How you can be the best birthing partner.
In discussing whether or not you will be present at the birth, it is important that you both listen to each other’s wishes and include any misgivings you may have. Many couples feel that sharing the experience of birth enriches their relationship and feelings towards the newly born child. Some men say they wouldn’t miss this moment for anything in the world and insist on being present to symbolically cut the cord. Other men are not so eager to witness their partner in pain and covered in blood. Think practically about what is suitable. Firstly, do you want to be present? Would your partner want you there? Would you be willing to help? Would you be able to cope seeing your partner’s perineum cut during an episiotomy, or would witnessing a Caesarean be too disturbing for you? In making this decision, there is no right and wrong. You may wish to remain with your partner throughout the labour then make a hasty retreat before the actual delivery.
Be honest. If you would rather be on the other side of the door, explain this to your partner. In many cultures, birth is something that is attended by women only.
Sometimes considered a wild card, a birthplan provides something for you to aim towards. It helps prepare a woman psychologically for the labour and delivery and can highlight those wishes that are important to her.
Nothing unites and divides women so much as the experience of childbirth. Everyone has his or her own idea of what a good birth entails. Some women are determined to do it naturally at home with a midwife and birthing partner present and no medical pain relief. Others are so frightened they opt for an elective Caesarean even if it is not medically necessary.
Most women fall somewhere in-between, and plan for a natural labour, with the option of pain relief when the going gets tough or medical intervention if complications occur.
A birthplan sets out the preferred plan for the birth and can include information about what you would like to happen if any complications arise. If you are to be present at the labour and/or birth, it is important you are familiar with the birth plan and your partner’s wishes. You may become her voice when she is unable to talk.
Preparation For Labour
Your partner’s body prepares for labour by increasing levels of hormones in the last weeks of pregnancy. Symptoms may include:
- Within the last month of pregnancy, your baby may position itself lower in the pelvis in the cephalic presentation of head downwards. This releases pressure on your partner’s diaphragm but transferring pressure to the bladder. Breathing may become easier but the need to pass urine increases.
- Braxton Hicks practice contractions. Some women experience these from mid pregnancy although others may be oblivious to them until the latter stages of pregnancy. These contractions prepare both your baby and your partner’s uterus for labour. They stimulate the release of oxytocin, the hormone necessary for the progression of labour. Oxytocin also helps numb the area. During a practice contraction, the uterus tightens for 25-30 seconds. The contractions become stronger and more frequent as labour intensifies.
- Your partner may instinctively begin “nesting” by cleaning and organising for the baby’s arrival.
- Your partner is likely to go through fluctuating emotions.
- During pregnancy, a mucus plug seals the entrance to the cervix to protect your baby from infection. This plug comes away as the cervix begins to dilate in what is known as a “show”. This is often a signal of the onset of labour.
Practical Preparation For Labour
- Become familiar with the acupressure points used during labour and delivery and be prepared to massage them when needed
- If you have planned a hospital or birth centre delivery, help your partner pack the labour bag. Many women are forgetful and absent-minded during the latter stages of pregnancy.
- If you are planning to drive to the hospital/birthing centre, make sure you know the route ahead of time.
- If you plan to bring your newborn home with you in your car, you are legally required in Australia to have an approved car restraint for your baby. The capsule is the most common option and comes with a bolt to anchor it in your car. Make sure your car has the necessary anchor point. Recent car models all have this facility.
- If you have older children, help organise where they will be during the labour and birth. You may need to pack an overnight bag for them if they are staying elsewhere.
- Be aware that childbirth involves a lot of blood and gore.
Onset Of Labour
Labour can begin in many different ways. Some signs are more definite than others are and if several indications occur simultaneously, it is likely labour has already begun. The following may indicate the onset of labour:
- contractions are progressively more frequent and painful
- contractions intensify and cannot be relieved
- a pink or blood-tinged “show”
- waters breaking – this could be a gush of clear fluid or a small trickle
- increasing abdominal discomfort
- backache – a low central ache getting worse
- passing urine every few minutes
- difficulty concentrating
- an inability to talk
Contact Your Doctor/Midwife
Contact your doctor or midwife if any of the following occur:
- your partner’s waters break
- there is bleeding
- contractions are strong enough to leave your partner breathless
Once the waters have broken, there is a risk of infection within the pregnancy sac. Even if there are no contractions, labour nearly always starts within a few hours of the waters breaking. If more than 24 hours lapses, it may be advisable to induce labour.
The very early stages of labour can be unsettling for a woman. Many women find it best to remain active both physically and mentally.
Your Role During Labour
- stay close to your partner so you can provide help
- remain positive, even if you are panicking
- be emotionally supportive and offer encouragement
- reassure her about how well she’s doing and how far she has come
- help her relax in between contractions
- offer to massage her back and acupressure points
- offer her snacks for energy
- have water handy
- keep pain management and general comfort aids handy. For example, hot water bottle, massage oils, stress ball, facial spray, lip balm, socks, tissues etc
- ensure that your partner is comfortable
- during painful contractions help her manage the pain by being positive and calming her anxiety
- help with the breathing routine
Your Role At Birth
- Offer the following help when preparing for the delivery:
- Know your partner’s birthplan and wishes. You may need to speak for her when labour intensifies.
- help her find a comfortable position and support her
- help her focus on her breathing rhythm and remind her to take deep breaths as she pushes
- comfort, reassure and relax her in between contractions by massaging her or wiping her face
- when you can see the baby’s head make sure she can too, hold a mirror so she can see the baby emerge
Labour and birth often don’t go exactly to plan. The most important thing is to be there, offering love, support and encouragement.
Father's Labour Bag For A Hospital/Birth Centre
- layers of clothing as temperature can change
- bathroom items to freshen up including a toothbrush and toothpaste, facecloth, deodorant.
- plenty of snacks as it is unlikely that you will be catered for and you may spend hours waiting.
- money for parking or to buy something for you or your partner to drink or eat
- small change for phone calls as most hospitals do not allow mobile phones
- music for you and your partner
- a book or magazine to read
- a diary to record the birth
- a camera or video camera to record the birth (check hospital or birthing centre policy first to avoid disappointment)
- games to occupy you both during idle periods
- a list of prioritised phone numbers
- Australian Bush Flower Emergency Essence
- aromatherapy labour blend to massage your partner
- refreshing facial spray
- lip balm
- fresh facecloths
- fresh snacks
- Australian Bush Flower Emergency Essence
- a symbolic photograph or picture of your partner’s choice
- plenty of sanitary pads for postnatal bleeding