Every step of the way
Let’s not sugar-coat things, giving birth is a tough process. Even with the easiest and smoothest of new arrivals, it can be a time that’s both exciting and petrifying in equal measure.
Whether you’re talking emotionally or physically, the fact is that it’s a lot for any couple to take on, especially first-timers. So it’s no surprise that many people in the UK opt for valuable extra support in the form of birthing partners or doulas during their labour.
Many fathers are now present when their child is born and the general expectation is for them to be present in the delivery room. While many are happy to do so, some dads can feel under pressure being their partner’s only supporter and can sometimes actually bring extra stress rather than less to the situation if they’re not fully prepared.
So how can an additional birthing partner help you through giving birth and who should you choose? While some choose to turn to a professional doula (see next page), many might turn to their mother, sister or perhaps their best friend. Whoever you choose though, there’s no question that you should feel entirely relaxed and comfortable in their presence.
Not only that, but your birthing partner should also know exactly what you do and don’t want before, during and after your birth. That means everything from as basic as what you might like to eat or drink to keep your energy levels up, to the level of medical intervention you would prefer and what you might be willing to compromise on under certain circumstances.
Furthermore, while obviously the focus is on you, having another birthing partner can also help to alleviate some of the pressure on dad too. Labour can be a long process for everyone involved and the chances are that on a busy maternity ward, you probably won’t have one midwife all to yourself, particularly if you’re there when the shift time changes. Agnes Munday has been a doula for 15 years:
“As a doula I’m there to support both the dad and the mum, to help to normalise things, reduce the adrenalin in the room and ensure there’s less anxiety too,” she explains. “Due to our experience, doulas are often able to pick up on things that the dad might not be aware of and the resulting benefits of that are shown in research with less interventions, shorter labours and a generally happier birth experience1.”
While having a child is clearly a private and intimate time, having another person constantly present that you can wholeheartedly trust, can reduce the pressure in the room and mean that the other can take an occasional break if required without leaving you alone.
It also means that, as mentioned earlier, if the midwife or doctors suggest a medical procedure, that you get all the information you need and can make an informed decision. Situations can change rapidly when in labour, so having another opinion that you trust is no bad thing. It helps to have someone that can speak up for you when, frankly, you might have other things on your mind.
“I had birth partners at the arrival of each of my two children both five years ago and last year as I didn’t want my husband to have any pressure on him of any kind and to have a different dynamic,” explains Anja Ashton from Brighton. “I wanted to know that partner, be able to totally trust them and that they had the same beliefs of what the birth should be as me rather than a standard midwife who might be floating in and out.
“For me, it was definitely worth the cost, but you need to find the right person for you that enables you to focus and block out any distractions. I would definitely recommend having a doula or birthing partner, without hesitation.”
Turning to a professional doula
Many choose to turn to a professional doula when giving birth for additional support. While they might have medical training of some sort, doulas do not play a clinical role and are there to provide support for you alongside the doctors and midwives. Their experience means there’s unlikely to be a scenario that they haven’t seen before which will help if it’s your first time too.
Crucial in finding the best doula for you is that you make a connection with them. Traditionally you’ll have an initial face to face meeting to discuss the kind of birth that you want and also the level of service they can offer.
While birth isn’t usually a rapid process, it will help if they live within an hour or two of where you live. Services vary, but most will offer one or two antenatal sessions, a 24-hour on-call period of four to five weeks for the birth, plus one or more postnatal sessions.
The price for all that can vary from £500 up to £1600 depending on the level of support you want and where you are. It’s certainly not inexpensive, but consider that they’ll need to be on-call 24-7 for five weeks plus that some births can go on for days and it’s actually pretty reasonable.
Ten tips to being a good birthing partner
- Read up beforehand on what’s likely to happen and plan ahead, as it will help you to be confident about what can and will be going on.
- Room for one more? Some hospitals and birth centres only allow one birth partner at a time in the room, so make sure you check beforehand.
- Own the room. Help to make it as calm an environment as you can, whether that means music, dimming the lights or discouraging unnecessary interruptions.
- Keep calm and don’t talk too much. Being a good birthing partner is as much about knowing when to offer support as knowing when to keep quiet.
- Food and drink. You both need to keep your energy levels up, so pack lots of easily-digestible nibbles or handy drinks for both of you and also plenty of variety.
- Provide physical support. Whether it’s a hot water bottle, cooling flannel, TENS machine, providing a massage or helping with breathing techniques, be on hand to help in whatever form you can.
- Stay focused. Don’t sit watching TV or using your mobile (unless you’re using it to time contractions). Updating family and friends can wait, but the new arrival can’t!
- Pack wisely. You might be walking lots during the contractions, so pack some comfortable shoes and some spare clothes for both of you in case you’re there overnight. Don’t forget your swimming costume/trunks if you need to join mum in the birthing pool.
- Be flexible. As good as it is to have a detailed birthing plan, you need to be prepared for it to change. Whether it’s mum-to-be changing her mind or a medical requirement, always remember that in childbirth things often can, and do, change quickly.
- Provide encouragement. It’s important to tell mum how well she is doing, especially during the final stages of birth to give her a boost for the final push.