Birth partners and doulas
A birth partner is someone you know and trust who will remain by your side throughout your labour and support you when the going gets tough. It can be the father of your child, your mum, a good friend or a doula.
If you're having a home birth you can have as many people as you want to attend you - although you probably won't want a big crowd. Some hospitals allow you to have two birth partners, but check their policy first.
You should also let your midwife know if you're planning on having someone other than your child's father attending you.
Why have a birth partner?
Studies have shown that having the support of a birth partner can lessen how scared and tired you feel, reduce your perception of pain and decrease the chance that you'll want an epidural, have a caesarean or end up with a forceps delivery. Strong stuff indeed - shame they can't bottle it.
What does a birth partner do?
Support, reassurance and encouragement are a birth partner's main duties. How they provide them is up to you. Maybe you'd like them to massage your back, ensure you're keeping your fluid levels up, feed you glucose tablets, tell you you're doing great when you feel like giving up, remind you to keep mobile, pass you the gas and air, or just hold your hand and let you squeeze the life out of theirs.
If intervention is suggested, they should try to ensure you:
- Know what's going on
- Have enough information to make an informed choice
- Are given enough time to weigh up your options (where possible)
If necessary, they may need to ask for more information or a second opinion on your behalf.
They should also be aware that even though you might have written it in blood in your birth plan, you're allowed to change your mind about how you'd like your care to proceed at any point. Yes, it's their job to remind you that you didn't really want pethidine and why, but you're the one giving birth and what you say goes.
It's vital you feel relaxed and able to communicate freely with your birth partner. No one knows how they will react during labour, but your birth partner should be aware you may forget your Ps and Qs at some point and possibly behave in ways they had no idea you were capable of.
It will help immensely if they can don a thick skin for the duration and agree that anything said in the delivery room doesn't go beyond it.
How can a birth partner prepare?
You should discuss with your birth partner what sort of birth (in an ideal world) you'd like, as well as what choices you plan to make if things don't go quite as hoped. For instance, would you rather not have a forceps delivery/epidural/pethidine?
If you've got a birth plan, go through it with them. It's also a good idea for them to attend antenatal classes with you and, if you're giving birth in hospital, go with you when you do the the hospital tour. Back at home, you should try to find time to practise your breathing exercises together and any massage techniques you might like them to use.
Choosing the right birth partner
It wasn't that long ago that a birth partner - if you had one - constituted your mum. Your partner's first glimpse of his newborn was of a swaddled bundle, dozing happily in your arms (by which point you'd done your hair, applied your lippy and looked remarkably serene)
Nowadays, dads are more than likely to be in at the, ahem, deep end, see the baby crowning and even cut the umbilical chord. Which is great if you both want that - and the vast majority of dads do attend the birth of their child - but if you've got any concerns about him being there, or he doesn't want to be there, it's important you talk about it.
Regardless of who else is in the room, labour is an intensely personal experience and you need to be able to let your primal instincts take over and focus solely on yourself. You cannot do this if you are worrying your husband is hating every second, about to pass out or has just seen you poo yourself.
If either of you feel uncomfortable at the thought of labouring 'together', then you need to sit down and go through all your concerns and fears and discuss exactly what you want from your birth partner and what your partner feels able to give.
It may be you'd be better off having a back-up (a friend/relative or doula) on standby who can take over if needs be. That said, if 'dad being there' really isn't right for you as a couple, then so be it. Who cares what the fashion is if it doesn't work for you? (Remember puff-ball skirts?)
Finding a doula
Doula UK is a non-profit association and can help you find a doula, ask the right questions and so on. Alternatively, you might like to post a request on our Childbirth Talk forum - several long-term members of Mumsnet are doulas and they have attended the births of quite a few Mumsnetters' babies.
What Mumsnetters say about having a birth partner
- My best friend asked me to be her birthing partner as her partner was squeamish. I had to be there in case he passed out. It was the most amazing experience I'd ever had. EmmaTMG
- My husband was just amazing. We had talked both labours through in advance, so he knew exactly what I wanted. They were very keen to give me an epidural first time but I really didn't want it and he was able to explain my wishes. The second time they were going to do an episiotomy. He was able to explain to the midwife how I would rather have a tear than a cut. It was helpful to have a real advocate, someone who could talk for me when I couldn't! Susan
- All you dads just remember - whatever your partner says to you in the heat of the moment, the fact that you're there and trying to help really means something. Azzie
- I think Dads should try not to be too vocal. My husband started off by 'talking me through' each contraction. Saying things like 'well done - it's nearly over now, you're over the worst' until I asked through gritted teeth how the hell he knew. So partners ask if what you're doing is alright, don't take offence if it's not and don't, whatever you do, try the gas and aid while chewing gum (as mine did) - it's not supposed to be your drama. Roberta
- I had an amazing doula and that really helped me to feel grounded and to know that things were progressing. I think her support helped me feel confident. Malumbas