How to be a great birthing partner

By Samantha Thurlby-Brooks
You’ll often find in antenatal classes that the teacher will be very confident in telling you that “the role of the birthing partner is very important”. And that’s where they often stop; no tips, no advice, just the statement that you are very important! So if you are so important, how do you know if you’re doing your ‘job’ correctly or if there is in fact a ‘job’ for you to do as your partner breathes deeply and focuses on her contractions?It is true that a birthing partner’s role is very important, but not essential. A woman can safely give birth without a ‘team’ around her and would often be much safer to give birth in privacy. If a woman decides to have you with her for the birth of her baby it is essential for the health of both mother and child that you understand and carry out your role effectively.The three main things to remember about your role as a birthing partner is to

  • stay relaxed
  • encourage and reassure her
  • hold her
  • become invisible and
  • keep the space safe


Staying relaxed during the birth of the baby is as much the role of the birthing partner as it is for the woman in labour. If you are feeling anxious, irritable, restless, worried or aggitated, excited or even hungry you will increase your levels of adrenaline (the fight or flight hormone that raises your blood pressure and gives you a boost of energy). Adrenaline is a very contagious hormone, the effects can produce responses in those around you. During labour, if anyone has adrenaline pumping through them it can mean, for the mother, that it is not safe for her to give birth and so labour may slow down or even go backwards. Oxytocin, the hormone responsible for labour contractions, will decrease or not be released if adrenaline is in the body. It is possible for a womans’ cervix to contract from fully dilated to 7, maybe even 6cm if the situation is not safe for her and baby. Sometimes the baby will not come down the birth canal and labour suddenly stops if there’s too much tension and adrenalin in the room.

So how do you relax when you’re about to become a father, grandfather, grandmother, aunt or uncle? Read a book, try and sleep or practise meditating are all great ways to relax during childbirth. Leaving the room if you’re feeling anxious is the best way to unwind and relax. You’ll greatly benefit your partner if you are not present at times when you’re not coping with the situation so you can regain perspective and come back feeling refreshed and calm. Try and stay away from tea and coffee during the labour (especially because the smell of coffee can be very strong) as these drinks increase your adrenalin.

The first stage of labour, where the woman’s body is opening and stretching to allow the baby to come down far enough for her to start pushing, is very boring for those who are not feeling the contractions. The contractions will come and go at five to three or less minute intervals which can go on healthily for over 24 hours. If you cannot find a way to relax through this phase of labour you’re going to have a very uncomfortable wait! Childbirth is about being patient and relaxing into whatever unfolds for however long it takes. Practise relaxation and being still on a regular basis for at least four weeks before the baby is due.


Becoming invisible during the whole of the labour is essential for the birth of any mammal. Farmers and vet’s know full well that openly watching a sheep, horse or cow during the birth of their infant will cause major problems to the health and bonding of the mother and the baby both during and after the birth. The same is true for humans. All mamals need privacy during birth because an animal that is being watched during such a vulnerable time means that there is a predator around and will increase adrenaline levels in the mother allowing her to stop or slow down the labour so as to fight or run.

When in the birthing room with the labouring woman try and find a discrete corner to sit in out of the way. She will often hide her face or close her eyes which is great. Try not to interupt her or get her attention while she is doing this. Do not openly watch your partner or tell her how she looks/ sounds/ appears as this will get her brain thinking and cause her to come out of her ‘animal’, meditative state. However much you want to talk to your partner about how things are going try and refrain from doing so. The only reason you’ll be doing this is for your own good and will not help her. If she wants to talk try not to encourage her by getting into conversation with each other. Conversation will get her out of the relaxed and meditative state her body will naturally put her in to. Answer any questions with very simple positive language and a kind smile.

Sometimes during labour, a woman who’s in her ‘animal’ mind (the best way to increase the hormones and have a great and easier labour) will say and do some strange things. Making strange noises and movements are great and you can rest and relax knowing that she’s labouring really well. Remember to stay invisible and do not comment on any of this behaviour.


Keeping the space safe during the labour and birth means a lot more than making sure cables are out of the way and the birthing pool water is the right temperature. Keeping the space safe means ensuring that the birth process is respected and kept uninterrupted. By being invisible and relaxed you are keeping the space safe. By ensuring the rest of the people in the birthing room are doing likewise is also keeping the space safe. Many midwives and doctors either don’t know or don’t understand the true birth process or don’t see the importance of keeping it in tact.

Interrupting the simple process of birth by watching the labouring woman, trying to get her thinking and answering questions, making comments that will make her feel self conscious, self pitying or fearful, keeping the lights bright or trying to get her to change positions and coaching her to breathe or push will all have a negative impact on the ease of the birth. Having a foetal monitor strapped to the labouring woman is also a source of observation and acts in the same way as someone sitting infront of her staring. Ask if it is possible for the midwife to use a dopler (a hand held instrument that listens to the baby’s heart beat) as this can be much less intrusive. The baby knows when it is being observed and may become distressed with a constant machine monitoring him/her.

It is your job, as the birthing partner, to ensure that there are only the essential people in the birthing room; the woman in labour, a midwife (not necessarily all the time) and yourself (also not necessarily all the time). Obstetrician’s sometimes like to come in to introduce themselves. You are allowed to ask them to leave or request that they do not enter the room if everything is going fine as the more people in the room the less privacy there is and the birthing woman should be left to relax and focus on herself and the baby. The more a woman in labour is able to focus purely on herself and the baby, the quicker and easier the birth. Your role is to create the space for that to happen.

As an add on to your role, the birthing partner acts as a voice for the labouring woman. It is therefore important that you know your birthing woman’s details (e.g. postcode, date of birth, national security/health insurance details), her medical history, allergies, time difference between the contractions, her birthing wishes (natural birth or types of medication or intervention she does/doesn’t want).

So, make sure that you are well fed, well rested, calm and happy to be in the birthing room. That is your job, nothing more and nothing less. By understanding the true importance of doing very little during the whole of the birth process you will be the best partner you can be and will know that the birthing woman is having the best possible chance for a natural and enjoyable birth.

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