65. 5 Top Tips for Preparing Your Ultimate Birth Partner – Sallyann Beresford
"(B) enefits – What are the benefits of the recommendations given? (R) isks – What are the risks of the recommendations - to me and/or my baby? (A) lternatives – Are there any alternatives to consider before making my decision? ( I ) nstincts – What are my instincts telling me? (N) othing – What if we wait a while and do nothing at this time?"
I’m sure you have already considered who might be at the top of your guest list when it comes to choosing your birth partner. Their role is essential to you and the process, so you should both become acquainted with the possibilities of their support and understand what can be achieved when a partner feels well prepared. You may also plan to invite a doula, family member or friend to be part of your team. Whoever you choose, remember that part of their job will be to help you feel calm and relaxed – so avoid inviting anyone who stresses you!
Here are my 5 top tips to prepare your partner, so they feel ready to offer the right support for the birth you are planning.
1) Birth Planning Sessions
I recommend you arrange at least one or two birth planning sessions with your partner and anyone else that will be supporting you, to take place around 32 and 36 weeks. If you are attending an antenatal course together, schedule one to take place before the start of the course, and the other once it is complete. Book these appointments into your schedule in advance to ensure that you are free from all distractions.
During these sessions, openly discuss your thoughts and preferences about giving birth. If you identify any gaps in your knowledge, this is the time to address them.
Here are some potential questions to guide your discussion:
- What are your wishes or preferences for this birth?
- What are your worries or concerns?
- What do you think might irritate you?
- What birth management techniques do you want to try or avoid—breathing and relaxation, hypnobirthing, comb, stress balls, tens machine, acupressure, Entonox (gas), epidural, opioids?
- What comfort measures or important tasks can your birth partner help you with during labor and birth—touch or massage techniques, hypnobirthing, cold or warm washcloths, documentation (photos or videos), communication with people outside the birthing area?
- What are your preferences regarding the following: monitoring of the baby, vaginal examinations, induction of labor (including cervical sweeps), abdominal birth (c-section), optimal cord clamping, placenta encapsulation, feeding the baby, skin-to-skin contact, vitamin K?
- If it becomes necessary, how would you like your birth partner to advocate for you?
- What do you need to know about them and their needs during the birth?
At your second session, I recommend you talk through your birth plan and pack your
birth bag together. This will help your partner understand what is available for
them to use on the day and what each item is for.
2) Be Honest!
Be really honest with your birth partner about your personality style and how you feel it may influence your labor. What are your strengths? What do you think are areas where you might struggle and need more support? Do you find it easy to relax and let go of control? Perhaps you already know that you don’t want to be touched. Or maybe you have a really clear idea about them supporting you with techniques such as hypnobirthing. Now is the time to tell your birth partner how you want to be cared for in labor and give details about the ways to uphold your wishes. If you keep forgetting to breathe, for example, how would you like them to remind you? Do you want them to breathe with you, would you prefer them to count your breaths, or just tell you to ‘breathe?’ Are you happy for them to touch you, or do you want to not be touched at all? Are you particularly annoyed when they look at their phone? How would you feel if they were constantly making jokes and trying to entertain you when you would prefer a quiet, relaxing environment? Watch birth videos online and observe the birth partner’s behavior to see what you like, and conversely what you don’t. Once they have a clear idea of their role, you can feel confident they will take great care of you.
3) Safety Word
Once you have implemented tip one and two, you can then introduce the idea of a ‘safety word’. Just as it sounds, this is a code word that you can have in place to protect you and your birth partner throughout labor. This is such a useful tool to have in your toolbox. In principle, having a safety word in place gives you the added security of knowing that if at any stage during the birth process you have a moment of doubt or something I fondly refer to as ‘a wobble’, your partner won’t instantly want to rescue you, but is more likely to support you through that moment. During that confidence dip, they can show you how much they believe in you, without the fear of making a mistake. If you do decide to use your safety word, you are clearly indicating that you would like to switch from Plan A – the set of preferences you shared with them in the prenatal period – to Plan B or C. A safety word allows you to vocalize as much as you want throughout the experience, without them switching to ‘fix it’ mode – a common trait with partners. This tool reminds anyone supporting you, that whilst nothing is set in stone, you are keen to ensure that you only deviate away from your plan A, if you decide you want to do so!
4) Advocacy – How to use your BRAIN
Sometimes, during pregnancy, labor and the postpartum period, the need may arise for you or your partner to ask questions regarding your options. Whilst recommendations can be made by your care providers at this time, nothing can happen to you without your consent. The BRAIN acronym helps you gain additional information. Ask your care provider any or all of the following questions, and then ask them to give you and your partner some privacy before you share your decision.
(B) enefits – What are the benefits of the recommendations given?
(R) isks – What are the risks of the recommendations – to me and/or my baby?
(A) lternatives – Are there any alternatives to consider before making my decision?
( I ) nstincts – What are my instincts telling me?
(N) othing – What if we wait a while and do nothing at this time?
If for any reason you need to ask your care provider additional questions, these might include:
- Is this your personal opinion or an evidence-based recommendation?
- Please can you show me the evidence?
- What are the actual statistics that are relevant to me and my situation?
5) The Ultimate Birth Partner – Being Not Doing!
Lastly, the best possible birth companion is someone who truly understands the concept of being present with you in labor without feeling the need to do anything at all. If labor is progressing, they can sit close by and quietly observe. As a doula myself, I like to adopt a ‘less is more’ approach and try not to be too active. What is important is to ensure that your birth partner meets all your physiological needs. So, ensure they have access to plenty of your favorite snacks and drinks, they know what positions you like and feel comfortable with, they understand how to prepare the environment to facilitate the right hormones for birth – making you feel safe and loved, and encourage them to stay calm and quiet which can help to raise your oxytocin levels. Typically, only an occasional confident smile or kind word is required to remind you that your birth partner is nearby if you need them. If your birth partner can stay out of your eye line, you won’t feel too observed and less likely to be tempted to engage in conversation. You can then relax and get into the birthing zone more easily. This helps you to produce more and more oxytocin – the hormone required to dilate your cervix. The more oxytocin you produce the quicker your labor is likely to be.
Sallyann Beresford is a UK based doula and birth educator with over 20 years of experience supporting pregnant women and their partners. She is the author of two best-selling books: Labour of Love – The Ultimate Guide to Being a Birth Partner and The Art of Giving Birth – Five Key Physiological Principles. Sallyann has also designed a range of birth planning journals to help pregnant women document their pregnancy and explore their feelings in preparation for a really positive birth experience. In addition, she produces her own popular weekly podcast – The Ultimate Birth Partner Podcast.