If you’re preparing to support someone through childbirth, congrats! I’m excited that you get to be part of something so special. As a doula, I regularly see husbands, wives, girlfriends, boyfriends, mothers, sisters and many more giving so much love and kindness showed to laboring women. It is truly a beautiful thing. But I also see a lot of people hesitating and uncertain of their role as a birth partner. While every birth is different and the specifics of what’s most useful (or least helpful) varies from person to person, these are some well-tested tools for being a great birth partner.
Here are 8 tips to help you be the best birth partner possible.
1. Be part of a great team. A great birth team includes people who can offer emotional and physical support, labor coping strategies (or for a planned c-section, surgery support), decision-making help, information and educational support, advocacy, and logistical help (like knowing where to go, who to call, and when). They are people the laboring mom feels comfortable having an intimate bodily experience with. Know your limits and ask for help from other people who can assist in providing the support that your partner needs. Hire a doula, invite a friend, or have family present. But know also who should not be part of the team.
2. Pack your bags. Though mom is probably the one packing the hospital bag, the birth partner is usually the one getting things out of the bag as needed during labor and postpartum. So know where things are so you’re not pulling out everything frantically looking for “that little blue pouch” or “the red folder” buried somewhere! Make sure the bags also include what you, birth partner, will need, like caffeine to help stay alert, a change of clothes and deodorant, and a headache reliever in case a sleepless night leaves you feeling off.
3. Practice and Prepare. Being a birth partner is a new experience for most people. So learn about childbirth, practice your support, and prepare. You can take classes, read books, watch videos online, listen to friend’s stories, or talk to your doula. Attend as many prenatal visits as possible so you can ask questions to your doctor or midwife. Practice different labor positions, breathing exercises, and massage techniques. Help and familiarize yourself with the birth plan, and talk about how you'll handle advocating for your partner and the birth experience that she wants. Finally, being a great pregnancy partner is a wonderful way to prepare for being a great birth partner. So give her foot rubs, comfort her through nausea and reassure her if she gets stressed or scared.
4. some “never-says.” Talking to your partner or wife is a great way to show your support during labor, but it's best to know what she wants to hear from you. Every woman is different, but there are common no-nos. For example, don't tell your partner that she is being too loud or inappropriate. Don't shush her, and if she curse, let her. Never say “I know” when she tells you how she feels. “I hear you” is often a better acknowledgment. Finally, never complain about being tired, about how long it is taking, or about your own aches. The internet overflows with lists of things never to say to someone in labor, you can learn from others' mistakes!
5. Fill your pockets. Having extra hair ties, a chapstick, and some gum or breath mints tucked in your pockets can be really valuable. I also always carry a vomit bag — highly recommended!
6. Keep calm. Labor support is best given from someone who is calm (or at least good at faking it). A calm birth partner can help with breathing and with touch or massage for relaxation and pain relief. It’s easy to expose your own anxiety or stress if you touch someone in a fast or distracted feeling way so try to keep touch intentional and relaxed. And if you know that you might not be great at keeping calm, consider having someone else on the team who can help you stay calm!
7. Find the rhythm. Contractions come in a relatively predictable way—about a minute-long contraction followed by a break (anywhere from a minute to 10 minutes depending on the stage of labor). Try to find this rhythm and stay present with it so you know when you'll be needed. If you are providing physical support during contractions, like holding hands or staying in eye contact, you’ll want to be ready when the contraction begins. It can be frustrating if you have a hard time anticipating the next contraction and need to be called over or brought back from a distraction like your phone. Between contractions you can offer a beverage or snack, suggest a trip to the bathroom (it can be hard to remember you need to pee during labor), or help with a position change.
8. Get ready for all the feelings. Being a birth partner can be physically and emotionally intense, especially with someone you love. When I gave birth to our first son, my husband was an amazing birth partner. But when we talked about it afterwards, he confessed he was overwhelmed seeing me in pain and feeling he knew so little (even after much preparation). He cried in the hallway during a quick break. How hard it was—for both of us!—is part of what led me to become a doula. So, get ready for an intense, incredible, overwhelming, life-changing, loud, messy, beautiful, all-of-the-above experience. Welcoming a new baby in the world is a beautiful act, and being a birth partner is an honor — be grateful for the opportunity and ready to be really moved by it.
Photo by Lauren Crew for Well Rounded.