Pregnancy and delivery are among the biggest physical and mental challenges people can face in life, and an integral part of helping a mother through this difficult time is the assistance of supportive birthing partners. This is a very testing role to assume, and many birthing partners feel that they were not fully prepared for everything that would be required of them on their first time. Here is a guide to being the best birthing partner you can be, and everything to be aware of and prepared for.

Preparation is Key

If you have never been present at, or even seen a video of a live birth, this should be a first port of call. It is common for birthing partners to feel ill-equipped to handle the medical realities of delivery, which tends to involve a good deal of stress, noise and physical pain. This can prove overwhelming for some, and so should be prepared for well in advance. Read books on pregnancy and delivery, and take advantage of the masses of up-close-and-personal birthing videos available online. You may find it beneficial to familiarise yourself with a variety of birthing situations, from birthing pools and caesarean sections to breech position and other complications, to ensure you are prepared for any situation that may arise. Attending antenatal classes with the expectant mother is also a good way to prepare, as you will be taught various relaxation exercises and more about what will be expected of you as a birthing partner.

Be Up To Date

Even if you don’t attend midwife appointments and ultrasounds with the mother, it is wise to be brought up to speed on any developments and other circumstances surrounding the pregnancy that you should be aware of. By gaining as clear an idea as possible of any prospective issues that may arise, you will be as prepared as possible to help and support the mother through it.

If you have the opportunity to talk with a midwife or other medical professional before the birth, it is a good chance to ask any questions you may have.

Being Ready for Action

Labour and delivery is unpredictable at the best of times, so it is a good idea to spend the last few weeks of the pregnancy in as ‘ready’ a state as possible, as you don’t want to be caught out unprepared when the time comes. This should involve having a small bag packed with any things you or the mother may need during the delivery and hospital stay, and doing what you can to stay well-fed and well-rested. You may also find it helpful to have some pre-made food on hand that can be grabbed and eaten on the go in case you are called upon unexpectedly. Keep phones charged and on ‘loud’, keep the car keys in a safe and accessible place, and make sure you have fuel. You don’t want to be running around madly stocking up on supplies when labour is underway.

Ask Questions

The best interests of the mother are the most important thing during this time, so you should do whatever you can to find out what the mother wants during her labour and delivery. Ask for a copy of her birth plan – or if possible, be there when it is written – and gain a thorough understanding of her preferences. Will physical contact be comforting to her, or aggravating? Does she want verbal reassurance and/or music, or would she find silence more comfortable? What are her preferences when it comes to relaxation and pain relief? Try to plan for every eventuality.

Do Your Best

Not only is labour and delivery a hugely challenging experience for the mother, but it is difficult for those loved ones around her too. Seeing someone in pain, especially someone you are close to, is not pleasant, and being powerless to help relieve the pain can make birth an overwhelming experience for the partner. Birth will probably not be an easy or consistently joyful experience for the birthing partner, but as long as you have a good understanding of what the mother wants for her delivery, and you do everything you can to support and respect her wishes, you will do well. Remember, you have been chosen to be by the mother’s side for a reason, so just go with it, try to be patient and calm, and do your best.

Handling the Unexpected

Childbirth is safer than ever for both the mother and child, but it is still a complex medical process, and things can go wrong. Although it is not a great topic to linger on, a succinct conversation with the mother beforehand about how she would prefer to handle unexpected or difficult issues, such as the baby experiencing health problems soon after birth, or the mother herself sustaining injury. Such difficult possibilities are rare, and not nice to consider, but it is better to have discussed such things and have at least some idea of what the mother prefers, if any problems do arise. In the event of any considerable injury or illness, although distressing, it is important to see legal advice as soon as possible, as you may be eligible to make a claim for birth injury negligence compensation.

Ninety-five per cent of women with low-risk pregnancies will give birth without any complications or need for intervention, and the health services in the UK are among the best in the world, so as a birthing partner, you are already well supported and have a low likelihood of having to help the mother through any significant issues. But delivery is a significant and trying time in a woman’s life, and if she has asked you to be there to help her through childbirth, it is likely already have the qualities she is looking for in a birthing companion. So prepare yourself in terms of both knowledge and necessities, and remain focused on giving support and care to your friend, as this is where your responsibilities lie.


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