Childbirth is one of the biggest events in a women’s life, so it’s not surprising that the right support is crucial to how the birth plays out and how she ultimately feels about the experience. When we talk about support in labour and birth we need to address the physical, emotional and psychological aspects. A positive experience transpires when a woman feels informed, safe, listened to, respected, protected, encouraged and in control. Having a support team that can facilitate these things means you are more likely to follow your birth intentions and reach your birth goals. Choosing incorrectly can leave you feeling vulnerable, anxious or rail-roaded and can make intervention very enticing or lead to your birth experience being dictated by someone else.
There are three fundamental areas to focus on when choosing your support team:
Often problems arise when your beliefs or aspirations for birth don’t match those of your obstetrician, midwife or hospital. Be sure to have discussions early on with your care provider to find out if their philosophies or policies will be conducive to supporting your choices. Ask lots of questions and find out how much power you will have over your own experience. What are their intervention and C-section rates? Do they support water birth, breech birth or VBAC? How far will they let you go past your due date? You can even show them your birth plan and see what their reaction is. Are they accepting or making judgements about your wishes? Ask yourself if the person or place make you feel comfortable and at ease. You shouldn’t have to fight for anything you want so it’s important to choose a provider and place of birth that will support you to have the birth that is right for you.
Partners and Husbands
These days it is the woman’s partner or the father-to-be that is the main source of support during labour. This is a big role to play, yet it is truly wonderful when they can play an integral role in the birth of their child. However, seeing your loved one in pain can be very overwhelming, that is why it is so important that they too are informed and prepared. Traditionally men are wired to ‘fix’ problems so it is a good idea to let them know it is not their job to take the pain away. Give them a clear role to play and some jobs to do, so they can feel useful and support you effectively.
Remind them to be the loving and caring partner they already are. Being a reassuring presence, using encouraging words and gentle touch will help you feel safe and secure. If you think they will struggle with knowing what to say to you in labour, have a think about what you might like to hear and give them some suggestions. A birth partner needs to be ready to work hard to meet your needs and not be napping in the corner or looking at their mobile phone. If they have a labour ‘tool kit’, with a variety of comfort techniques along with the ability to recognise when you need active assistance or just moral support, you will be able to surrender knowing that you are well supported.
An effective birth partner also needs to be informed about the process of birth and what to expect at each stage physically and emotionally. Understanding what is ‘normal’ and what it may be like if things take a different turn, often helps reduce their anxiety so they can remain calm for you.
Finally, having the confidence to advocate for you will come from knowing what you want and what you don’t want, so make sure to research and prepare your birth plan/preferences together.
Family and Friends
Most hospitals allow for two support people (except during covid), so if a private experience between yourself and your partner is not high on your priority list, you may consider having a second person to support you or act as a backup. Deciding who to choose can be tough, especially when you have friends or family expecting to be there. Often it is a mother, sister or best friend who is invited to attend but it is important to consider how they may behave or react. Will your mother be calming or stressful? Remember stress can derail birth and you don’t want sympathy, you want support. Will you be able to fully let go with your mother-in-law in the room? Will your best friend be supportive of your choices or encourage you to take drugs because she did?
Keep in mind that this will be one of the most significant days of your life, so if you feel your care provider is not fitting the bill, you should consider changing to a different hospital, Obstetrician or maternity care option. If your partner feels apprehensive, attend an independent childbirth education course to gain some knowledge and skills. Another way to increase your level of support is to hire a professional birth attendant/ doula.
The most important thing to remember is that YOU should be the centre of this experience and have every right to make the big call about who cares for you during the birth of your child. Set yourself up so that you are surrounded by those that respect your choices, believe in you, that won’t panic, will provide inspiration and motivation when it gets tough and most of all support you to birth the way that’s right for you.
Yvette Julian-Arndt is a mum to two gorgeous boys and with her husband, loves living on the Mornington Peninsula. As a childbirth educator and the owner of Project Birth, she is passionate about educating and inspiring couples for this life changing event. Find out more at www.projectbirth.com.au or join her on Facebook and Instagram for more great labour and birth tips.