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The Important Role of Birth Partners

The Important Role of Birth Partners

As a midwife I have worked with many women and families to help them achieve a positive birth experience. While each birth is different, there is one thing that I believe can make a huge difference to every woman’s birth – partner support. Your birth partner doesn’t necessarily have to be romantic partner, it could be your mum, sister, trusted friend or a doula.

While we often think of labour and birth as ‘women’s business’, birth partners actually have a big role to play! For the women reading this, I highly recommend sending this article to your birth partner.

Aside from providing a hand to squeeze, maybe uttering a few words of support, and cutting the cord - many partners feel that they don’t really have much of a role in the arrival of their baby.

For many partners, even if they did want to help, they often don’t know what to do. They don’t want to get in the way of the midwives, or annoy their partner while she’s having a contraction.

So, is there really a role for birth partners? Can they really make that much of a difference?
My answer is absolutely yes!

Research shows that women who receive continuous support and care throughout labour are less likely to need pain relief, or have major interventions, such as a caesarean, forceps or vacuum birth. As a birth partner you can be this continuous support person – from the first contraction right up to when your baby is born, and in the weeks after birth.

As a birth partner you can help to influence the hormonal cascade that happens in a woman’s body during labour, particularly in regards to the love hormone oxytocin. Oxytocin is released during sexual activity, birth, and breastfeeding, and is the hormone that causes the uterus to contract during labour. Levels of oxytocin gradually increase throughout labour, and are highest around the time of birth, when it contributes to the wonderful, ecstatic feeling women often describe after a physiological or natural birth.

Oxytocin is nicknamed the love hormone, because it is produced when we feel love and connection. Hugging, kissing, massage or even just being close to your partner can all help a woman to release oxytocin in labour.

Your adrenaline and stress hormone levels can impact a woman in labour, so it is also important for you to keep calm. Building a relationship with your midwife or doctor, and completing independent childbirth education are two things you can do to help you feel more confident in the labour room.

If you’re up for the important role of birth partner, here are some of my top tips for preparing:
• Understand the process of labour and the different stages, as well as some of the common interventions that may be offered during labour and birth.
• Remember that birth is a natural, physiological process that is not usually a medical emergency.
• Discuss with your partner both of your hopes and wishes for your birth, and create a birth plan together to help guide you on the big day.
• Brainstorm together physical and emotional ways that you can help during labour.
• Learn some massage or acupressure techniques that you can use during labour.
• When labour begins make her feel comfortable, safe and loved. This will help her to relax and allow her body to labour effectively.
• Watch some positive birth videos and take note of the birth partners role.
• Attend independent education classes with your partner.

A woman in labour needs to feel calm, safe and protected in order to labour well. You may be the only person in the room who is familiar to your partner, so you can have a huge impact on her ability to feel calm and secure. Your continuous support and reassurance makes a big difference. Get prepared, build your confidence and get ready for your important role as birth partner!

Photo Credit: SophieMosss Photography

Article written by PBC Expo Midwife Hannah