Attention support people… don’t underestimate your importance during the birthing journey (however she chooses to birth). This time in a woman’s life whether it is her first or third baby, is a whirlpool of emotion, reflection, anticipation, anxiety, belief and yearning. Assuming the role of birth partner or support person is a big responsibility and should be viewed as a privileged position. It can be hugely rewarding for you to be ring side when baby comes earth side, but also exhausting, particularly if labouring for many hours through the night, or even for days. Supporting a labouring woman involves both physical and mental stamina for you as well, so you will need to be prepared.
What to know as a birth support person
- Firstly, knowing your role
A birth support partner isn’t always the other parent of the baby. Many women choose friends, other family members, student midwives and doula’s to be additional members of the birth team. You should not attend a birth as a spectator, rather have a conversation with the expectant mum about the reason why she chose you and her expectations of your role.
- Understand her birth preferences (Birth Plan)
Consider attending antenatal education classes alongside the expectant mum or go along to some of her antenatal visits with her midwife or obstetrician so you too can learn about the labour and birth options. Become familiar with her ideal birth plan, be ready to act as her advocate, but also realise things don’t always go to plan, and the health professionals are also advocating for the same outcome “a happy mum and happy baby” so allow for some flexibility.
- Remember this is her journey
Every birth is different, it is important that if you yourself has had a baby you do not take away from the woman’s experience, comparing her’s to yours. She has been dreaming of this day for nine months, she will have her own set of ideals, coping strategies and beliefs about birth which must be respected. Additionally, times change, evidence-based practice informs how health professionals educate and support birthing women, so making comparisons about management in the moment takes the focus off this birth.
How can you offer support
- Attend antenatal education classes, and or clinic appointments with her
- Discuss her birth preferences, including if things deviate from the plan
- Be attentive to her emotional state in preparation for birth. Many women become apprehensive as the day draws near due to our culture of childbirth fear driven by our media and traumatic birth stories. Be the positive voice she needs to surround herself with.
- Go through a checklist of things to prepare: Hospital bag; Labour bag (if aiming a vaginal birth); car seat, plan for who will be feeding pets, or coming to look after other children.
Labour and Birth
- Stay calm, provide her with lots of positive encouragement
- If preparing for a caesarean, most often she will need to stay nil by mouth for a period of time. Ensure you eat something so as not to feel faint in the operating theatre.
- If labouring, remember in the beginning stage, it’s very much a waiting game. You are there to offer encouragement and company before the marathon.
- Give her space to move freely, don’t make her feel she is being observed by putting time pressures on her contractions. Early labour can be irregular and is a time to encourage rest/sleep. When active labour begins, the contractions will become more regular and her body language will change to become primal behaviours (rocking, stamping, tapping, and heavy breathing). Timing of contractions can now be observed, but ultimately, she will know when it is time to transfer to hospital by her own sense of safety.
- Consider calling her care provider, hospital or birthing centre to notify them of her labour
- Once there, help her settle into an unfamiliar environment by setting up the room with familiar smells (aromatherapy or massage oil), music (playlist she has prepared or likes), you may like to bring pictures or affirmations to bluetac to the walls. Ask to keep lights dimmed or off if not already.
- Ensure she remains hydrated – offer her sips of water or ice frequently, and offer her snacks (although often women don’t eat a lot in labour)
- Support her to change positions, you may have to support her weight if leaning into you, or squatting. Help her in and out of the shower or bath
- Help her concentrate on breathing and positive self-talk
- Massage her, hold her hand, wipe her face and hair with cool cloths
- Keep other family members updated if this is her wish
- Support her to make decisions, women often don’t articulate a lot in labour due to the unique capacity of the human brain to quieten our normally conscious awareness as a result of the circulating labour hormones (oxytocin and endorphins). This is an extraordinary gift of evolution, these hormones are responsible for making the uterus contract, and act as natural painkillers, but also released into the brain, stop the mind’s constant reflection on the physically intense nature and progress of labour.
- If the course of her labour requires medical intervention, your role is to help her understand the options available after discussions with care providers – let her make her own choice, then support her decision.
- During pushing, lots of encouragement, you may need to assist with holding her in a position.
- When baby is being born, help her bring bub onto her bare chest for skin-to-skin, you will be offered the scissors to cut the cord.
- The first 1-2hours after birth is a time for mum and bub to bond and initiate breastfeeding if that is her choice and both mum and baby are well. This may be a time for additional support people to allow the two parents some private time together to marvel in what they made.
- Stay in the moment, don’t immediately get on to phones and call everyone, enjoy this precious miracle, let baby hear your voice, feel your touch and love.
- There is a lot of activity still in the room after birth with cleaning up, weighing baby, preparing for transfer to the ward etc. Helping with packing up personal items and getting out clean clothes is helpful.
- Assisting to get mum up and into the shower
- Its your time to bond.
Caring for yourself
- Being a support person can be exhausting, so make sure you have a plan possibly with another support person to take some time out for a rest break, toilet break or short walk.
- Pack some snacks and drinks for yourself and wear comfortable clothing. Ensuring spare clothes in case you get wet or cold in the air conditioning.
- Pack toiletries to freshen up
- If you feel negatively impacted in anyway by the birthing experience. It is important you ask to speak with one of the care providers.
She will remember this moment for a lifetime… you have an impact on labour progression and how the mother feels about her experience. Although she is vulnerable, she does not need sympathy, offer encouragement, believe in her and be a pillar of strength when she needs you.