Birth partners and postpartum support people

by Kaiser Permanente |
Husband giving his heavily pregnant wife a back massage.

Being the main support person for someone during pregnancy, labor, birth, and postpartum is an important role. Just being present goes a long way in providing the emotional support that helps them have an easier, less stressful, and more rewarding experience.

There are many other things you do to provide support. Here are 10 tips to help you stay calm, build your confidence, and empower you:

Communication

Communication is key between you and the person giving birth. Find out what is important to them. Listen to their needs and desires so that you can support their wishes. You can serve as their advocate, ask questions, and relay their wishes, especially if they are tired or in pain.

Preparation

Learn as much as you can during the pregnancy. Take childbirth classes, do some reading, talk to their provider during appointments, and seek out reliable information online or with trusted friends and family members. Preparing 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
  • What medications will be used
  • Cesarean birth and gentle cesarean birth choices
  • How to help with postpartum care
  • How to support infant feeding
  • How to be your partner's advocate

Create a birth preferences plan

Discuss differences around labor and birth. Write it down and share it with the clinician or midwife 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, induction of labor, or cesarean birth
  • Pain coping choices, such as aroma therapy, hydrotherapy, and breathing techniques
  • Relaxation techniques, including walking, kneeling, squatting, or using a birth ball
  • Pain coping medications, such as IV pain medications and epidurals
  • 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 contact

It’s important to remember that a birth plan is not a contract or an order form. It is simply a tool to communicate with the care team. They will help you make choices that are right for both of you and for your baby.

Flexibility

While setting goals and having a plan are valuable, it is rare that everything goes exactly as planned. 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 arise. Interventions may be needed for the health and safety of the birthing person and the baby. Remaining flexible is key.

Be prepared for a long labor

Labor lasts longer than most people think. The average first labor is 15-24 hours, and inductions can be 24-72 hours. If labor begins on its own, much of it will be spent at home before going to the hospital. If labor is induced, set a pace for for the pregnant person 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.

Self-care

Supporting someone during labor and birth is physically and emotionally taxing. Wear comfortable clothes and stay hydrated and well-nourished. Take time 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.

Consider back up

People going through childbirth benefit from the support of more than one person. You might consider asking for additional support from a friend or loved one. If you do, here are a few things to think about:

  • Are they someone who can promote calm and confidence?
  • What sort of support do you need from them? 
  • Could they meet in advance and talk about childbirth preparation and birth preferences?

You could also hire a labor doula. These professionals are skilled at giving physical and emotional support to pregnant people 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 C-sections.

Doulas are independent of your Kaiser Permanente care team. If the pregnant person chooses to have a doula, they are hired and paid for separately. 

Breast/Chestfeeding

Learning to breast/chestfeed can be challenging. Research shows that breastfeeding people are more likely to be successful when they have a support person’s encouragement and support. Prior to birth, learn as much about breastfeeding as you can. After the baby is born, help with baby care so that they can focus on feeding. 

If family and friends offer discouraging, unwanted, or inaccurate advice, help them get accurate, positive support. Help them get through the learning phase, which usually lasts about 4-6 weeks. Help them to stay 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 brain is developing at a faster rate than it ever will again. Take a baby care class with the pregnant person and learn about infant care, development, and safety.

The body of the person who gave birth has to do a lot to get back to its pre-pregnant state. Their hormone levels will be dropping dramatically. On top of that, everyone caring for a newborn baby tends to be sleep deprived. Try to sleep when the baby sleeps so that you both can get enough rest and prevent depression that comes from sleep deprivation.

Their job is to take care of their body and the baby. Your job is the same, with the addition of taking care of them. Absent from this list are shopping, cooking, cleaning, and laundry. Consider welcoming the help of friends and family. Enlist those who know what your needs are and will not overstep or bring stress into the home.

Postpartum mood disorders

Depression and anxiety are associated with postpartum mood disorders (PMD). Keep an eye on the person who gave birth and know who to reach out to if they have symptoms. Anyone could experience PMD, but those who have had depression or anxiety in the past are at a higher risk.

The “baby blues” are experienced by 50-80% of new birth parents 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 the care team.

Postpartum depression or anxiety happens to 20% of people within the first year after giving birth. The symptoms are similar to those of the baby blues but can last all day and often impair their ability to function normally. Symptoms can also include anger, irritability, and abuse of alcohol or drugs. It sometimes requires medical intervention. Encourage them to contact their care team if they have signs of postpartum mood disorder. 

Postpartum psychosis is rare, but it is a medical emergency if it arises. If the person who gave birth is experiencing extreme anxiety and is unable to calm themselves, has delusions, is losing touch with reality, or is having thoughts of harming themselves or the baby, don’t try to manage the situation. Take them to the emergency room.

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

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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