The best birth partners need support too.
It’s a very common concern that doulas will take over from or push out the birthing woman’s own partner. If you chat with people who have had a doula though you will find they say in reality the opposite is true. Doula support for women extends to and fully includes their partner. Having a doula helps partners feel more involved and more confident in supporting their partner.
You can be a confident and relaxed birth partner too.
There are quite a few things that doulas talk about and do in antenatal sessions and through labour and birth that are useful tools for birth partners. We’ve put together a list of some of the tips to remember to help you feel confident and be a great birth partner.
- Remember it’s all about the birthing woman. Her opinion and decisions are the ones that matter and you must always be on her side. Professionals working with the birthing woman may give advice but it’s just advice ultimately the decisions are hers and you support her. If you’ve got concerns or questions you can and should chat through them with your partner and or her midwife ahead of the day. This will allow you to understand and better support your partner’s decisions and choices. But always remember it’s up to her to decide and you to support.
- If you’ve got fears about labour and birth talk about them openly with the woman who you will be a birth partner for well before the day. It’s normal to be worried about something you’ve never been through and there are a lot of scary stories told about birth. Make sure you really listen to her and between you find a good source of information on the facts (your midwife or doula will help you find what you need) that can help to bring your fears into perspective. Read books and or go to antenatal classes together.
- On the day keep yourself calm and strong, well hydrated and nourished. Pack your own bag for labour and birth with things you might need to stay comfortable so you can be there for your partner without worrying about having to go off and look after yourself. Remeber when choosing snacks to pack pregnant and especially birthing women have a very strong sense of smell.
- Respect that your partner is the one doing this birth, much as you might find you’re uncomfortable seeing her work so hard or want to take away her pain it’s not your job. Your job is to be on her side and in her team. See her working hard and grow in your respect for her do not pity her.
- Make a birth plan for yourself by asking your partner what you can do to help and support her as she labours. Make a list for yourself the things you can do at each stage of labour to support her. On the day work through that list any time you feel lost or worried.
- Be the guardian of the birthing space. Birth requires the same hormones that making the baby did. Imagine you’re trying to seduce your partner in the most romantic way you can and those are the conditions you’re looking for to help support her labour and birth. Privacy, calm, loving, positive talk about how amazing she is, low lights, relaxing music, slow dancing, massage, snogging are all perfect for getting through labour. Follow the lead of the birthing woman in terms of which things are working for her at the time.
- Don’t take it personally if in labour it turns out your partner just wants to close her eyes and disappear into her own world and not be touched. Don’t think this means she doesn’t need or want you. Be close by and be prepared to provide practical support such as help getting to the loo or pass the water bottle and remember just being there is your number one priority. Your very presence in the room is allowing her to feel safe enough to go into herself and be completely vulnerable and surrendered to her labour and birth.
- If things don’t go according to the first plan don’t panic. Remember to help your partner ask the questions she needs to know the answer to in order to make new plans and decisions. Don’t stop talking up the birthing woman. Whatever happens she’s still amazing and you need to keep telling her how great she is.
- Feel free to quietly ask questions of your care provider if there are things that you don’t understand or want to know more about why they are going on. Quietly if it’s a time you need to not disturb the birthing woman from her rhythm but also confidently and insistently if it’s at a time when she’s being asked to make decisions about possible interventions.
- Enjoy the journey. Grow your love and admiration for the woman you’re lucky enough to witness labour and birth and be ready to be totally bowled over by the amazing new person who’s about to burst (not literally) in and take over your world
Hampshire Doulas Top Tips for making a Brilliant Positive Birth Plan.
Almost as soon as you tell people you’re pregnant you can expect to start hearing horror stories about how terrible people’s births have been, about how it’s the worst pain ever, worse than breaking all your bones at once. You might hear one or two people say actually for me birth was amazing I coped ok with the contractions and holding my new baby was the best moment of my life, I felt like a rock star. But in among all the other negative stories and all the images in the media of women screaming and suffering it might seem like those people were just lucky. You might hear it said that there’s no point in a birth plan, birth never goes to plan anyway, you’d just be setting yourself up for disappointment.
Is there any point to a birth plan?
If you feel like you would like to change the script, step out of the madness and even maybe look forward to giving birth the power is in your hands. Planning for birth might be just what you need. Information is power. Regardless of what you choose to put on a birth plan or even if you choose to have one, in the end, the power is in the planning stage. Knowing how birth works and what your rights are and talking through different possible ways that labour can go with your birth partner and how you would handle changes in the plan can give you the power over all the worries and fears that our society fills your head with.
Where to start?
Reading a good book about birth is a great place to start planning for your birth. The Positive Birth Book by Milli Hill is one great example another is Bump by Kate Evans. Going along to a Positive Birth Movement Group is another great place to start hearing other people’s stories of how they weren’t just lucky but they did have a positive birth.
Positive births can be any kind of birth, the way you are treated and cared for and being aware of your own power in the birth situation are the keys. You should know that every choice is yours, your caregivers will give you the very best medical advice they have but you can always ask what are the alternatives and ask for more details or time to make your own decisions.
What is oxytocin?
Here comes the science bit, bear with me it’s not that complicated and there’s only the one new word. There’s a hormone that your body and brain both make it’s called oxytocin. Oxytocin does lots of things in your body, probably more than have been discovered so far. One of the things it does is to make the muscles in your uterus contract in a coordinated way. That coordinated muscle contraction is what your uterus needs to do to pull back your cervix and push out your baby (otherwise known as labour and birth). This is a system of your body much like digestion or walking that works much better if you don’t overthink it. Another handy function of oxytocin is it helps you feel ok about pain and it helps to encourage your body to make endorphins which actually help you feel less pain.
So here are the practical top tips for planning for your labour and birth.
- Plan to give yourself the highest possible levels of oxytocin. Oxytocin and labour and birth thrive in the same conditions as sex and romance. As Ina May Gaskin puts it ‘the energy that gets the baby in gets the baby out’. We’re talking low lights, relaxing music if you like it, lots of laughter and positive talking from someone who loves you, loving touch such as cuddles and massages. Just as we need to feel safe and loved to enjoy sex, feeling safe and loved helps us to birth more easily.
- Understand that the pain of contractions is not the same pain as the pain of injury. The pain of contractions is the overwhelming feeling of your body working the hardest it ever has. Think of when hardcore athletes say they love to feel the pain and push through the pain that’s the pain your feeling with contractions. Your body is signalling not that something is wrong like with an injury pain but that everything is right. Helping your birth partner know the response you need is for them to admire you like a professional athlete not pity you like someone being damaged is a really good start to helping them learn what you need from them through your labour and birth.
- Find ways that help you work with your body. You might be planning to have an epidural or gas and air or a water birth or just to bite on a piece of wood. But whatever the plan as labour goes on there’s also going to be an early stage where you need to work with your contractions and allow your body to get working. You might be someone who likes movement or someone who finds something to repeat in your head to distract and relax you or someone who likes to really focus on breathing deep and slowly. Consider looking in to antenatal classes that suit you, hypnobirthing, yoga, active birth, aquanatal anything that gives you a practical tool rather than just basic information. Check out our ideas for positive affirmations if that appeals to you.
- Remind your birth partner to respect how amazing you are giving birth and to focus on being your biggest fan not worrying about you. Help them to help you by talking about the things you find it encouraging to hear when you’re working hard and things that might annoy you. Also, help them learn how you feel about the complications and deviations from plan A that could occur during your labour and what your choices might be in those situations. Help them learn to help you ask questions and make informed decisions and be prepared to accept and support your decisions on the day whatever they may be.
- Don’t forget after the birth comes life with a baby. Make a postnatal plan too. Plan to look after yourself to get the support and ask for the help you need. Plan to take it easy, live a 24-hour lifestyle when it comes to sleep and spend as much time as possible skin to skin with your baby.
A doula is someone who’s support will come in all the ways that we’ve talked about here. They get to know you, support you with all the practical things you need during labour, support and encourage your birth partner so they can enjoy the birth too and always focus on how amazing you are and support your decisions whatever they may be.
If you would like a doula to help you make a birth plan or a doula to support you through the whole of labour and birth or a doula to help with your postnatal plan head over to our find a doula page or send us a message.
Everyone will find their own way of coping with labour on the day. But being prepared with some ideas of things you can try that might help you cope with your contractions and positively work with what your body is doing is a great way to feel prepared and confident for when you go into labour.
Active labour positions:
Your body’s first job with your contractions is to move your baby into the best position for coming out. Sometimes early labour with contractions that stop and start and often feel strongest in your back can be frustrating especially if they are very intense but don’t seem to be having a measurable effect on your cervix. This is very normal and doesn’t mean anything is wrong. Moving about and changing position can not only help the potentially overwhelming sensations of your contractions to be easier to cope with but can also help to create space in your pelvis to allow baby to move around and tuck their chin in to be in the best position to move easily through your pelvis.
Deep relaxing breathing:
Planning to ‘just’ breathe through your contractions might sound hippy-dippy or too simple to be of actual use. It’s good solid science though. Controlling and relaxing our breathing allows us to relax our other muscles which allow our body to get to work birthing. Tensing our muscles feeds into a fear response which encourages our bodies to produce adrenaline which is the natural enemy of oxytocin the most important hormone for labour and birth. Switching off our thinking brains and doing everything we can to raise our oxytocin levels gives our bodies the best chance they can have to get on with the job. Breathing doesn’t have to be done any one specific way as long as you breathe in a relaxing way and find a rhythm that feels relaxing to you it will have a relaxing effect. It can help you to feel relaxed and ready with ways to remind yourself to breathe deeply if you practice in pregnancy. Some places you can do this are at pregnancy yoga or Daisy Foundation classes.
Having something to repeat to yourself in your head is another effective way of keeping your thinking brain relaxed and allow your body to get on with the job of labour and birth. There’s another blog post with more details on how they work to get your head in a good place approaching birth and can be used to keep your brain busy thinking positively during labour and birth.
Water can help you in two ways, labour is really hard physical work and like with other physical activities your body needs to stay hydrated. Having something that’s easy to sip and easy to drop when you need to focus on a contraction is a handy tool. Water can also help to relax you when you get into it. A shower or a bath can be a useful tool for early labour and in later labour, a birth pool is brilliant for providing a lovely safe space and wonderful support to allow you to relax and to find comfortable and effective positions for birthing.
The sensations of labour and birth can be really overwhelming, finding something that keeps you grounded can help you to focus on the things that keep you relaxed. This is where a good connection with your birth partner is vital. Not only can your birth partner help you keep calm by helping you feel that you’re not alone but the way they make you feel loved and cared for actually raises your oxytocin levels. The physical connection your birth partner provides also raises your oxytocin levels and increases your relaxation.