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Dr Sarah Temple

A family doctor with more than 20 years experience working with children in both General Practice and Mental Health Services. Trained to run Emotion Coaching Parenting Courses. She has a special interest in the link between child and parental wellbeing.
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Birth and Labour

What is the role of a birth partner?

Although birth partners often report feeling useless and powerless during labour they have at least three very important jobs to do during your birth.
In Short

Your birth partner can:

Provide emotional support.

Provide practical support.

Be your advocate.

Who is your best birth partner?

It is important that you discuss this beforehand and decide who will be the best birth partner for you. It may be your partner, it may be your mum, it may be your big sister, it may be your best friend, or it can be a doula – and you can have more than one. Some women will choose to have both their partner and their mum there so that they can take turns helping, or one of them can get you something to eat while the other one rubs your back. For once in your life, this is all about you.

Throughout history, women have given birth with the help and support of other people. In the past, the people who attended at births were experienced women who had given birth themselves before. More recently in the West, our birth partners have become our husbands, boyfriends, girlfriends and wives. The good news is that they love you and want to support you – but they will need to prepare as best they can if they have need been a birth partner before or never given birth themselves before. With the help of antenatal classes such as active birth classes your birth partners can play a deeply important role in the birth of your baby.

What emotional support can be provided?

First and foremost your partner is there to provide emotional support you through this momentous physical and emotional event. All women who give birth are brave. Whether you give birth by a natural vaginal delivery, an elective caesarean or an assisted birth you will need some emotional support.

Your partner support needs to be sensitive and respond to your needs during labour.

Sometimes you will need him or her to be the cheerleader who praises you as you breathe through your contractions – or as you lie on your side and stay really still while your spinal block anesthesia is administered – or as you allow a ventouse suction cup to be used to help your baby be delivered.

At other times you will not want to interact with anyone; your partner needs to put his or her ego aside and respond to what you want and need. At other points you might feel be frightened, overwhelmed or exhausted and, again, your birth partner needs to respond to your need by being your rock – reassuring you that you will be okay and that they are with you for every contraction, every push, whatever it takes. Even if you do not want to interact with anyone it’s not the same as being alone. A quiet presence can be a huge emotional support.

If you want to use hypnobirthing or visualization techniques your birth partner can help you to come to a state of deep relaxation and trust or help you to visualize your cervix gently opening and your baby coming out slowly but surely (or whatever visualisations you have been working on before the birth).

What practical support can be given?

When people take on big physical feats such as running marathons or triathlons they have a support team to allow them to get on with the challenge they face and have everything they need to hand. It’s the same during the labour, delivery or birth of your baby: your birth partner needs to put you first and serve you. He or she might be tired, but you are more tired; your need is greater than theirs in this event. A good birth partner is at your side with drinks, food, back rubs, to hold your hair if you are sick, to stroke your face.

We strongly recommend trying to use active birth techniques where possible to make labour as effective and empowering as possible. Your birth partner has a really big role here to help you to get into good comfortable birthing positions that allow gravity to help the baby to be delivered gently and efficiently. You may need your back massaged while you are kneeling on all fours or you may want to have your arms around his or her neck as you bear down in a kneeling position. Make sure you have done classes together so your birth partner knows what he or she needs to do to help you have an effective, active birth.

How can my partner make decisions for me?

Your birth partner should know what your birth plan is and what decisions you would like to make, if possible, during your labour and the birth of your baby. If you are exhausted, in pain or feeling bullied by anyone attending your birth it is the job of your birth partner to verbalise your wishes so that you can concentrate on the birth. You will also need to discuss and trust them to make a decision if something new arises during labour that isn’t in your birth plan. So before the birth, you need to discuss lots of scenarios and plan ahead. So if, for example, the midwife recommends an episiotomy to prevent tearing, your birth partner needs to know your preference. By preparing and thinking about decisions that might need to be made during labour and birth it will take away some of the anxiety. It’s like doing first aid training, you are hoping for the best, preparing for the best but having skills, decisions and practice in place to help you to cope when decisions and events happen during the birth. This should give you the freedom to be in the moment with your birth and go with the flow as you have thought and planned ahead.

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DISCLAIMER
This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.