Advice on choosing a birth partner to support you throughout pregnancy and labour.
There once was a time when expectant mothers were tended to by doting midwives throughout their labour. Unfortunately due to constraints imposed by staffing shortage this no longer tends to be the case as midwives are rarely able to provide the individual level of support they would like. This means that now more than ever choosing a birth partner that is able to provide you with physical, practical and emotional support whilst you are in labour is essential.
Another aspect of childbirth that has changed dramatically over the years is the presence of men in the delivery suite. Where fathers were rarely present at the birth of their child, this is now common place with the vast majority of women choosing their life partner as their birth partner. This is a seemingly obvious choice as your birth partner needs to be someone that you feel completely comfortable with and trust implicitly (labour is not the time to feel self conscious!). Choosing your life partner as birth partner also has the advantage that they have been through the experience of pregnancy with you, should be comfortable enough with your birth plan to express your wishes to the delivery team and should have had enough practice in helping you with breathing exercises and relaxation techniques that they will be confident to guide you through contractions. Above all, the birth of your child is a wonderful experience to share together.
However, although this is a popular choice you should not feel that your partner has to be present at the birth of your child - its important that you feel 100% happy with who is there with you. Many women worry that their partner may go off them sexually after seeing them give birth (this is rarely the case but a common worry none the less) or that their partner may not be able to cope with seeing them in so much pain. For this reason many women choose to have a close friend or relative support them throughout labour. When preparing your birth plan you should discuss your choice of labour support with your partner so that you both feel comfortable with who will be present.
Research has shown that choosing a female birth companion can have positive effects on your birth experience with the labouring mothers studied needing less pain relief, fewer caesareans and other medical interventions when a supportive women was present throughout.
Many women choose to have their Mum or sister present during labour and close relatives can be fantastic birth partners as you know that they will be able to provide both emotional and practical support for you. If you choose a friend as a birth partner you should be confident that they are sufficiently prepared (especially if they haven't yet had children of their own) and understand your wishes completely.
Some women choose to hire a Doula - a professional birth companion - to support them throughout labour. Although Doulas are not medically trained they are experienced in relaxation techniques and many women report an enhanced birth experience when a Doula is present. Many Doulas will also provide post-natal support in the weeks after you have given birth.
Who to choose
When deciding who you would like to accompany you throughout labour you should go for someone who you trust, who you feel comfortable around, who will be confident enough to ensure that your needs and requirements are met and who is able to take control and help you to remember your relaxation techniques.
Some hospitals allow you to have more than one birth partner so you could ask both your partner and Mum/friend to be there if you so wish (check hospital regulations first though). Having more than one birth partner can be a good option as they can provide support for each other whilst they are both supporting you.
When choosing a birth partner the most important thing is that you are happy with your choice - don't agree to let anyone be present if you would rather they weren't there. Whoever you choose make sure that you practice your breathing techniques with them, that they understand your birth plan and that they are flexible with their time so they can be there as soon as you need them!
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