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The role of a birth support partner

8-minute read

Key facts

  • A birth support partner is someone who stays with you throughout your labour and birth, to help and support you.
  • Having a support partner can make your birth experience more positive and reduce your chance of needing pain relief, an assisted birth, or a caesarean.
  • You could choose your partner, parent, sibling or a close friend as a support partner.
  • Some people choose a birth support professional, called a doula.
  • Your support partner can help you with reassurance, breathing, massage and birth positions, as well as communicating between you and your maternity team.

What is a birth support partner?

A birth support partner is someone who stays with you throughout your labour and birth to help you and provide emotional support. Having someone with you for support during childbirth can offer many benefits to both you and your baby.

Supporting someone who is giving birth is a big responsibility and an honour. If you have been asked to be a support partner, it's best to learn about what to expect during labour and birth — this will help you be supportive.

Who can be a birth support partner?

It's up to you to decide who will be your support partner. You might choose:

  • your partner (if you have one)
  • a close friend
  • a parent, sibling or other relative
  • a doula

It's common to choose your partner to be at the birth, but you don't have to. If you think your partner might feel uncomfortable or find it hard to see you in pain, you might want to choose someone else instead, or as well.

Your partner may not be available at the time you go into labour. They could be unwell or away from home, for example if they are serving in the armed forces. In that case, it's good to have a 'back-up' support person.

Can I use a professional birth support person?

Yes. A professional birth support person is called a doula.

Doulas are not medical professionals. They provide you with emotional and practical support during your baby's birth. Their job is to help make your labour a more positive experience.

As well as supporting you during labour, your doula will also arrange meetings with you before the birth and may also provide support afterwards.

What are the benefits of having a birth support partner?

Having the right support people can help during childbirth by:

  • reducing the length of labour
  • decreasing how much pain relief you need
  • decreasing the chance of an assisted birth or caesarean
  • boosting your confidence and improving your experience of labour

What should I consider when choosing a birth support partner?

It's important that you feel comfortable and safe with your support partner and that you can say whatever you want to them.

Your support person is there to help you, not simply to watch. Choose someone who can be there when you go into labour, is calm and positive and will work hard to help you. They may need to be your advocate (speak on your behalf), so choose someone who can convey your wishes to the maternity team.

You may like to have a support person with you who has been through or seen a birth before.

Check with your doctor, midwife, hospital or birthing centre about how many support people can be in the room with you.

If someone has asked you to be a support partner and you think you can't physically or mentally provide the support they need, it's best to discuss it beforehand. They may choose another support person. They might ask for your support for just part of the labour, or they may want more than one support person.

What can I expect as a birth support partner?

In preparation for the birth, you might like to attend antenatal classes and discuss the birth plan.

Every birth can be different, and things don't always go according to plan, so be prepared to be flexible. You may need to speak up on behalf of your partner, so it's a good idea to discuss their birth plan (as well as what to do if things don't go to plan) ahead of time.

How can a birth support partner help?

Early in labour, a support person can:

  • stay with you so you're not alone
  • go for a walk with you
  • encourage you to eat and drink
  • time your contractions

As your labour and birth progress, your support person can:

  • encourage and comfort you
  • support you in some labour and birth positions
  • guide your breathing and help with other methods of coping
  • massage you, hold your hand and wipe your face
  • offer you snacks, drinks and ice
  • help you into a bath or shower
  • put a cool compress on your forehead

To help with communication, a support person can:

  • express your needs and wishes to your maternity team
  • let you know what your maternity team advises
  • let you know what is happening as your labour progresses
  • update family members on your progress, if you wish
  • help you make decisions

They can also be in the operating theatre with you if you have a caesarean.

After the birth, as you get used to taking care of your newborn baby, your birth support partner may help you:

  • be with you while you learn to breastfeed, or give your baby a bottle
  • look after other children, if you have any
  • feed, settle and bath your baby or take them for walks
  • assist with household tasks
  • give you emotional support

How can I care for myself as a birth support partner?

Being a birth support partner can be exhausting, so look after yourself as well. Take rest breaks when it works for your partner, or if there is another support person there.

Bring snacks and drinks for yourself and swimwear if you plan to go into a birthing pool or shower.

Where can I go for more advice?

Here are some things you can do to find out more about being a birth support partner:

Resources and support

Learn more here about the development and quality assurance of healthdirect content.

Last reviewed: May 2022

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Call us and speak to a Maternal Child Health Nurse for personal advice and guidance.

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