Top tips is maybe a bit strong – think of this more as “things that I would tell the me from a week ago, if I could”.
This article is written to you, the birth partner. The lady doing all the hard work I’ll call your partner; she might also be your daughter, friend, wife, or whatever. Given I can only write from experience, some of these thoughts may only apply if you’re giving birth in a labour ward and not at home.
Sorry in advance for any generally sloppy or rushed writing – baby is currently snoozing in a sling on my tummy, so I’ve got a limited amount of time to get this written!
You know where you’re going, yeah? And how you’re getting there? If you’re driving, you know where to park and where you can get away with momentarily abandoning the car if you have to do a quick drop off (and you’ve maybe got a little note for the windscreen pre-written, just in case)?
PS: I’m not going to go off on one about hospital parking, but there is a special place reserved for those who litter pavements and emergency areas with their personal transport. If you’re arriving at hospital by car, your day is almost certainly not going that badly. If you then block an ambulance with your idiotic parking, then you’re an absolute-
Is there a night entrance to the labour ward? Good to know if so.
FInally, you’ve hopefully talked through your partners birthing plan in advance. From the simple stuff like mistakenly bringing only Bach pastorals when she really wanted a thrash metal soundtrack, to the big things like pain relief options, check you know what she wants.
Things to have with you
Somewhere you’ll have a proper list of everything your partner should have with her for labour. Make sure you have everything, and that you know where the bags are before you leave the house. You might find it hilarious a few years down the line that you accidentally picked up the groceries rather than the birthing bag, but it’ll make for a tense near future…
So, other stuff:
Food and drink to keep you going for a day. Your partner may or may not be allowed to eat, but you certainly can. Nipping out for a burger half-way through is frowned upon. Maybe a can of something caffeinated for the drive home at the end of it all. A bottle you can keep topped up with water.
On the same lines, a straw might be handy if your partner is too busy gripping the furniture (or too high on diamorphine) to support a glass.
Mopping of brows with cold water is more easily done with a flannel than the provided paper towels.
For your own sanity if nothing else, think about some kind of music player. These X-Mi mini speakers are superb and worth £13.29 of anyone’s money. Is your music saved locally, or are you hoping for a strong enough mobile signal to stream…? Whilst we’re talking gadgets, have you got all the chargers you and your partner need? My Anker portable charger thing meant I wasn’t looking for convenient plugs, but isn’t an essential. Don’t drain the battery on your phone if you later plane to use it as a camera!
What to wear
Labour wards are hot. If you generally run warm, go for shorts.
You might end up on your feet for most of the day, so comfy shoes are a bonus. For me that meant my leather walking boots and good socks.
The whole birthing process has a tendency to be somewhat . . . icky . . . at times, especially if you go for some skin-to-skin at the end. Probably not the time for your Sunday best.
Thinking back, I ended up wearing the same stuff I’d use to walk up a big hill. Oddly apt!
What to do
You probably won’t end up in hospital until labour is well on the way (three contractions every ten minutes was the guidance we got), so you won’t need masses of reading material to keep you occupied…
Unless your partner is Twitter employee @Claire who live-tweeted her birth, you’re probably going to be the one in charge of external communications. Agree in advance who you’ll be contacting, when, and with what news. As a tale of caution, I ended up causing considerable panic to both sets of DarkerSide Jr’s grandparents when there was a four hour gap between “baby should be here within the hour” and “baby is here!”. Regular updates might sound like a good idea, but they backfire if something gets in the way of you sending them!
If you are sending out news, something that let’s you send the same thing once to everyone is handy – like a WhatsApp group. You can follow up with a proper phone call later. This is also a nice (free!) way to privately share photos with your nearest and dearest after the event.
Your antenatal classes (I talked about NCT offerings here) should hopefully have given you a good idea of what you can do vis-à-vis back rubs, positioning, and other physical elements, so I’ll skip all of that out. The only ‘medically’ thing I’ll say is that you can be a real help with the use of gas and air (entonox). As a painkiller, entonox only works whilst it’s inside your lungs. If your partner takes a deep breath in, exhales, and then doesn’t immediately breathe in again on the gas, she’ll get very little benefit from it. Your birth partner job can be to encourage her to keeping breathing deeply and slowly on the gas during each contraction.
Your partner is giving birth, and will be aware that she’s in for a lot of hard work. She’s probably spent the last nine months psyching herself up for these few days, and you’ve hopefully both learnt lots already about how to help her get through it all.
Without in any way taking away from that, don’t underestimate how much work you’ll have to put in to being a birth partner. The sixteenth and seventeenth of April included both the best (hearing our baby start to cry in the operating theatre) and the worst (watching the woman I love suffer through a brutally prolonged back-to-back labour) moments of my life so far. At the end of it all you’ll be physically drained, emotionally shattered, and good only to curl up in bed with your new family. At which point (if you gave birth in hospital) you’ll probably have to leave them both and drive home.
Go in with the knowledge that it’s hard work, and you’ll be in the best place to help your partner deliver this amazing new person into the world.
It’s worth it :)