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The role of birthing partners

This article explores the role and importance of birthing partners, and things you might want to think about when deciding on one.
Pregnant woman on an exercise ball having her back massaged by woman and her hands held by partner
© Trinity College Dublin

A question you may be asking yourself is: “Do I need a birth partner?”

Continuous support from people who are with you during labour and birth may improve outcomes for you and your baby. These include an increased chance of having a normal vaginal birth, shortening the length of your labour, a reduced chance of needing a forceps or suction cup to help birth your baby, and a reduced chance of needing a caesarean section.

Continuous support also reduces the use of pain relief, the use of an epidural and promotes positive feelings about your childbirth experience.

Your birthing partner

You may already have decided on who you want to be your birthing partner. It may be your partner, your parent, a sibling, a friend, a doula or, if you choose not to have a birth partner, you will have your midwife or maternity care professional there to support you. Did you know that midwife means ‘with woman’?

We know it is comforting and beneficial to have a personal familiar face to provide support and be at your side. These are things you might want to think about when deciding on a birth partner and the role of your birth partner.

A shared decision

Choosing a birth partner is a big decision for you, but it is also a big decision for them. They may not wish to be a birth partner, due to personal reasons.

They may be worried about fainting, or they may feel that they may not be capable of providing the support that will be needed. Remember that choosing a birthing partner is a joint decision.

Partner support

When choosing your birth partner, it is important that you are confident that they will support you in different ways. For example:

  • Physical (massage, support to lean on, holding your hand, rubbing your back)
  • Emotional (encouraging you during labour, birth and after your baby is born)
  • Information (reading about childbirth, attending classes, doing this course!)
  • Speaking up for you (being aware of your pregnancy, birthing and immediate parenting needs and wishes)
  • Organisation (packing bags for you and baby, spare clothes for themselves, preparing transport, parking, setting up your birth room with your preferences in mind, and planning your birth with you)
  • Caring (offering you sips of water, snacks to eat, putting a cold cloth on the back of your neck or your forehead, reminding you of the positions that you wanted to labour or birth in).

Help them learn how to support you!

Your birth partner will also need to think about how they may feel during your labour and birth. It is, after all, probably their first time to be present at birth also! They need to plan what to do for their own comfort.

Labour wards

For example, labour wards are usually very warm, so a light t-shirt is probably best, with something warmer as well for going outside. It is also important that they bring snacks and drinks for themselves, as well as you.

Although leaving the labour ward for a break now and then is good, there will come a time when you do not want them to leave, but they still need to eat and drink.

Some partners may feel faint at some stage during the labour or birth and it is important that they know to sit or lie down if they feel that way.

Your birth partner needs to be thinking of the importance of their role. It is not simply to be present for the birth of your baby but to be active in the birth of your baby.

© Trinity College Dublin
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