Rachel Brannon and her husband Chris didn’t have a birth plan. “We winged it,” says the Hamilton mom. But her husband did one key thing that made it an amazing experience—he supported every call she made. Brannon had decided in advance that she wanted to hold out as long as possible before receiving an epidural, and her husband was there for her. “Whenever I would say, ‘OK, maybe I need the epidural,’ he would say, ‘Let’s try one more contraction.’ He was totally on board for what I wanted, and I loved everything about my birth experience,” she recalls.
While giving birth can be scary, having a supportive birth partner, whether it’s a spouse, partner or family member, can make all the difference, says Heidi Coughlin, a former labour and delivery nurse and registered midwife with Hope Midwives in Edmonton. Read on for expert tips on how to be a good birth partner.
Meghan Moloney Keating and her husband, John, prepared for the birth of their son, Jack, by reading pregnancy books together. “I would read specific parts to my husband that I found interesting or that I thought he should know, especially chapters on how dads can be involved and supportive,” says Keating. Coughlin recommends that couples try to spend one hour each night (or at the very least, one hour a week), doing something baby-related to get prepared for the birth and to help keep the birth partner connected.
Keating and her husband took prenatal classes offered by their local health unit in Peterborough, Ont., which provided plenty of information for them to create a birth plan together. “I'm glad John attended the classes with me so that he wasn't as caught off guard as he might have been otherwise when things didn’t go exactly how we expected,” says Keating, who required a vacuum-assisted birth. Coughlin recommends attending a prenatal class that runs for a few weeks versus a weekend crash session so you have time to digest the information and ask questions.
Births don’t always go by the book. Things can change at any moment, so having a birth partner who understands what is most important during this physical and emotional process is very important. Does the mom-to-be want you to take action and be proactive with the nursing staff? Does she want you to massage her back or repeat words of encouragement? Or does she simply want you to just hold her hand and be there for her? Discuss what kind of support she wants beforehand so you’re both very clear on what will make things more manageable.
It’s not unheard of for a birth partner to be overwhelmed or feel unwell during the event, says Coughlin. Often, it’s because they are dehydrated or haven’t eaten, so keep some snacks on hand, have a water bottle with you and bring extra layers of clothes because birth rooms can be cold.
Coughlin recommends documenting the moment with photos and videos. While the mom-to-be might be hesitant to have pictures taken of such an intimate, and often intense, moment, Coughlin says you can always delete them—it’s a better option than looking back and regretting not having any photos or videos. Make sure to have a conversation beforehand about what kind of documentation is acceptable so you’re not doing anything that will upset her.
If you’re overwhelmed by the process, then you won’t be in a position to help her. Mentally prepare yourself by watching YouTube videos beforehand so you’ll know what labour looks and sounds like, plus talk to other new parents and do some reading about birth, recommends Coughlin.
Many birth partners will start timing the expectant mother’s contractions with an app, but the more she focuses on the contraction, the more painful it will seem, possibly causing her to tense up and not dilate, says Coughlin. When she goes into labour and before you head to the hospital, you should both do whatever you would normally do at that time, whether that’s sleeping or going out for lunch. Keep track of contractions, but don’t focus on them unless they appear to be coming on much quicker than expected. “You will notice when they are changing and know to go to the hospital when they are longer, stronger and closer together,” says Coughlin.
“Women labour best when they are comfortable and relaxed,” says Coughlin. Bring a microwaveable heat pack to help ease back pain and a tennis ball for massages. Make sure to pack extra pillows, easy snacks like freezies, fruit, granola bars and juice and an extra layer of clothes for both of you. Make a playlist of her favourite songs, hypnobirthing downloads or podcasts that you can listen to and download some movies or TV shows to your tablet or phone to help distract her in case she has a long labour.
After the birth of her son, Meghan had to spend a few days in the hospital. Her husband was an important advocate for her when she wasn’t able to be for herself. “Whenever I was in pain or anxious about something with the baby, like him not feeding well, John would venture out and find a nurse to come help us,” she says. “I literally didn’t leave our room for 48 hours and it was like coming out of a cocoon afterwards.”
“The main thing I always tell people is that both the mom and birth partner are going to feel hung-over for a week,” says Coughlin. You’ll be too exhausted to do much, but there are a few key things you can have ready and waiting for your arrival home. Make some padsicles to soothe her sore lady-parts by soaking menstrual pads in water and witch hazel and placing them in the freezer. Nourishment is key for exhausted breastfeeding moms, so prep easy meals and pop them in the freezer so all you have to do is stick them in the oven, and stock the fridge so you don’t have to grocery shop. If your baby makes an early appearance, ask a friend or neighbour if they could do some grocery shopping while you’re dealing with labour and delivery: give them a list and a gift card to cover the expense (or order your groceries online and have them delivered), and leave a spare key so your friend can get in, and you’ll have a fully stocked fridge when you get home.
This article was originally published online in September 2017.