a.k.a. How To Be A Supportive Birth Partner
Congratulations! Your wife, partner, or best friend is about to give birth! That means you’re about to become a parent, or an Auntie, or whatever title you get for helping Mama through. Unless you’ve actually given birth yourself, though, you may not be sure HOW to be that supportive person that your fave Mama-to-Be needs with her in labor/delivery, and helping out in those crucial first few weeks. So here’s your ultimate guide to helping with labor, birth, and beyond.
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The good news is, even if you haven’t been through this process yourself, there are plenty of things you CAN do to make Mama’s life easier. Read on for your checklist on helping with labor, birth, and beyond.
This is a collaboration post. However, please know I stand behind everything written here, and only include links to products/services/resources I’m willing to recommend personally.
Getting Ready For Labor and Delivery
With any luck, you’re with your mama-to-be throughout the end of her pregnancy. You’ve been to the Birthing classes with her. You sat through the Breastfeeding class with her. If you’re a prospective first-time Daddy, you’ve even gone to the Daddy Boot Camp class that she insisted you attend on your own. You know all you need to know about timing contractions – more than you ever wanted to know, most likely. You’ve got this.
Of course you do! But whether you’re the co-resident parent-to-be, or the close friend who’s gonna guide this Mama-in-waiting down the home stretch, there are a few other things to keep in mind. First and foremost, your soon-to-be Mama is hitting a lack-of-energy brick wall, if she hasn’t already – just as she’s starting to obsess about all those last-minute nursery details.
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Even if your Mama-to-be isn’t on bedrest at the end of her pregnancy (as I was with Kimmie), there will be plenty that she can’t do anymore (or shouldn’t, like paint that nursery one last time, or rearrange the high shelves in the cupboards. Or, in our case, move into and settle our new house.) But helping her out with those things is just the start of ways you can “be there” for her as D-Day draws near:
What You Can Do To Help:
First and foremost, most importantly (especially if you’re a friend instead of the proud co-parent-to-be):
- Help line up some meals for the new family, preferably before Baby even arrives. Hands-down, this is the best new-parent gift EVER. One of the easiest ways I know to do this is with the site Take Them A Meal, which is what our church’s New Mom Support Group uses.
- And while you’re at it, cook a few extra meals to pop in the freezer for after Baby’s arrival.
- Keep in mind that her hormones are running amok again, and do your best to be patient and supportive.
- Make sure she’s got everything packed that she needs for the hospital, all ready to go and easily accessible.
- If she has other kids already, make sure she’s got multiple options lined up for who’s going to watch them when those labor pains start.
- Get her all the pillows she needs at night. Get her a bed to herself, if need be. And encourage her to get as much sleep as she can, even though it will be darn near impossible. The last month of pregnancy is THE MOST uncomfortable sleeping time in most women’s lives. If as a couple you’ve been thinking of buying a bigger bed anyway, now is the time.
Helping With the Birth Itself
I’ve only been present at two births – those of my two daughters. So my reflections are heavily colored by that fact. And Essie’s birth process doesn’t really count much, since she was born barely 15 minutes after I waddled into the hospital, my water having broken in the parking lot.
Kimmie’s birth was a very different story. Like any good modern mama, I had my birth plan refined to a “T.” I’d talked through the whole thing with my husband, and we were in complete agreement. We had the whole plan down. In writing. In multiple copies that we’d distributed to our OB practice well in advance, and gave to each midwife on duty at every last-month prenatal visit and at the hospital. Our itemized list included things like
- No epidural (I wanted to be able to walk around, because I’d heard this would help with labor pains).
- A birthing ball to make things easier (something else I’d read somewhere).
- Whirlpools/tubs (our birthing suite had one of these).
- Labor to begin naturally (no induction).
- And of course, a natural birth.
The only thing I got on that list was the last one. I was on bedrest for the last 6 weeks of my pregnancy, due to gestational hypertension. As my blood pressure continued to go up, my midwives eventually convinced me to schedule an induction for the day before my due date. That was the beginning of everything NOT going according to the careful plan I’d laid out for How My First Birthing Experience Would Go.
I left for the hospital in tears, and remained that way throughout much of the process until Kimmie arrived the following morning. At that point, I was so far gone on the epidural and other medications that everything was a blurry haze.
What You Can Do To Help:
So you really think you’re going to be a supportive partner in the birthing suite, eh? Here’s some questions for starters:
- Can you support your baby mama unconditionally, with whatever she needs or wants? Whether it’s ice chips, a distraction, a massage, or a snack?
- Can you be a clear and firm advocate with the medical staff on communicating her wants and wishes, and backing her up/validating her choices? (Especially if things don’t go according to plan?)
- Can you be her spare brain when she’s racked with pain and/or fuzzy on drugs, and help her think through her options when plans change?
- And can you handle the sight of blood, pain, and other bodily things that happen in the L/D suite?
My husband’s unconditional love and support were crucial to getting me through that long day and night, to the next morning when Kimmie finally arrived:
- He knew what I wanted, and was able to advocate on my behalf with the hospital staff (since I was a crying, hormonal mess). He was firm in standing up for what I wanted.
- When I insisted pre-epidural on going to the bathroom every 15 minutes (being out of bed was the only thing that helped with labor pains), he walked with me and held me until the contractions passed.
- As a surprise, he brought a photo of one of the strongest moments of my life, and set it up exactly where I could see it: the moment I crossed the finish line in my first century ride (in this case, 109 miles cycling through the Arizona desert). It was a perfect, silent reminder that my body could do anything I set my mind to.
- He did his best to distract me, flipping through the TV channels with me during the long waiting periods to find movies to watch. And then holding me while I bawled uncontrollably through most of them.
- When the medical staff said my constant bathroom trips were getting to be dangerous (my blood pressure spiked every time I left the bed), he helped me reason through my options. And be “okay” with the fact that, given they wouldn’t let me move anymore anyway, an epidural was the way to go.
- He gave me all the positive verbal encouragement he could. “You can do this! – you’re strong, and you’re ready for this!” was among my favorites.
The Fourth Trimester
The fourth trimester can be a very emotional time for new Mamas, and not just because she feels like she’s been run over by a Mack truck. And massively sleep-deprived to boot. Keep a close eye out especially between days 3 and 5. When the new mom’s milk comes in (as it will, even if she’s using formula), some of the pregnancy hormones will shift. This plus sheer exhaustion means women can sometimes have an emotional “crash.”
If you’re the coparent and living under the same roof as Mama, you’re going to need to pick up a LOT of the slack at home. Yes, you may well still need to go to the office every day. Believe me, some of the longest times in a new mama’s life are anytime she’s alone with Baby. The 8-10 hours a day you’ll be away are pure torture.
And if you think you’re sleep-deprived when leaving the house to go to your job, you ain’t got nothing on Mama. Unless you’re taking care of every single nighttime cry or feeding, she’s going to be more exhausted than you. Trust me.
What You Can Do To Help:
During the next 40 or so days, a lot is going on. The baby will go through certain developmental leaps, which is exciting – but also (yet again) exhausting. And don’t forget that Mama is still recovering physically and emotionally from childbirth itself, especially if she had a C-section.
Here are some of the ways you can help:
- Pick up as much of the extra slack around the house as you can, and then some. Post-C section, Mama won’t be able to carry much of anything while the incision heals. And if she’s like me, her blood pressure will remain sky-high and she’ll still be on modified bedrest for weeks to come. Cook, clean, do the laundry, watch the other kids, etc.
- Be prepared for regular late-night runs to the store for emergency supplies.
- Be prepared to help with feeding time in whatever way possible. Because I was still recovering from wrist surgery when Kimmie was born, I needed help with every feeding for the first two months. My husband fed her from a bottle as much as I nursed her in those early months, and often had to help me position and hold her while I was nursing.
- When you come home from your day in the outside world, be prepared to recognize when Mama is at the end of her rope, and take over while she goes to nap or chill for a few hours.
Even if you’re not the resident co-parent with New Mama, there are still lots of things you can do:
- Be there to listen, with a shoulder to cry on when she needs it.
- Take the older kids to/from school, their extracurriculars, or whatever’s needed so Mama doesn’t have to. (I’ve nursed a newborn in preschool drop-off line. Not optimal.)
- Get the older kids out of the house on a trip to the park, so Mama can have a few hours without having to divide her attention.
- Offer to help with the laundry, or housecleaning, or grocery-shopping, or whatever is stressing Mama out the most.
- Take care of the new baby while Mama naps, eats, or showers, or goes on a date.
Whatever you can do to help make Mama’s life at home easier, you’ll be making the world of difference.
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