It is only in recent decades that partners have been allowed attend births, a privilege that was not usually given to our fathers and grandfathers. And it is a privilege.
It can, nonetheless, be very difficult and distressing to see your partner in pain. However, if she really wants you with her during labour then you need to be there for her as much as possible, working alongside her midwife, or if you will not have the services of skilled midwife throughout the labour, then perhaps with the additional support of a doula .
If your partner has made a birth plan, ensure you have discussed it together beforehand, so you understand your partner's wishes. Remember you may need to be her voice, in particular if she is trying to avoid unnecessary interventions and wants to remain upright and mobile.
- Help time the contractions and take a note of their frequency.
- Physically support her during each contraction, let her hang from your shoulders, lean into your chest, or hold onto your arms.
- Do not keep asking her questions. Give her plenty of praise and encouragement, but establish early on if she would prefer you do not talk during contractions.
- Don't worry if she becomes annoyed with you, and if you feel yourself getting annoyed with her leave the room for a break.
- Watch out for signs that she is tensing up – e.g tightening up her shoulders, crossing her legs. If it doesn’t irritate her, remind her of the relaxation and breathing techniques she has learned. Encourage her gently to relax her muscles.
- Mop her brow, give her sips of water, hold her hand, massage her, apply heat packs or hot-water bottle to her back, suggest a change of position or do anything else that helps.
- Learn what sort of touch and massage she likes beforehand. Massaging her shoulders may help to loosen them up, or it may help to massage her thighs if they become shaky. Place the base of your hand at the bottom of her spine and move it in firm circular motions to help during contractions. Remember she may not like to be touched at different stages during labour. Wait until a contraction is over to begin massage, and if she pushes you away, stop massaging her.
- Try these acupressure techniques for pain relief from acupuncturist Debra Betts http://acupuncture.rhizome.net.nz/media/cms_page_media/133/Acupressure.pdf
- Watch her face and body language for cues on what she needs. For example: If she is licking her lips or they are dry offer sips of water (using a bendy straw) by bringing it up to her mouth. If she doesn’t want it she will say no or push it away; If she looks very hot and flushed cool her down with by wiping her face with a wet sponge or face cloth; If she begins to rub her back, this is the time to try gentle massage or apply heat.
- Take care of yourself. Do not expect anyone to ask if you want a break/know where the loo is/would like a cup of tea? Bring some food with you if you are in the hospital. Don’t feel guilty about taking a break because you will need one, but only take breaks when the midwife can stay with your partner.
- Be aware that she may seem almost unaware of your presence as labour progresses.
- Towards the end of labour, before the urge to push, it is likely that she will become restless and agitated and may start to panic, insisting that she cannot go on. Do not get upset when this happens. It is normal. This is when she needs you to be at your most supportive and reassuring. Praise her, give her encouragement, and remind her that your baby is about to be born.
- Decide beforehand if you want that video or first photograph so badly that you will leave her side to man the camera.
- Ask in advance if you want to be involved when it is time to cut the umbilical cord.
- If she is having an Caesarean Section you are usually allowed attend (unless it is an emergency) and to be beside her for support during the operation. You may be the first to hold your baby. Ask her carers to facilitate skin-to-skin contact as soon as possible between your partner and baby, or your and your baby.
“At first I felt really useless, when I saw what she was going through. Then the midwife told me my job was to tell my wife how well she was doing. There was a while towards the end when she seemed to go to another place. She didn’t speak, just moaned. I was a bit freaked by it all but kept mopping the back of her neck with cool water and repeating, “you are amazing…” She didn’t even acknowledge I was there, but the next day she told me that my voice was what she had been focusing on, that it had really helped to hear how amazing I thought she was because she had felt like giving up, but I had urged her on.”
A Mums’ Tip
“My advice to fathers to be: It was the encouraging words of my partner that got me through the final stages. No-one ever tells you about the pushing!”