The support person plays a vital role in the labour, birth and postpartum journey and can positively influence the birth outcomes. A support person is defined as any person who has the primary role of supporting a woman in her labour, birth and postpartum period. This could be a partner, friend, family member or doula.
How can a support person influence the labour, birth and postpartum period?
A supportive birth partner can play a crucial role in improving birth outcomes by providing physical, emotional, and informational support to the labouring person. Here are some benefits of having a supportive birth partner:
Emotional support can help reduce anxiety, increase feelings of safety and security, and contribute to a more positive birth experience.
- Advocacy and communication: Can help the labouring person feel empowered, informed, and involved in their birthing process.
- Physical support and comfort measures: During labour, a supportive birth partner can assist with various physical comfort measures, such as massage, position changes, breathing techniques, and providing water or snacks. These measures can help manage pain, enhance relaxation, and promote a more comfortable birthing environment.
- Reduced interventions and medical interventions: Studies have shown that having a supportive birth partner, can lead to a decrease in medical interventions during childbirth. Continuous support has been associated with lower rates of caesarean sections, instrumental deliveries (forceps or vacuum), and requests for pain medication. This may be attributed to the emotional support, relaxation techniques, and encouragement provided by a birth partner, which can help the labouring person cope better with the intensity of labour.
- Shorter labour and improved satisfaction: Research suggests that continuous support during childbirth is associated with shorter durations. The presence of a supportive birth partner can help the labouring person stay relaxed, focused, and better able to cope with the challenges of labour. Additionally, when the birth partner is involved and supportive, it often leads to greater satisfaction with the birth experience.
What is your role as support person?
The role of the support person isn’t to make decisions for the birthing mother, but your role extends further than a simple words of encouragement. The role of the birth support is to ensure the respect, safety, security and comfort of the birthing mother is upheld at all times. Your role extends from making sure she stays hydrated all the way up to advocating for her throughout this period.
How can I be a good support person?
To be a good support person, it’s essential to start with preparation and education. Understanding what is normal, how to help during each stage of labour and what all the available options are will help you feel confident in your role. Furthermore, understanding the importance of breastfeeding and what to expect can help you feel equipped in assisting with feeding and care of the baby. Attending Antenatal Classes together, is a great way for you both to learn what is normal, what to expect and how to advocate during the labour process. Therefore, the more knowledge you have, the more that you will feel equipped to support your birthing partner through labour and birth. However, this doesn’t mean that you need to know absolutely everything to do with labour and birth, the midwives are a wealth of knowledge and are always available to guide both you and your birth partner throughout the duration of your hospital stay.
Labour, birth and even the postpartum period don’t always go to plan, meaning it is important to be flexible if situations arise during your labour and birth that you weren’t expecting or planning for. Remaining calm and flexible during this time can help keep the birthing person calm and empowered throughout these changes.
Tips for being a good support person:
- Try not to leave the room to often: Leaving the hospital room can distract her and make it hard for her to get into the zone during her labour and birth.
- Remind her to eat and drink: It may sound silly, but often women forget to eat and drink during labour and birth. Staying hydrated and well-nourished is essential in enabling the process of labour. The woman may not feel like a giant meal, however small high protein snacks are perfect for labour.
- Remind her to empty her bladder: The bladder is next to the uterus, this means that if the bladder is full it can potentially push the baby up and off the cervix reducing the pressure applied down onto the cervix. This could potentially slow down the process of labour.
- Help her change positions regularly: Positions that utilise gravity and comforting touch, can help the progress of labour. Changing positions every 10-15 contractions, not only helps with comfort during labour and birth but it also helps to open the pelvis up to different angles and help that little baby wiggle further down.
- Lots of love, touch and kisses: Touch is an effective way in supporting the birthing woman through her labour, not only will it provide her comfort and help her relax but it will also help her release the hormone Oxytocin, which is essential for labour. Oxytocin is essential in creating strong, regular contractions that push baby in a downwards direction onto the cervix and thus continue the cycle of labour.
- Keep the room dark and private: Just as touch helps to release oxytocin, having the room dark and maintaining her privacy can also help to release oxytocin. Furthermore, keeping the room dark and private will help her stay focused, relaxed and reduce distractions during her labour and birth. Thus, enabling her to have more confidence in her body’s ability to give birth.
- Give her lots of positive reinforcement: Positive reinforcement in between contractions, can help her to have confidence in her body and her ability to birth her baby. Try to avoid sympathy, as this may remind her “Oh yeah, I am actually in pain” and can make her lose her focus.
- Remind her to breathe and relax: We all know how well it goes down when a partner tells the birthing mother to “relax”!! Try gently encouraging her to soften her face and relax her shoulders throughout the labour and birth, to encourage her to relax her pelvic floor and thus aid in the progress of labour.
- Advocate for her with the midwives: Often in the throes of labour and birth, the birthing mother can find it hard to have discussions and to share her wishes in labour and birth. This is where you come in – discussing her birth plan or preferences with the midwives can help them to continue supporting her in the way that will best suit her wants and needs.
- Remind her that pain relief in labour is not a bad thing: Contrary to what you may have heard, pain relief in labour is not always a bad thing and in some cases it can even help speed up a woman’s labour. Understanding the pros and cons of all of the available pain relief options can help you to adequately support her in her decisions for pain relief. Often ideas around pain relief do change in labour, so having this discussion during pregnancy is essential.
- Take lots of photos and videos: Mother nature has a way of making birthing mothers forget what actually happened during labour and birth, so that we go back and have more kids. Taking lots of photos and videos during the labour and birth can become beautiful memories for her to treasure for years to come.
As a support person, your role in labour, birth and the postpartum period is essential in improving birth outcomes, the birth experience and the birthing mother’s confidence in herself and her ability. It is essential that as a birth support person you never feel “in the way” and that you know that your role is just as valuable as anyone else’s role in that room. Have confidence in your ability to support the birthing mother and remember just how important you are!
Written by Lauren Brenton
Founder of One Mama Midwife