the Ultimate Prenatal Program) and helping to relieve pressure during contractions.
• Remind you to stay active. When you’re focused and in the moment during labour, it can be easy to lose track of time. Your support partner can help to remind you to stay active and change positions often, which will encourage a more efficient labour.
• Be proactive. During this phase, it’s completely natural to want to go within and not talk too much. Your support partner can be incredibly helpful just by anticipating any needs without you having to ask. For example; hold up a cup of water with a straw, grab some lip balm (something as simple as dry lips can be super annoying during this time), brush your hair from your face, check that you’re not too hot or cold. It’s these little things that will help you to feel more relaxed and comfortable in your birth environment.
During the transition stage
This is one of the most common stages when a woman will feel like giving up during labour. It’s also when she’ll most need her incredible support partner by her side, reminding her what an absolute wonder woman she is!
• Remind you that every contraction is one step closer to meeting your baby. Unless you tell them to stop talking (which is quite possible at this stage, sometimes the smallest of things can be hugely irritating!), constant encouragement and praise is so valuable.
• Be with you. Hold hands, breathe together, look you in the eye, kiss your forehead. Connection and physical support will help you feel like you’re in this together. Because you are!
• Remind you to relax in between contractions. Having someone to remind and encourage you to relax, catch your breath and make the most of the space in between contractions is important. Labour can be tiring so you need to both get in the rhythm of relaxing and then preparing to embrace the next contraction, which is one more contraction you’ll never have to have again!
During the pushing stage
• Help you to find the ideal position for birth. There are so many ways to give birth that don’t involve laying on your back in bed! Having your partner there to help you move and encourage you to try new positions until you find one that feels comfortable and productive (during a contraction there will be certain positions that you find feel more ‘productive’ when it comes to bearing down) will be invaluable at this point
• Constant praise and encouragement. They’ve been supporting you and praising you all throughout labour and now is the time to keep it up for the final leg of your marathon that you’ve run together. “You’re so strong” “I’m so proud of you” “I know you’ve got this”
• Remind you to breathe. When you’re focused on pushing and riding each contraction you may very well forget to breathe. Your partner’s gentle reminders and encouragement to keep breathing, especially in between contractions, will be so beneficial right now.
After baby has arrived, your journey as parents is just beginning and you’re both going to support each other in different ways. While it can be an overwhelming time filled with lots of ‘new’, it’s also a beautiful and exciting time for you both.
Your relationship and roles within it may shift and change but there are endless ways you can support each other as you adapt to life together with a tiny, dependent, super cute human.
Starting your parenting journey together as a team in the lead up to childbirth and the big day itself is so important. You’re in this together and your partner absolutely can and should play an active role in your labour. Not only will it set you up for a better birth experience, but it will also make you feel more connected and ready to start this new phase of your lives together.
Read next …
Taking care of your body pre and post-baby can make a world of difference. Here are a few articles to help guide you in the right direction:
- How to avoid muscle separation in pregnancy
- 5 exercises in 5 minutes to help prepare for labour
- How to look after your pelvic floor after having a baby
Edwina Sharrock a registered midwife and mother of two. She’s also the founder of Birth Beat – an online antenatal course that is simple, easy and convenient to watch from the privacy of your home. Birth Beat includes prenatal yoga, a complete prenatal course, plus breastfeeding, sleep and settle. All delivered to you in easy to watch videos.