The greatest influence on your ability to cope in labour is the support that you receive. This will come not only from your midwife, but also from the person or people you choose as your birth partner or partners. You need to feel confident that they will be able to give you the emotional support and practical care that you will need during the birth.
Most maternity units are happy for you to have two people with you during labour because research shows that continual support benefits mothers in a number of ways, such as:
- Feeling more in control of labour
- Feeling more positive about the birth experience
- Suffering less depression at 6 weeks after the birth
- Being more confident about motherhood.
Choosing your birth partner
Although most fathers want to be at the birth, this is not right for everyone. The most important thing is to have good support in labour, regardless of who provides it. In some cultures, men are discouraged from attending a birth and two female relatives attend instead. You must trust the people you choose to stay with you and be honest about what you expect from them during your labour - but essentially they should want to be there.
Consider who would be best able to provide this support. It may be your baby's father, a friend, a sister or your mother. Women who have had children before will not worry about seeing you in pain and are more able to reassure you that everything is completely normal.
If your partner is anxious about how he will feel during labour, encourage him to go to antenatal classes with you. The opportunity to talk with other men in the group and discovering that he is not alone in his fears may make him more confident about being there. Many men have fears about delivery - the most common being concerns about seeing their partner in pain and not being able to'cure'them of it. By going to classes, feeling prepared, and chatting with the midwife, he will feel more confident about being with you on the day.
Involving your birth partner
Try to involve your birth partner during your pregnancy as much as possible, for example, by sharing visits to the midwife, scans and antenatal classes. A basic understanding of the process of labour will help to remove some of the anxiety. It is essential that your birth partner is there to help you cope with the contractions. Most importantly he, or she, needs to listen to you and provide comfort and emotional support.
How your birth partner can help
It is essential that you stay relaxed during labour and this is where your birth partner can have a huge influence. Your birth partner can:
- Time your contractions, keep a record and phone the midwife to let her know that you're on the way.
- Get drinks and snacks for you while you are at home waiting for your contractions to get close enough together.
- Give you a supporting arm if you want to go for a walk and need the reassurance.
- Encourage you to keep moving around, change positions and keep off the bed.
- Provide you with drinks.
- Offer verbal encouragement and reassurance.
- Help you find a pattern of breathing during your contractions.
- Talk to your midwife about aspects of your labour if you do not feel up to it.
- Keep you coo! by placing a cold flannel on your brow.
- Massage your back and shoulders if you want him or her to.
- Support you if you want to sit up or lean forward during the second stage of labour.
- Encourage you during the last few pushes by telling you the progress of the baby's head.
Some women decide to employ a doula, if only to be sure of having continuity of care. The word 'doula' comes from a Greek word meaning 'a woman care-giver'. It has come to mean a woman, experienced in childbirth, who provides emotional and practical support to another woman during and after birth.
A doula is well informed, understands the physiology of birth, and can help you and your partner to make informed decisions on the choices that are available to you. Her aim is to make the experience of labour and childbirth more positive. During labour, she will help you with breathing and relaxation and encourage you to change positions as your labour progresses.
Research shows that having continuous support from another woman is associated with: