Do you know just how big an influence your birth partner plays in your labour and birth? In how your labour and birth progresses? Let me tell you,your labour length, comfort levels and overall satisfaction with your birth experience are influenced by the words, behaviour and actions of your birth partner. Yes…really. No pressure for them then!
Research shows that the presence of a well-informed and supportive birth partner reduces women’s need for opioid and epidural analgesia in labour (I call this “hugs before drugs”!), reduces labour length and intervention rates.
This all sounds amazing doesn’t it? But unfortunately, the opposite is also true. If your birth partner is anxious, stressed or frightened, and unsure of their role or how to help you, this can make your labour and birth longer and more complicated.
The science behind this is that, when stressed, your birth partner will be producing the fear hormones adrenaline and cortisol. Stress is catching in most areas of life; labour and birth being no exception. If they are reacting in this way, most likely you will copy them and produce these stress hormones yourself. These hormones literally make labour longer and harder.
Hmmmm,.So what’s a girl to do about it?
The first step is checking in with them that they actually want to be there at the birth in the first place. This might seem initially unacceptable if your birth partner is your life partner too. But, whilst most will want to be there, some might be overwhelmed with the enormity of it all. So, rather than just presuming, ask them directly if they want to be there and give them time to think about it.
Once you’ve established that they want to be there, the next step is getting them clued up on what their role entails. Their role is far more than just filling up the car with petrol, remembering the camera and ALL the bags, and providing massage and drinks. These are important, obviously, but their role is so much more than that. Let me explain,
Their key role is acting as your protector. Yes, I know it all sounds a bit “knights in shining armour” and very old-fashioned, but making sure that you feel calm, relaxed and emotionally “safe” enables you to get on with your labour and birth, undisturbed.
To go into more detail on this, their role involves:
Providing well-informed reassurance to you that “all is well”
When you look into your birth partners eyes in labour, you need to see total calmness, and hear reassuring words from them that all is well. In order to do this, your birth partner needs some basic knowledge of birth physiology.
I describe six different stages of labour on my hypnobirthing course (since you asked: Early/Latent Labour, the Up Stage, Transition, the Down Stage, Birth of the Placenta and the Golden Hour). All these stages feel different to one another. And women behave differently during these stages and need different things to cope well. Your birth partner therefore needs to know how to keep you calm during each stage and reassure you. How can they say “everything is fine” and mean it, if they’re not really sure themselves? Without some basic knowledge, they’re basically just bluffing it and you will know this!
One of my hypnobirthing dads said to me that during the (sometimes tricky) “transition” stage, his wife suddenly became very panicky (perfectly normal with this stage!). He was able to reassure her and told me he used the words “This is normal, Rachel told us about this. Everything is fine. Breathe. We will be meeting baby soon”. Had he not known about this stage, he believed total panic and frenzy would have occurred which would have negatively affected their birthing experience. Of course, his wife knew about this stage too. She’d learnt about it with me at the same time as he had. But, in advanced labour, she needed a gentle reminder and some well-informed reassurance.
Adapt to your changing needs
Similar to the above, your birth partner needs to understand and respond to your changing behaviour as labour advances…massage one minute, then hands off the next. And being calm and comfortable with you wanting different things at different times.
Very often, as you move through the different stages of labour a woman’s mood can change. New sensations and changes in intensity can spark a bit of anxiety – what she was doing before to cope might no longer be working. These unsettled periods are usually transient, and a well-informed and supportive birth partner will know how to get you back in your calm and safe space, how to maximise your comfort levels during each stage, observe your changing behaviour, and react with reassurance and confidence.
Breathe with you
Your birthing partner needs to “breathe with you”. A woman in labour will very often mirror her birth partner and if her birth partner has practiced the breathing techniques, and is doing them with you, you’re more likely to stay calm and focused.
Protect your space
The environment in which you labour and give birth has a huge impact upon how easily and smoothly your labour progresses. Lots of birth literature recognises that the conditions needed for sleep, sex and birth are all the same.
Birth is very primal indeed; the process of labour and birth is controlled by the your subconscious brain which, in turn, is affected by all your senses. Simple things like dim lighting, privacy and familiarity make for the best labour and birth environments. A woman in labour needs to feel “emotionally safe”, relaxed and at ease so that she can behave instinctively and let go of any hang ups or worries.
Your birth partner therefore needs some basic knowledge of the workings of the brain during labour and how to adapt the environment so that it is beneficial to your labour. This can make a dramatic difference to how your labour develops and progresses.
He/she needs to be thinking about:
– Who is in the room. Only those that are absolutely necessary should be there. This might involve asking people to politely leave if necessary, even if just temporarily.
– The lighting in the room. Is it too bright? Are the curtains open? Your birth partner can make changes accordingly.
– Is the room quiet and undisturbed? Asking for quieter voices might be a necessary job of the birth partner so that the woman can continue to labour undisturbed.
– Whether you are you able to move freely. Do you feel comfortable enough to make noise, remove clothing and behave instinctively?
Ultimately, this role involves being “the guardian of the birth environment” and making sure the room is conducive to labour. Please be mindful that where you labour and give birth might be two different places, and the environments of both need to be considered.
Being your advocate
Ok, this is a biggy.
In labour, a woman needs to be able to switch off and go "into herself”; sometimes referred to as a “birth trance”. It is a perfectly safe and relaxing “space” for a woman to be in. She has an altered state of consciousness whereby time no longer exists. She is calm, focused and at ease. But, in this state, she is not i
n a position to negotiate with anyone as doing so would immediately bring her “back to reality” – slowing her labour progress and hindering her comfort levels. This links in with the above information ’96 that a birth partner needs to understand the principles of what is needed to encourage a calm and natural birth,
But, this also leads on to a different, perhaps even bigger role.
A woman is only truly able to “go into herself” if she is confident that her birth partner can speak up for her ’96 calmly and courageously ’96 if and when needed. Whilst health professionals are there to support you in the birth that you want, their recommendations are be based upon hospital protocol which can very much feel like a “one size fits all” approach. Of course, in birth, one size doesn’t fit all and women’s wants and needs vary greatly. A woman in labour can feel very vulnerable and disagreeing with hospital protocol can be an impossible task; especially when she is “coming in and out” of surges which makes listening and conversations more difficult.
This is when a well-informed and supportive birth partner really comes into action ’96 speaking up for your wants and needs, and therefore being the difference between a positive and empowering birth experience, and one where a woman felt unheard and ignored.
Of course, speaking up on a labouring woman’s behalf is near impossible without some basic knowledge, information and confidence at hand. Your choices and options are otherwise very much limited to hospital protocol if you are not aware of your options and your alternatives.
I teach private hypnobirthing courses in and around the St Helens area (Merseyside) and I have designed my courses so that your birth partner is as integral as you are. If you have two birth partners, three birth partners’85whatever’85I will teach you all. It is so important that you are all “singing from the same hymn sheet”, that your birth partners know what you want, knows how to help you achieve this, and how to support you if things don’t go to Plan A, or even Plan B.
I give out “birth partner question sheets” on session 3 of the course. This is one of the most significant and effective parts in terms of you feeling in control of your own birth, and confident that your birth partners know what you want and how to make (sometimes difficult) decisions with health professionals should the need arise. Your birth partners will learn and understand how to ask the “right” questions to make sure you, and they, fully understand everything that is happening, what is being offered and what alternatives there are. Whilst always, of course, keeping you and baby safe and happy. Knowing this, and having this trust in your birth partner, you can relax and get on with what you’re doing undisturbed and uninhibited.
Hypnobirthing birth partners really are something special. Far from feeling “lost” or misplaced in the birth room (as many often say they feel) – they are calm, confident and at ease and are therefore positively affecting the birth environment and playing an vital role in how baby entered the world. So many women have said to me on their postnatal visit: “he was my total rock. I couldn’t have done it without him”.
If you would like to get your birth partner(s) “birth ready” ’96 knowing that they will be able to support you in the very best way and making your labour and birth smoother and more comfortable, drop me a message or give me a call.
Love Rachel xxx
P.S Congratulations to Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson (seamless link!) and his partner Lauren on the birth of their daughter. He described Lauren as powerful and strong when giving birth, and that he was in awe of her throughout. What wonderful words.