There seems to be growing interest in the birth community these days for partners to take an active support role in the birth. As doulas, we're here for it! We adore when partners want to be involved, and we've seen involvement during labor really enhance your bond (between pregnant person & partner), and increase both of your bonds with the baby.
If you're planning on attending a birth soon in a support role, this blog post is for you! Whether the birthing person is your romantic partner, sibling, family member, friend, or someone else, attending a birth is an incredible honor. In the US, most birth partners haven't attended many births before (maybe this is your first one!), and haven't seen examples of what to do. My guess is you may have heard your mom/aunt/grandma's birth story, but what role did your dad/uncle/grandpa play? Birth is generally hidden behind close doors, and not talked about enough - ESPECIALLY the partner's role. Oftentimes, even the most dedicated birth partners are out here just wingin' it.
But if you're reading this, I'm assuming you're ready to take your skills to the next level. You're ready to step up, and be the best possible birth partner for your pregnant person. You're ready to provide deep support during pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum. You're ready to advocate for their wishes. If that's you... I'm cheering you on! Pregnant people need (and deserve) all the support they can possibly get as they bring new life into the world.
I've attended a lot of births over the past 3 years, and I've meet lots of birth partners. Some of the best ones I've seen were good at their job because they were 100% in sync with their pregnant person. Before you dive into my top tips for birth partners below, I encourage you to have a conversation with your pregnant person. Ask them what they envision your support looks like in labor. Make sure you're on the same page with what your role will be:
Will you be with them the whole time, or join at a certain point?
Will you communicate with others outside the birth on their behalf? (Example: keep friends/family updated via text, etc.)
Will you provide physical support (massage, hip squeezes, etc.)?
Will you provide emotional support (words, prayer, etc.)?
Where will you stand during pushing, and the birth of the baby? Will you catch the baby alongside the medical professional?
How does the birther want you to advocate for them?
Are there any special requests they have of you (preparing them food, taking photos, etc.)?
Once you know what your role will be, it's time to dive into preparing yourself with these 3 tips:
Tip #1: Learn
Even though your body isn't the one birthing, you still need to learn as much as you can about birth. When you learn what birth looks like, it significantly helps to reduce your fear and increase your support. If you don't know your options, you don't have any. Through education you'll pick up lots of great tips and tricks from other birth partners for providing comfort, and you'll also hear about different outcomes that can happen in birth so you're not surprised if the birth plan goes off track. Learn about the type of birth your pregnant person is planning (unmedicated, medicated, vaginal, c-section, in or out of hospital, fast or slow labor, etc.), but then also learn about all the other possibilities as well. Birth rarely goes according to plan, and birth partners need to be prepared to pivot their support.
Where to start:
Take a birth class with your pregnant person that's not sponsored by a hospital. We offer a 4-week series in person in MN and on Zoom. We also recommend Evidence Based Birth's classes - find an instructor here.
Read The Birth Partner
Tip #2: Advocate
Go with to appointments and ask questions, and ask questions during labor too. Know the birth plan, and understand why the birther wants what they want. Learn advocacy skills to amplify their voice during labor (tips & tricks: 23 Important Ways to Advocate For Yourself During Birth and Pregnancy)
If this feels like too much, consider hiring a doula to help you so you can focus on loving support. Ask the doula in the interview how they advocate for birthers during labor (see: 3 Things To Ask In a Doula Interview).
Tip #3: Postpartum
You're probably thinking: "postpartum?? The headline of this article was 3 tips for BIRTH partners". Hate to break it to you, friend, but the work doesn't stop once the baby is out. The first 12 weeks after birth are often lovingly referred to as The Fourth Trimester. Babies aren't ready to be separated from the birther or their main caregiver, and birthing people need to physically recover their bodies (immediate recovery usually takes about 6 weeks, but experts agree that the body is not fully recovered until at least 18 months postpartum). Plus, sleep deprivation and learning how to feed a baby.
As a birth partner, your job is to continue to take care of the birther postpartum, so they can focus on the baby and healing. Think of your role as "mothering the mother" or "parenting the parent". There will be lots of time in the future for you to take a lead role with the baby, but in The Fourth Trimester, the birther needs you more than the baby does.
Take as much leave from work as possible and make a plan for there to always be another adult around the birther (at least for the first few weeks). Make a list while pregnant of all the things the pregnant person does, and who will take those jobs postpartum. Think about: meals, chores, pets, yard work, finances, etc. Don't be afraid to ask for help here. Call in friends/family to drop off meals, hire help with the yard or cleaning, or consider hiring a postpartum doula to come into the home a few times a week to help the family adjust.
To learn more about postpartum, sign up for our Preparing for Postpartum 2-hour workshop where we cover what to expect, and give you homework to start creating your postpartum plan.
There are so many things that you can do to prepare yourself to be a fantastic birth partner. BUT all of these things are icing on the cake to your loving presence. Fun fact: having continuous support (staying by the birther's side, and giving them your full attention) in labor actually reduces birthers' c-section risk by 25% - your presence is powerful, and important!
Take a deep breath, birth partner. You've got this 💪.