To represent the effect of a birth partner, a 2015 study claimed that partners increased the pain felt in labour for some women. Here’s what the study involved – zapping a group of women with moderately painful pinprick laser pulses on their fingers. 39 of these women found that this pain was not reduced by having their partners present.
This study fails to acknowledge the emotional and physical intensity of labour and birth, the differing discomfort and pain as well as the tiredness and just the huge amount of effort involved to be physically and mentally able to birth a baby. Laser pulses on a finger is not quite the same!
In labour women need to feel safe and, for the vast majority of us, that comes when our partner is with us. They might not need to do anything else apart from be in that room with us.
Some labouring women need to cling to their partners, as those contractions intensify, as the need to stay calm and head off any panic increases. They need to be held, comforted, reassured and supported, there may be a need for connection. And none of this is needed with laser pulses on the finger.
In labour women – and their partners – need to be able to use their breathing to stay calm and relaxed. Were the women in this study using their breathing, had they prepared in the same way many of us prepare for childbirth?
With most other pain, we don’t want it, it is usually a sign that something isn’t right – we have hurt ourselves, something needs fixing. The pain of labour is a sign that our body is working, those contractions are bringing us our baby and the pain is worth it because we get to meet our baby at the end of it. The most women could probably expect at the end of the laser study is a sore finger!
I do think there needs to be more discussion about who is going to be a birth partner. Not all dads want to be there and not all dads can cope with being the only birth partner – book a birth doula or arrange for another second birth supporter who can stay calm and be supportive.
According to birth partner research commissioned by the British Pregnancy Advisory Service:
95% of men now attend the birth of their baby
60% of women saying their partner “really supported” them as they gave birth.
9% of fathers felt they “got in the way” during the birth, but only 2% of mothers described their own partner in this way
there was “too much pressure” on men to be there (5% of fathers, 2% of mothers).
63% of fathers said they wanted to be there to “share the experience”
37% felt they stood up for their partner and communicated her needs and wishes during the birth
27% of dads said they were unable to help much during the birth and 18% of mothers felt this about their partner
In 2009 Dr Michel Odent announced that having a male birth partner can make a woman more anxious, which can slow labour: “The ideal birth environment involves no men in general. Having been involved for more than 50 years in childbirths in homes and hospitals in France, England and Africa, the best environment I know for an easy birth is when there is nobody around the woman in labour apart from a silent, low-profile and experienced midwife – and no doctor and no husband, nobody else.”
This sounds perfect – I am all for a quiet, calm birthing environment with no fuss or unneccesary chatter with a trusted midwife but I still think I would want my husband there with me.
So how can dads be useful when they are a birth partner?
- be calm, if you are feeling unsure or overwhelmed, get some reassurance from your midwife
- offer words of support and encouragement when they are needed
- be chatty when your partner needs that, be quiet when she needs that too
- offer physical support, massage and cuddles
- sit back, rest and observe if your partner doesn’t need you to do anything but be in the room – labouring women often don’t like a lot of fuss
- keep the birthing room calm and quiet without unnecessary interuptions, noise and bright lights
- look for signs that your partner is becoming tense – she needs to slow her breathing during contractions
and let go of any tension in her body – shoulders, hands, jaw – so her body can focus on labouring rather than dealing the fear and tension.
- help her to be physically comfortable – does she need the loo?, is she warm enough? does she need to change position?
- just be there for her
Janine Smith | a specialist in pregnancy, birth & parent support