Men: A partner's guide to assisting during labour
You may not be the one physically giving birth to your baby, but there's plenty you can do to make the experience easier on your partner
Over the last few decades it has become increasingly common for men to be present during labour and birth, to the point where it's now relatively unusual for the man not to be there. While it's obviously not comparable with actually giving birth yourself, acting as a birth partner isn't an easy role and can require a great deal of patience, stamina and emotional strength. But many men would agree that there's nothing quite like being able to support your partner through the birthing experience and being there at the moment your child enters the world. So here are our tips on how to prepare yourself.
Thinking about birthing options
Your role as a birth partner starts well before you reach the delivery room as it's important that you are well prepared and have a clear understanding of how your partner would like to approach the labour. You may also have a different view point and particular concerns that you would like to bring across. The most important things you'll need to discuss are:
- The where - Assuming all goes well, you'll have a number of options for where the birth will take place. The kind of birth you would like to have at least partly dictates where the best location will be: At home, at a birthing centre or community maternity unit, or in hospital. If you go for a birthing centre or hospital then you may have a choice between a few of these, in which case it's a good idea to visit the labour wards together with your partner to see where you would both feel more comfortable.
- The how - It's very usef to gen up on what usually happens during childbirth, for example, knowing what the three stages of labour are, being aware of the medical terms commonly used, such as dilation and contractions, and being aware of some of potential causes of embarrassment for your partner. A good first step is to attend antenatal classes together.
- Pain relief -
Your partner may have already decided to take whatever pain relief is on offer, or she may be eager to avoid medical intervention. She may have clear ideas about having an active birth, or about using massage, waterbirth or aromatherapy or she might expressly want to avoid a particular form of pain relief. It's a good idea for you to read up on the different forms of pain relief on offer, discuss your partner's wishes well in advance and talk about how you may handle certain situations should they arise. Of course no-one can tell you how your labour will progress and you can't prepare for all eventualities, but you can discuss your general approach.
One way to focus your thoughts on the labour is to jointly write a birth plan. But do bear in mind that a birth plan is only really useful as a way of setting out your general approach to childbirth in the ideal scenario, and try not to become too attached to the idea of events happening in a certain way.
You can read more about birthing options on ThinkBaby.
Preparing for the birth
Besides settling on a birth plan or approach that you're both happy with, you'll need to get down to the nitty gritty.
- Work - You'll need to make arrangements for taking time off around the birth. How this is organised will depend very much on your work place, but wherever you work you'll need to let them know the due date well in advance and discuss how you will handle things when the time comes - most likely not on the due date!
- Prep and practice - If your birth plan is focused on active birth then you may need to put in some prep time in the run-up to labour. For example, you might need to read up more on birth positions, using a TENS machine, or how you can help your partner through massage for pain relief - you'll need to practice too of course!
- Prepare the route - If you're going to be driving your partner to the hospital then make sure that you have your route planned out in advance; you don't want to get lost on the way to the delivery room.
- Take along supplies - The birth may take quite a while, particularly if it's a first baby, so you'll need to plan ahead with snacks and supplies to keep your energy up. Books, magazines or other entertainment might be a good idea for times when not much is happening.
Your main job during labour is to provide your partner with support and encouragement. Emotionally she'll need to know that you are there for her, a hundred per cent, and that you have confidence in her. Physically, she may need such as: help moving around, pressure exerted on her lower back, providing with easily digestible food and drink and reminding of things such as moving around, drinking water and how to breathe through labour and delivery pains.
If the labour is quite painful and/or long and tiring, then she may only be able to speak a limited amount at times and may need you to communicate her needs, wishes and questions to the medical team, so good communication between you is important. Don't, though, take offence if she's blunt to the point of rudeness in expressing what she needs. You might also need to help out with communication the other way, re-capping or explaining what a doctor or midwife has said.
As a birth partner, it's crucial that you approach the birth with a flexible attitude and don't stick doggedly to the details of your birth plan at all costs as you never know what may happen once labour gets going. But it's also your role to support your partner's wishes as far as you can; to ask questions about procedures that are suggested, to find out if something your partner wanted to avoid is really necessary - and what the alternatives might be - and to ask for time to consider decisions if it's not a medical emergency.
Be prepared too, that your partner may change her mind about certain things once labour is in progress. For example, you may find that after several hours of labour a bit of medical pain relief does seem like a good idea after all, or she may have wanted to use massage for pain relief but find that she now can't bear to be touched.
More than anything, just be there for her, whatever labour brings. Give plenty of words of encouragement and try to reassure her by remaining calm if the birth is difficult or prolonged. And don't forget that if labour is long then you'll probably need to take a break yourself if you're going to be in any fit state to help her through to the end. The midwives should be able to tell you when would be a good time to slip out for a quick breather.
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