Birth partners and postpartum support people

by Kaiser Permanente |
MalePartnerSupportingPregnantWoman

Being the primary support person for someone during pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum is an important role. For people giving birth, having support people can decrease pain and anxiety. Look for the tools you need to help support the pregnant person in your life when they need you the most.

Just being present goes a long way in providing the emotional support that helps your partner have an easier, less stressful, and more rewarding experience. It is also great for baby to be surrounded by individuals who care about them and can tell them the story of their first moments.

In addition to emotional support there are many practical things you do to provide support.

Here are 10 tips to help you stay calm, build your confidence, and empower you both to have a rewarding experience:

Communication

Communication is key between you and your partner and with your care team. Find out what is important to your pregnant partner by asking them questions related to their pregnancy, birth and postpartum. Listen to their needs and desires so that you can support their wishes. You know your partner better than anyone on the team. You can serve as their advocate, can help ask questions and can help communicate your partner’s wishes especially if they are very tired or in pain.

Preparation

Learn as much as you can during the pregnancy. Take childbirth preparation classes, do some reading, talk to your partner’s provider during your appointments if possible, and seek out reliable information online or with trusted friends and family members. Preparing in advance will help you both feel more confident as you enter into a new and unique experience. As you seek information learn:

  • How to recognize the signs of labor
  • How to time contractions
  • When to come to the hospital
  • What to pack in your labor bag
  • What to expect during each stage and phase of labor
  • What the care team will be doing and why
  • How to help your partner stay focused and cope with pain
  • Medications and interventions
  • Cesarean birth and gentle cesarean birth choices
  • Postpartum care
  • How to support infant feeding
  • How to ask questions of your care team and be your partner’s advocate

Create a birth preferences plan

Discuss together what is most important about your preferences around labor and birth, write it down, and share it with your physician, midwife or allied clinician at a prenatal visit. Things you may want to consider discussing are:

  • Other support people you want to include during labor and birth
  • Medical interventions, such as fetal monitoring, rupturing membranes, vacuum extraction, induction of labor, episiotomy, or cesarean birth
  • Pain coping choices, such as aroma therapy, music, relaxation exercises, visualization, hydrotherapy, eating and drinking, ice and heat, Tens unit, and breathing techniques
  • Relaxation exercises, including visualization, massage, and position changes such as walking, kneeling, squatting, using a birth ball or peanut ball, toilet sitting, or showering
  • Pain coping medications, such as IV pain medications, nitrous oxide in some sites and epidural anesthesia, and desired use and timing
  • Any combination or timing of non-pharmacological and medication coping tools
  • Requests for the pushing phase like using a mirror or touching the baby’s head
  • Birthing positions
  • Newborn procedures
  • Delayed cord clamping and skin to skin are standard for all births

It’s important to remember that a birth preferences plan is not a contract or an order form you are submitting to your health care provider to fill in. It is simply a tool to communicate what is important to you to your care team. Together, you will work with your care team to make the best decisions that are right for the health of you and your baby. Remember to ask questions and stay informed.

Flexibility

Flexibility is essential during labor and birth and will serve you well in caring for a baby. While determining goals and having a plan are valuable, it is rare that everything goes exactly as planned. For example, sometimes labor is longer than expected or complications may arise. Interventions may be recommended for the health and safety of the birthing person and their baby. This provides a good opportunity for birthing people and their partners to ask questions and make informed decisions when moving forward with interventions. Try to have a flexible mindset to avoid disappointment.

Be prepared for a long labor

The average first labor lasts 15-24 hours, and inductions can last 24-72 hours, longer than most people think. If labor begins on its own and is not induced, much of it will be spent at home before going to the hospital. If labor is induced, set a pace for your pregnant partner and yourself in the early hours by eating, drinking, and resting in order to save as much energy as possible for the later stages of active labor, and pushing.

Self-care

Self-care will be necessary. Supporting someone during labor and birth is physically and emotionally taxing. Wear comfortable clothes and stay hydrated and nourished like an athlete would. Take a minute to rest and stretch when you can. Don’t hesitate to ask your nurse provider for suggestions and support.

Try not to take things personally. It’s common for those in labor to be overwhelmed and say things they apologize for later. Remember, the rewards of supporting your pregnant partner through this experience will bring you closer in the end.

Consider back up

When someone you care for is in pain and asking for your help, hour after hour, it’s exhausting. And most birthing persons benefit from the support of more than one person. You might consider asking for additional support from a friend, loved one or professional labor doula. If you do, here are a few things to consider:

  • Are they someone who will promote calm and confidence? It will increase their value if they know what you want them to do. Do you want them to provide emotional support, or do you want them to assist with support? Could you meet in advance and talk about childbirth preparation and birth preferences?
  • Labor doulas are professionals who are skilled at providing physical and emotional support to pregnant people and their partners before, during, and after birth. Research shows that people who hire a doula are more likely to have a positive outcome, including shorter labors and a decreased risk of Cesarean birth. They are independent of your Kaiser Permanente care team and do not provide medical services or advice. If you choose to have a doula, you would hire and pay for them independently.

Breast/Chestfeeding

Learning to breast/chestfeed can be challenging. Research shows that breastfeeding people are more likely to be successful when they have their partner’s encouragement and support. Prior to birth, learn as much about breastfeeding as you can with your partner. Learn how it works and where to go if they need help. After the baby is born, help with baby care so your partner can focus their energy on feeding.

If family and friends offer discouraging, unwanted, or inaccurate advice, help your partner get to a breastfeeding support group or lactation consultant where they will get accurate, positive support. Help them get through the learning phase, which usually lasts about 4-6 weeks for breastfeeding to be well established. Help your partner to stay well hydrated and to eat well.

Prepare for the 4th trimester

The first 3 months of a baby’s life are a huge adjustment for everyone. The baby’s adjustment from the womb to the world is monumental. Their environment changes from dark to light, from close and snug to loose and free, from non-stop rhythmic sounds to constantly changing sounds, from being fed consistently to feeding on their own, and from feeling soft, warm, wet, smooth muscle massaging them to fabric and skin with variable temperatures. It’s like they moved from another planet to your world and their brain is developing at a quicker rate than it ever will again. They will require a lot of nurturing and patience. Take a baby care class together during pregnancy and learn about infant care, development, and safety.

Your partner’s hormones will be dropping dramatically from pregnancy. Physically, their body has a great adjustment to get back to its pre-pregnant state. People caring for a newborn baby will be sleep deprived and your partner will be physically recovering from birth and possibly major surgery.

Rest will impact everything. Sleep when the baby sleeps, throughout the day and night, to get enough sleep and prevent depression that comes from sleep deprivation.

Help at home in the first week(s) will allow you to focus on yourself and your partner and getting enough rest. Your partner’s job is to eat, drink, sleep, and take care of their body and the baby. Your job is the same with the addition of taking care of your partner. Absent from this list are shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Consider welcoming the help of friends and family or hiring help. Enlist those who understand what your needs are and who will not overstep or bring stress into your home.

Postpartum mood disorders (PMD) includes both depression and anxiety are not uncommon (even in support partners). You are vital in keeping watch and knowing in advance who to reach out to if your partner has symptoms. Anyone could experience PMD, however, those who have experienced depression or anxiety prior to pregnancy are at a higher risk.

  • Baby blues are experienced by 50-80% in the first weeks after birth. Symptoms come and go and include crying easily, anxiety, sadness, and feeling overwhelmed. If this lasts more than 2 weeks, call your care team.
  • Postpartum depression or anxiety happens to 20% of people within the first year after giving birth. Symptoms are similar to those of baby blues but can last all day. These symptoms often impair their ability to function throughout the day and can also include anger, irritability, and abuse of alcohol or drugs. And require medical intervention. Encourage your partner to call their care team if they are experiencing signs of postpartum mood disorder.
  • Postpartum psychosis is rare, but a medical emergency if it arises. If your partner is experiencing extreme anxiety (is unable to calm themselves), has delusions, is losing touch with reality, or is having thoughts of harming themselves or the baby, do not think you can manage the situation. Take them to the emergency room.

Partners can experience PMD as well. If this describes you, please call your care team and seek help.

Having a baby is a lot of work but very rewarding.

  • Labor is more exhausting and emotionally draining, and more do-able than you think.
  • You will be more tired than you have ever been in your life, and more passionate about taking on this new job as a parent or support person.
  • You will question your competence more than you ever have, and at the same time feel more confident of what you are doing.

This article has been created by a national group of Kaiser Permanente ob-gyns, certified nurse-midwives, pediatricians, lactation consultants and other specialists who came together to provide you with the best pregnancy, birth, postpartum, and newborn information.

Some of the content is used and adapted with permission of The Permanente Medical Group.

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