What does a birthing partner need to know?

A birthing partner plays an essential role in providing support during labor and childbirth. Having a trusted partner present can help the birthing parent feel more in control, calm, and confident as they go through the challenging process of bringing a new life into the world.

The birthing partner is there to provide both physical and emotional assistance throughout the stages of labor, birth, and immediate postpartum. Their responsibilities include providing comfort measures, advocating for the birthing parent’s wishes, facilitating communication with the medical team, and helping the birthing parent stay focused and relaxed. An effective birth partner can make a significant difference in the birthing parent’s experience.

This guide will provide key information and tips for how birthing partners can best fulfill their critical role. By learning techniques for pain management, comfort measures, communication, and more, a birthing partner can feel prepared to help make the labor and birth positive and empowering.

Providing Emotional Support

Providing emotional support during labor is key to helping the birthing parent feel reassured and empowered through the process. Some techniques to provide comfort include:

Reassurance – Offer words of encouragement and affirmation like “You’re doing great!” Let them know you believe in their ability to get through each contraction.

Touch – Hold their hand, massage their back, feet or shoulders, apply cool compresses, or simply maintain physical closeness. Touch releases oxytocin to help ease pain (1).

Breathing guidance – Demonstrate slow, deep breathing and remind them to breathe fully. Help time their breaths with contractions.

Distraction – Keep them focused on the present moment between contractions with music, conversation, laughter or guided imagery.

Comfort items – Have favorite items on hand like music, scents, pillows or blankets to create a soothing environment.

Privacy – Advocate for their preferences by controlling who is present and minimizing interruptions from staff.

Movement/position changes – Suggest position shifts to ease discomfort and encourage free movement.

Acknowledge emotions – Reflect their feelings back to them. Let them know it’s normal to experience a range of emotions.

Self-care reminders – Prompt them to stay hydrated, nourished and rested between contractions when possible.

(1) https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK304186/

Helping with Pain Management

As a birthing partner, you can provide critical support in helping the birthing parent manage pain during labor and delivery. Here are some of the most effective ways to assist with relaxation, breathing techniques, massage, and other non-medication methods of pain relief:

Relaxation techniques like visualization, hypnosis, and guided imagery can help distract from the pain and induce a state of calm. Remind the birthing parent to use the techniques they learned in childbirth class. You can also lead them through a soothing guided meditation or imagery exercise.

Pay close attention to their breathing and offer encouragement to take slow, deep breaths. Remind them to breathe in through the nose and out through the mouth. Help time their breathing to the pace of contractions. Using certain breathing patterns like the pant-blow technique can also help manage pain.

A gentle massage on the lower back, shoulders, or other areas of tension can provide comfort. Apply firm yet soothing pressure and ask for feedback on what feels best. Massaging pressure points on the ears, hands, and feet may also relieve discomfort. Avoid massaging the abdomen.

Suggest changing positions frequently to find the most comfortable ones. Allow the birthing parent to move around, rock, or sway their body. Apply a cool cloth to the forehead or neck for relief.

Stay calm, positive, and reassuring. Your supportive presence alone can help tremendously. Provide words of encouragement and praise their efforts to cope. Remain patient, attentive, and ready to assist however you can.

Advocating for the Birthing Parent

As a birthing partner, one of your most important roles is to advocate for the birthing parent and make sure their preferences and birth plan are respected. This starts with thoroughly understanding their birth plan and priorities for the birth experience. Discuss these details with them ahead of time so you understand what is most important to them 1.

During labor, speak up on their behalf if needed. Remind medical staff of any preferences outlined in the birth plan, such as preferences for pain relief, position for delivery, or newborn procedures. If the birthing parent is unable to communicate, you may need to relay their wishes or ask clarifying questions. Make sure consent is obtained for any procedures. Advocate for their needs, like requesting more pillows, ice chips, or a change of position 2.

Keep in mind that birth plans are flexible. If changes need to be made for health reasons, explain the rationale to the birthing parent and help them process the emotions. Reassure them that they are still in control and are making the best decisions for themselves and the baby.

Postpartum Care

After the baby is born, the birthing parent will need a lot of help and support during the postpartum period. As their partner, you can provide immense help by assisting with breastfeeding, diaper changes, and household chores.

If your partner plans to breastfeed, you can help by bringing the baby to them for feedings, providing water and snacks during nursing sessions, and burping the baby afterwards. Offer encouragement and emotional support as your partner navigates the learning curve of breastfeeding in the early days and weeks.

Take over diaper duty as much as possible, especially in the first few weeks as the birthing parent recovers. Learn how to properly clean the umbilical cord area and change diapers to allow your partner to rest.

Keep the household running smoothly by making meals, doing laundry, tidying up, and taking care of pets. Your partner needs time to heal physically and bond with your new baby. Take on as many daily tasks as you can handle so they can focus on recovering and caring for your little one.

Be patient, compassionate, and willing to adjust the division of labor as needed. Every birthing parent’s needs are different. Check in regularly to see what would be most helpful during the postpartum period.

Signs of Complications

As a birthing partner, it’s important to know the warning signs of potential complications during labor, delivery, and postpartum so you can alert medical staff if necessary. Here are some key signs to watch for:

During labor, call the doctor if the birthing parent experiences severe nausea, vomiting, confusion, fever, excessive bleeding, or fluid leaking from the vagina which could indicate placental abruption. Abnormal fetal heart rate patterns or cord prolapse are also red flags.

Complications during delivery include shoulder dystocia where the baby’s shoulder is stuck or postpartum hemorrhaging with excessive bleeding. Watch for tearing of the perineum as well.

After birth, postpartum complications like infection, blood clots, or postpartum preeclampsia can arise. Symptoms requiring medical help include chills, confusion, headache, vision changes, and trouble breathing or excessive swelling in the legs.

By knowing the warning signs and potential complications, you can alert medical staff promptly so they can provide rapid treatment if any concerning symptoms arise.

Cesarean Birth Preparation

If your partner needs to have a cesarean section, you can provide important emotional support and advocacy to help make the experience as smooth as possible. Some tips for preparing for a c-section birth:

– Attend any pre-op appointments with your partner so you understand the procedure and recovery involved. Ask questions and voice any concerns. [1]

– Help your partner prepare questions for the medical team about medications, staying together during surgery, breastfeeding after, etc.

– Make sure the hospital bag is ready with any supplies needed for recovery like loose, comfortable clothes, toiletries, snacks, etc.

– Have phone numbers on hand for emergency contacts and your pediatrician.

– Understand the post-op restrictions like no driving for 2 weeks. Make arrangements for help with transportation home, meals, childcare, etc.

– Remind your partner to speak up if in too much pain or discomfort during recovery. Advocate for her needs.

– If allowed, stay by your partner’s side during the surgery for emotional support. Ask to take pictures or announce the baby’s arrival.

– Be prepared if the medical team asks you to leave the OR in an emergency. Trust their expertise.

With preparation and support, a cesarean birth can still be a calm, positive experience for your family.

Documenting the Birth

As the birthing partner, capturing the details of the birth experience through photos, videos, and written notes can provide treasured memories for the family. With the birthing parent’s permission, the partner can take photos and short video clips during the labor and birth. However, be respectful of the birthing parent’s wishes and comfort – not everyone may want a camera present during the entire process. Avoid using flash or extremes closeups. Capture some wides shots of the environment as well as tender moments between the birthing parent and partner or new arrival.

Written notes can also help document key events, such as when contractions started, how far apart they are, vital signs, medications given, and the time of birth. Writing down doctor’s instructions, questions to ask, and notes during conversations can also be helpful. Work with the medical staff to ensure important details are recorded accurately.

According to the NHS (https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/labour-and-birth/what-happens/tips-for-your-birth-partner/), having photos, videos and written records can help the birthing parent recall details later that may be fuzzy from the haze of labor. With permission, sharing images and memories on social media or in birth announcements allows family and friends unable to attend to share in the joy.

Taking Care of Yourself

Getting proper rest and nutrition is crucial during labor as it can be a long and demanding process. As a birth partner, make sure to eat regular meals and snacks to keep your energy up. Drink plenty of water too, as hospitals can get stuffy and dry. Try to nap when the birthing parent is resting between contractions. Even a short 20-30 minute nap can be refreshing. Taking care of yourself will allow you to better provide support throughout the birth.

Plan ahead by packing snacks like protein bars, nuts, and dried fruit in your hospital bag. Ask the nurses beforehand if there is a family lounge area where you can rest. Let other family members know they may need to step in if you need a longer break. Don’t feel guilty about taking time for yourself – the birthing parent will benefit from you being rested and fueled up.

When to Seek Medical Advice

As a birthing partner, it’s important to monitor the birthing parent for any concerning postpartum symptoms and know when to seek medical help. Here are some key postpartum warning signs to watch out for:

Excessive bleeding – More than a pad per hour or large clots after the first 24 hours could indicate postpartum hemorrhage. This is a leading cause of maternal death and needs immediate medical attention.

Severe headaches, vision changes, or swelling – These can all be signs of preeclampsia or eclampsia developing post-birth and requires urgent medical care.

Difficulty urinating – Inability to urinate or decreased output could indicate urinary retention or infection, which needs to be treated quickly.

Fever above 100.4°F – A postpartum fever could signal a uterine or breast infection like mastitis. Fever requires prompt examination and treatment.

Difficulty breathing – Shortness of breath or chest pain can be a sign of a blood clot or other cardiovascular condition requiring immediate care.

Baby blues beyond 2 weeks – If depression, anxiety, or excessive crying persists beyond 10-14 days, it could be a sign of postpartum depression needing support and treatment.

Trust your instincts – If the birthing parent seems extremely ill, confused, or out of touch with reality, seek emergency care right away.

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