Many women who have experienced labour and childbirth reflect on the support they received from their partner or other support person. Sharing the pleasure and the pain at such a special time, can make it a completely amazing experience.
It is a fact that most support partners are fathers, but it is also true that this isn’t always the case. Same sex couples, the mother’s parent, close friend, or sibling or even a doula, are all commonly included under the title of support person.
Read on to learn about being the best support person you can be.
First Thing First
Well before labor starts, talk with your partner about how she may want you to support her. A flexible plan which covers labour and birth preparation will help you both to feel more confident.
Try not to talk too much when your partner is having contractions. It can take an enormous amount of effort for a laboring woman just to get through the pain of a contraction. Avoid trying to make her laugh or minimise what she’s going through, even if it helps you to feel less nervous.
Follow her lead and be respectful of what she is going through.
There is no one ‘right’ level or way to support. You and your partner have a right to your own unique experience of your baby’s birth. Try not to compare with others.
Have a mental list of strategies you could try when supporting your partner through labour. Heat packs, light snacks, supportive pillows, music play-list etc. Give each a try and see how effective they are. Remember, the key to effective support is to be a good communicator.
It will help to be fully present and interested. Although you may find some aspects of labour and childbirth confronting, what is important is that you stay the course and be supportive. Labour can take a long time. It will pay for you to care well for yourself as well as you do your partner.
As close as you and your partner may be, ultimately, she is the one giving birth. If this means you need to sit or stand in an awkward or uncomfortable position for a while, so be it.
Expect to see a side of your partner you may not have experienced before. Pain can do strange things to someone’s brain. She may swear, blame you for what she is going through, show remorse for having a baby. Try not to be too sensitive about what she says and how she says it. And never, ever, make fun of her labour ward behaviour in a social setting.
Avoid feeling you need to ‘fix’ things for your partner. Even though this may come from a place of genuine love, ultimately you cannot control what happens when your baby is being born.
Try to understand why you are feeling as you are. You may comprehend more about the workings of the machines in labour ward than you do your laboring partner. That is OK, but just do not let your interest in the technology overcome what she is going through.
Do not assume your partner wants to be touched when she is laboring. Some women find back rubbing and arm stroking very irritating. Ask your partner what she would like you to do, and if she changes her mind and snaps at you, do not feel hurt.
- You can’t control your partner’s experience of pain. The only things you can control are your own responses and behaviours.
- Know where the boundaries lie. There will come a time when you will just need to trust the health professionals who are also supporting your partner.
- Your partner is in labour, she has not lost her onus of control. It is important you do not speak for her unless she needs you to or, you’ve had a conversation about when and how she may like you to speak on her behalf.
- Never show anger towards hospital staff or those trying to help. Loss of control and fear are often at the heart of anger. However, there is no place for hostility and anger towards nurses and doctors.
- This is your baby too. Your experience and feelings matter and are also important.
- Sometimes the strongest messages are not spoken. You can also communicate your support by your presence, your touch, eye contact and other responses to what is going on.
- Expect to feel a whole range of emotions when your partner is laboring and giving birth. It is normal to swing between feelings of anxiety and elation.
- Ask for help if you are struggling. Midwives and doctors are very much aware of the important role partner’s play. Speak up if you feel scared, faint, or unsure about something.
- Ask your partner if she would like you to time her contractions. Stay focused on her rather than the clock.
- Offer words of encouragement. Be genuine and reassuring in your praise.
5 Top Tips for Labour Support
- Think of the basics. Offer your partner drinks of water, ice chips to suck on, a cool washer on her forehead, backrubs, and help with position changes. Be thoughtful about what she is going through.
- Do not put a time limit on proceedings. Babies come when they are ready, labour suites and operating theatres are not places where time can be managed.
- Think of the things she is not going to be in the frame of mind to remember. Take photos and videos, know where her bag and belongings are, make sure your older children (if you have them) are being well cared for. In short, let your partner concentrate on having the baby and you think of the rest.
- Walk with your partner, go through the breathing steps with her, help her into the shower or birthing pool. Labour is hard work and it helps to have a strong, supportive person when moving around.
- Stay in contact with family and friends. But ask her before labour starts what she wants. Some women prefer not to share news about the baby’s pending arrival until it is actually born.
Enjoy the day. Even though you may feel worried about what is happening, this is still a very special time. Remember to have some fun and savour each moment of your baby’s arrival into the world.
Written for Nourish by: Jane Barry, Child Health Nurse and Midwife
A doula is a birth companion who has had training in assisting women when they are pregnant, birthing and after they’ve had their baby. A doula is also an advocate for the birthing mother and her partner and acts as a mediator or ‘go-between’ the expectant parents and their maternity care providers.
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