By Ali Weatherford

This is one of my favorite topics to talk about, write about, and even teach about. I’ve been teaching birth classes since 2014, and it honestly never gets old. HOWEVER, it’s definitely fun to find a new topic or new angle for a class. A little more than two years ago, I developed a class for birth partners and it has become my favorite class to teach.

Why is Learning About This Important?

As a childbirth educator, I see mostly couples in classes. While I do see a variety of combinations of couples in my classes including mother/daughter, pregnant person/doula, etc., it’s usually the pregnant woman and her husband or partner attending my birth classes. I hear these partners expressing certain thoughts and feelings about their role in the birth. Some of the common things I hear include:

  • I’m afraid for the safety of my loved ones.
  • I’m afraid of seeing my loved one in pain
  • I’m afraid I won’t know what to do if something happens.
  • I don’t know how to be useful.

If you’re a partner to someone facing labor and birth soon, you may be having some of these feelings too. This can definitely be true for ALL partners regardless of sex, gender, or relationship status and sometimes even more because of less traditional gender roles. But 95% of the birth partners in my classes identify as male.

It was a relatively recent change in human history when men were allowed into the birthing space at all, first as medical care providers and then as partners. In the U.S., it wasn’t until the 1960’s that fathers were regularly allowed in the room during labor, and not until the 1970’s or even 80’s that they were allowed to stay for the birth.

Now, partners can be just about anywhere their pregnant partner goes. But I also hear another message loud and clear: partners want more. They want to be included in more ways than just being let in. They want more than just to be “allowed” and barely tolerated. And this desire should be nurtured!

We know that when partners go “all in” and families have two engaged parents, things are better in so many ways. The financial picture is better, mental health is better for everyone, and the kids benefit from having more adults in their lives who are caring for them. Partners are often struggling to wiggle out of a traditional partner role that is usually very limited and often unsatisfying for everyone. Partners no longer need to be the sole breadwinner, the hunter or gatherer, and the protector. Partners can share those responsibilities and take on other roles which can be equally or even more rewarding. They can be comforters and cleaners, boo-boo kissers and snugglers, advice givers and planners.

It’s true that the pregnant person bears most of the burden of ensuring a healthy pregnancy and birth, but research also shows that having supportive partners during pregnancy and birth can have significant impacts on health outcomes. There are studies showing that when pregnant people are well supported by their partners, there are lower rates of premature birth, low birth weight babies, birth complications, cesareans, and postpartum depression and anxiety. Research also shows that supportive partners can mean better breastfeeding rates and improved partner and parenting relationships. This says a lot about your value as a partner and also means there is a lot of responsibility you are taking on too.

How to be a Great Birth Partner

Partners first need to understand that they are essential and wanted. Just you being you means that you are needed. You don’t have to know how to do anything to be useful. Your presence is comforting and that is a critical piece. Staying actively present and engaged makes a big difference in your partner’s pregnancy, labor, and birth experience, even if you’re not actually doing anything.

That doesn’t mean that you can’t also get a little more prepared to take an active role in the pregnancy and birth. It’s true that some people prefer a more hands-off approach from their partners during labor, but there is a lot that a birth partner can do to help in most situations.

The Birthing Partner Prep class at Breastfeeding Success offers MANY suggestions for you, but here are a few basics to help you get started:

  1. Stay connected NOW. Find ways to be involved during pregnancy. The more you do, the better connected you stay with your partner. That connection will make you feel like a co-parent and help minimize your partner’s stress levels. This is really important for a healthy pregnancy and birth.
  2. Help create then MEMORIZE THE BIRTH PLAN. When you know your partner’s preferences, you can stay aware of anything that might interfere with their wishes. Knowing what your partner wants and doesn’t want for their birth, and then making sure their wishes are respected, might be your biggest responsibility.
  3. Hire a doula. A doula is there to help your partner, but also to help you be the best partner you can be. You are not expected to learn everything there is to know about labor and birth and then be able to put that knowledge into practice at the birth. Because of your special relationship, you can’t be the most objective. Your emotions might overwhelm you sometimes, and a doula is there to support both of you so you can be the best emotional support and comfort to your partner.
  4. If you can’t hire a doula, do your best to BE a doula. Take a class, read The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin, or even attend a doula training! A fun tip is to pack a secret separate bag of supplies that a doula might bring to a birth. Getting some education will help you know how to use what’s on this list!
    • Water bottle with a straw
    • Electrolyte Tablets
    • Rubber band for hair
    • Massage tool
    • Essential oils
    • Lights and warm touches for the room
    • Lotion or oil for massage
    • Shower cap
    • Hand held fan
    • Roller ball
    • Rice sock or cold/warm packs
    • Battery operated candles
    • Music/sounds
    • Visuals. Something nice to look at.
    • Copies of the birth plan
    • Soothing teas
    • Mouth wash
    • Protein rich sandwich – for you!

5. Get a gift. Sometimes called a “push present”, the purpose of this gift is to show your partner that you SEE the effort they are giving to the pregnancy and bringing a baby into the world. This is no small thing. Pregnancy can be very difficult for so many reasons, and of course labor is just that…..labor. Hard work. This is a gift that shows that you know, and that you appreciate it.

6. After the baby is born, there is so much left to do. This can often be the most difficult time for partners. BE PATIENT. You will likely be needed A LOT. You will also have to share attention with the new baby, and possibly even with friends or family members who are volunteering to help out. This is all needed and important, but can feel really difficult for partners. Do your best to offer a massive amount of patience. There is A LOT of physical healing that needs to happen before your partner is feeling normal, and there is a lot of emotional upheaval that comes with this rite of passage into parenthood. Be together in this. Give your effort and focus to your partner and to your baby as long as they need it. You will all benefit from this in the long run and can possibly even make your family stronger and better for it.

References

  • Biaggi A, Conroy S, Pawlby S, Pariante CM. Identifying the women at risk of antenatal anxiety and depression: A systematic review. J Affect Disord. 2016 Feb;191:62-77. doi: 10.1016/j.jad.2015.11.014. Epub 2015 Nov 18. PMID: 26650969; PMCID: PMC4879174.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/26650969/
  • Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010 May 19;303(19):1961-9. doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.605. PMID: 20483973.https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/20483973/
  • Kyei-Arthur F, Agyekum MW, Afrifa-Anane GF. The association between paternal characteristics and exclusive breastfeeding in Ghana. PLoS One. 2021 Jun 3;16(6):e0252517. doi: 10.1371/journal.pone.0252517. PMID: 34081726; PMCID: PMC8174696. https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/34081726/
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  • Paulson JF, Bazemore SD. Prenatal and postpartum depression in fathers and its association with maternal depression: a meta-analysis. JAMA. 2010;303(19):1961–1969. doi: 10.1001/jama.2010.605. – DOI – PubMed https://jamanetwork.com/journals/jama/article-abstract/185905
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  • Laura King, Hiding in the Pub to Cutting the Cord? Men’s Presence at Childbirth in Britain c.1940s–2000s, Social History of Medicine, Volume 30, Issue 2, May 2017, Pages 389–407, https://doi.org/10.1093/shm/hkw057
  • Shots-Health News from NPR, A History of Dads, Remembering A Time When Dads Weren’t Welcome In Delivery Rooms, June 18, 20175:00 AM ET Heard on All Things Considered, DEENA PRICHEP
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  • ACOG Committee Opinion No. 766: Approaches to Limit Intervention During Labor and Birth. Obstetrics & Gynecology: February 2019 – Volume 133 – Issue 2 – p e164-e173 doi: 10.1097/AOG.0000000000003074

Our articles are not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment.

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