What is it you expect from your birth partner? How can they support you? Is it coaching, touching, being present or possibly staying well away from you?

Working as a doula now for over 3 years, I’ve been at various births and witnessed a number of birth partners as well as having worked with hundreds of women over the last few years.

A massive component of a good birth is about partner support.  The issue is that the first time your partner is supporting a birth, it might be the first time they’ve witnessed a birth.  If they are the baby’s parent – there’s a lot of pressure on them too – it’s a big day for them.

I feel very empathetic for many partners who are suddenly expected to provide this amazing support and be this person when possibly, what they need to do is so far removed from their day to day life.

Who are our birth partners?

Commonly our birth partners are baby’s father or your mum, sister, friend, cousin etc. We live in increasingly diverse times and it’s common for babies to have two mums or two dads and mums who will parent on their own through situation or through choice.  Birth partners can therefore be very varied in terms of sex, age, and relationships.

There are also professional birth partners in the role of doulas and we’ll discuss that later on.

What makes a good birth partner

A good birth partner has some very specific characteristics.  They need to be:

  • Calm under pressure
  • Cope with stress, difficult situations, seeing you potentially in pain or exhausted or hitting a physical and emotional wall
  • Positive – carry a whole lot of positive energy
  • Have the ability to be present without fussing and without getting bored.  Birth can take a long time so the last thing you need is someone making you anxious and rushing you
  • Have the ability to forward plan – if mum gets and intervention what does that mean? And if they don’t know – do they have the ability to ask?


What do you need from your birth partner?

It can be so variable – what happens in one birth for one woman can vary from the next.  One woman might need to be loved, feel held, cuddled, kissed and really embraced by her partner.  Another woman might feel that she needs to be left alone.  And women can go between the two states in the same birth depending on how her labour progresses.

It’s very challenging to say to a partner what the mum needs as until labour starts and unfolds, there is very little way to be precise.  It’s not formulaic.  Some of it is intuitive by reading the situation.

There are some things women all need such as:

  • To feel totally safe – the role of the environment and who is in the space is so important here
  • To not have to think – the partner needs to do all the thinking
  • Needs reminded to eat, drink and pee
  • Requires someone there to oversee that everything is going well
  • Advocating


Advocating – why it’s so important?

Advocating is probably the most important task that a birth partner can do.  Working with many women who have had challenging experiences – it’s often been because they felt no one had their interests at heart – no one listened, no one looked at their birth plan and no one asked questions.  They were expected to make decisions whilst in labour.

One of the things I always talk about is the role of the birth plans – planning for all situations.  This is so important so that your birth partner can go through this and knows that regardless of what happens, you can still have some decisions over the birth.

With this comes a special set of skill-set and that’s one of confidence with authority.  There are lots of ways that a birth partner can do this even if they aren’t feeling very confident such as:

  1. Take control of the birth space – the birth environment is pivotable.  If you’re birthing at home this is less important but as 98% of UK women birth in a hospital or midwife led centre, then for 98% of births, your birth partner needs to take control of the birth space.  That will include shifting furniture, making it homely, dimming lights, filling it with things that make you feel more comfortable.  And when you do that – it helps shift how you feel within that space.  You feel less like a visitor.
  2. Power poses – there’s a great TED talk by Amy Cuddy on power posing.  In this, how your partner holds themselves in the birth space really changes how they feel in terms of authority.  This is your birth.  Your partner has every authority to support and advocate for you.  Build confidence JUST BY THE WAY YOUR PARTNER SITS AND STANDS! (if you don’t believe it – try it)
  3. Learn what questions to ask and don’t be afraid to ask 5 million questions and then shorten this down into easily digestible pieces of information for your partner.


What to do if you’re worried you birth partner can’t support you?

Have a proper chat to identify ways they can support you.  Get them involved in what you are reading/researching/preparing for.  Take them along with antenatal preparation you are doing.  Involve them in your birth planning process.  Identify anything they are specifically concerned about.  There are also some dad specific antenatal classes that run across the UK which will be worth looking out for.

If you know that they’ll never be able to help you then it’s worth recognising it and doing something to prepare. It’s not a reflection on THEM as some of the nicest people I’ve worked with, haven’t always been the best birth partners.  Consider having your mum, sister, friend or doula there.

A doula is professional birth support – they are trained to provide you with the emotional support that you need for your birth.  They aren’t medically trained but are trained to understand how natural physiological birth unfolds and to support you and your partner in that process.  The evidence for doulas is excellent.  The investment in a doula is between £650-£1500 – possibly more in some parts of the UK in and around London.  The also provide postnatal support too and can really support you to bond and breastfeed your baby.  Whilst it may seem like a lot, it can literally change this experience.

Here are some great resources for your birth partner

I’d recommend the following books:

  1. The Basic Needs of a Woman in Labour – it’s a 20 minute read and SO helpful
  2. The Birth Partner – a much more substantial book, very in depth and covers ALL scenarios – a great book for all birth partners including doulas
  3. The Positive Birth book – a must read for everyone. It’s filled with really helpful information but in a very accessible way
  4. Am I Allowed – covers everything around what your rights are in birth – really helpful for birth partners AS WELL as birthing women to read

There are plenty others but I feel these are the most helpful.

How can the Birth and Baby Academy help you?

All our free downloads in the Resources Bundle are suitable for birth partners too.  The courses we offer all have a download specifically for partners to work through – including the Birth Bundle, Caesarean Bundle and Breastfeeding Bundle.  Partners are encouraged to work through all the courses together.  Or alternatively book a Birth Coaching session for you both.  If you’d like to know more about of this – then do get in touch.


Much love, Tricia xx

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