Labour and birth: the partner's role

A helpng hand ... Dads and partners can offer a lot of support and encouragement to women in labour.
A helpng hand ... Dads and partners can offer a lot of support and encouragement to women in labour. 

When a woman goes into birth, she'll usually have her partner with her - that's you. And although you don't have to go through the physical strain of having the baby, your supporting role is just as important.

Most couples will have worked out a birth plan to manage the labour and ensure an active involvement in the birth. A birth plan sets out your partner's preferred plan for the birth and can include information about what you'd like to happen if complications occur.

You've most likely prepared for labour and birth after attending antenatal classes, talking to each other and doing lots of reading and research. If you haven't, start right now!

How will we know when labour is on its way?
Your partner's body starts preparing for labour by releasing hormones during the last few weeks of pregnancy. The pre-labour symptoms listed below vary in intensity between different people, but can be used as a guide to show that your baby is on it's way:

  • Most women start to feel Braxton Hicks' contractions during the last few months of pregnancy. These weak contractions help prepare your partner's uterus for labour. The uterus tightens for approximately 25 seconds during a Braxton Hicks contraction, and if you place your hand on your partner's abdomen you may be able to feel them. The Braxton Hicks' contractions may become more intense and frequent the closer your partner gets to real labour.
  • Some time within the two to three weeks leading up to labour, your baby will position itself for labour by moving lower down and settling in the pelvis. Your partner will probably notice that the baby feels lighter as pressure is removed from the diaphragm and transferred to the bladder. Breathing becomes easier but she'll need to pee more often.
  • During pregnancy a plug of mucus seals the cervix to prevent infection. When labour is about to begin or is already underway, this plug will appear in her undies or the toilet as a sticky, brown or pink substance called "the show".

As your partner will be doing all the hard physical work, you can be of enormous help simply by being there; offering encouragement and support and making sure her wishes are met

What's my labour role?
As a couple, you've probably discussed birth and labour and decided on a birth plan. It's important that you are familiar with the birth plan and your partner's wishes - she'll most likely be far too busy and in too much pain too take care of the details!

As your partner will be doing all the hard physical work, you can be of enormous help simply by being there; offering encouragement and support and making sure her wishes are met. Here are some basic tips.

  • Stay close to your partner so you work out what she wants and needs, and provide it.
  • Be emotionally supportive and offer encouragement. It's easier if you keep talking to each other and maintain eye contact.
  • Reassure your partner about how well she's doing and how far she's come.
  • Keep your partner relaxed between contractions and offer to massage her.
  • If the hospital allows your partner to eat and drink, offer her snacks for energy.
  • Keep pain management and general comfort aids handy, eg: hot water bottle, massage oil, stress ball, face washer, lip balm, socks, tissues etc.
  • During painful contractions, help your partner manage the pain by being positive and calming her anxiety.
  • Help her with the breathing routine you practiced during antenatal classes, or if necessary, help her establish or adapt to a new method.
  • Support your partner physically to ensure she's as comfortable as possible - suggest positions, massage her, offer her comfort aids and talk to her.

What's my birth role?
By now, you'll have done an excellent job of helping your partner through the painful first stage of labour, and it's time to prepare for the delivery of your baby!

Your partner will still need lots of encouragement and support, so offer the following help:

  • Help your partner find a comfortable position - she probably already knows what's most comfortable, but you can (gently!) make suggestions and help her.
  • Help your partner with her breathing rhythm and remind her to take deep breaths as she pushes.
  • Comfort, reassure and relax your partner in between contractions by massaging her or wiping her face (if she wants to be touched).
  • When you can see the baby's head, make sure your partner can too if she'd like to. You can hold a mirror so she can see the head and the body emerging.

Labour and birth is a once-in-a-lifetime experience with this particular baby, so make the most of it. Labour and birth may not always go exactly to plan, but the most important thing is to be there offering love, support and encouragement.

Need advice? Ask others in the pregnancy tips and information forum.