Preparing for birth and birth support
If you’re well prepared for birth, it can help you feel more confident about being at the birth as a support person.
Birth plans can cover many aspects of giving birth. As a birth support person, it’s good to be familiar with the birth plan.
If you’re supporting your pregnant partner, writing a plan together gives you a chance to talk about the support your partner might want and need during labour and birth.
Birth plans can include:
- what the birthing mother wants to wear during labour
- who the birthing mother wants for support during labour and at the birth
- how the birthing mother wants to manage pain during labour
- whether there are any procedures the birthing mother wants to avoid
- who will cut the umbilical cord.
Well before labour and birth, it’s a good idea for the birthing mother to share the birth plan with health professionals like the midwife or obstetrician or have it added to medical records. If health professionals read the plan in advance, they can better understand birth preferences. Health professionals might also have useful suggestions.
Unless the birth is planned as a homebirth, another part of preparing for labour and birth is packing the hospital bag.
You could help with writing a list of things to include in the bag – for example, a Bluetooth speaker for music, favourite lip balm, a comfy T-shirt, swimmers if the plan is to use water during labour and so on.
It’s a good idea to get familiar with what’s in the bag so you can grab things quickly when needed. Or you could offer to help with organising or packing the things on the list.
And it’s a good idea to pack some snacks and comfy clothes for yourself. Labour can go on for a very long time.
Routes and parking
If the birth is planned at a hospital or birth centre, you might also want to plan the route, where you’ll park the car if you’re driving, and which entrance to go to.
Labour and birth
You can prepare for labour and birth as a support person by:
- going to antenatal classes
- reading about what happens during labour and birth
- watching birth videos – for example, on YouTube
- visiting a birthing room to look at the equipment.
When you know about the stages of labour, you’ll understand how labour starts so you don’t rush to hospital or call the midwife too soon. You’ll also have some idea of what’s likely to help at each stage. And if you’re familiar with where the birth will happen, it might feel less overwhelming when the time comes.
It’s important for you to feel comfortable about your birth support role. If you have concerns about your role, talk through them with the birthing mother. If you’re not sure about being a support person, let the birthing mother know. They might want to find someone else.
Your birth support role: vaginal birth
During a vaginal birth, your role is to give continuous emotional and physical support, encouragement and reassurance.
You can also guide breathing and relaxation techniques and give reminders of information from birth classes. You can also offer massage or help the birthing mother get into comfortable positions.
Many birthing mothers are blunt about what they do and don’t want during labour and birth. Don’t be surprised if you’re told to do different things at different times.
It’ll also be your job to advocate. If the labour is long or distressing, the birthing mother might not be able to communicate clearly.
For example, if the doctor or midwife suggests an unplanned medical procedure or pain medication, ask for information and time to discuss it with the birthing mother, unless it’s an emergency.
If you find yourself in this situation, try to stay calm and polite when you’re talking to staff – they’re doing their best to look after everyone. Unplanned things can happen during labour, but it’s important that the birthing mother has the chance to understand, discuss and agree to them.
Your birth support role: caesarean birth
Just having you there in the operating theatre will be reassuring, but you’ll also need to provide encouragement with calm and positive words.
If it’s a planned caesarean, you can help by knowing what’s involved before, during and after the operation. Start by finding out more about planned caesareans and what to expect after a caesarean.
If an emergency caesarean is needed, the birthing mother might be exhausted from hours of labour, as well as worried and anxious. Depending on how things are going, it might be up to you to speak with health professionals.
If it’s your baby, there are many ways you can be involved in welcoming the baby to the world. You can stroke your baby while the birthing mother has skin-to-skin contact. You might also be involved in cutting the umbilical cord after your baby is born. If you’re cutting the cord, speak with your health professional. You’ll be given safety scissors to do the job.
When you need a break or you’re finding it hard to cope with birth
If you need a break or time to go to the toilet or make calls, time it for between contractions or wait until the midwife is there. This way you’ll know the birthing mother is being looked after.
It’s also worth knowing that the sight of blood can make some people feel faint. If you begin to feel light-headed during either vaginal or caesarean birth, sit down straight away – before you fall down. Put your head between your knees and take deep, slow breaths in and out. The light-headedness will soon pass.
As part of getting ready for these parts of birth, you could think about how you’ll stay calm during birth and do some practice. You might use breathing exercises or another strategy that you know works for you.