Supporting a woman when she's giving birth is a big responsibility and an honour. It can be hugely rewarding for the support person but also exhausting, particularly if the labour lasts for many hours through the night, or even for days.
A birth support partner isn’t always the father of the baby. They might be:
- a same-sex partner and co-parent
- the woman’s parent
- a close friend
- a sibling or other relative
- a paid professional, such as a doula
There are many reasons why a father may not be present at the birth of his baby. He might be away serving with the armed forces; not be in a relationship with the baby’s mother; be too ill to attend; or the parents might have agreed it would not be a good idea for him to be there.
Being a birth partner involves providing intense physical and mental support to the mother, and if you’re that person, you’ll need to be prepared to do whatever it takes. You will be her advocate so you may need to take charge and convey her wishes to the maternity team.
If you think you can’t physically or mentally support the woman during this time, discuss it with her beforehand. She may then choose another support person. It might be possible for you to support her for just part of the labour, or she may want more than one support person.
What to expect as a birth support partner
Every birth can be different and things don’t always go according to plan, so be prepared to be flexible. If you need to speak up on behalf of your partner, you will have your own rights and responsibilities as a support person so discuss these in advance with your midwife or doctor.
How you can support your partner
Before the birth:
- Help her around the house if she is tired, sick or unwell.
- Go to doctor and midwife appointments with her.
- Go to antenatal classes with her.
- Discuss her birth plan, including what to do if things don’t go to plan.
During labour and birth:
- Communicate with the midwife or doctor about when to come to hospital or the birthing centre.
- Once there, fully focus on your partner, staying calm and giving her lots of positive encouragement.
- Bring her ice, water and snacks if she wants them.
- Walk and move with her.
- Help her into the shower or birth pool.
- Help her move into birth positions she chooses and support her weight if she needs it.
- Help her with her breathing and other coping methods.
- Communicate her wishes to the maternity team, and their advice back to her. Support her to make decisions if things don’t go to plan and speak up for her if she can’t do this herself.
- Massage her, hold her hand and wipe her face if she wishes.
- Let her family know how things are going if she wishes.
What to expect in the birthing suite
- Your partner’s maternity team may be a midwife or doctor or both, and they will look after her during labour and birth. If she has an epidural, an anaesthetist will give this to her.
- Your partner will go through stages of labour as her cervix gets wider and the baby moves down her pelvis, preparing to come out. Your partner’s contractions will get closer together, before she starts feeling the urge to push as the baby moves into her vagina. She will probably be in pain so be prepared for that and stay focused on helping her.
- There may be a bed, chairs, stools, mats, cushions, a fitness ball, shower or birthing pool to help your partner with her labour positions.
- Your partner may need assistance giving birth, so the maternity team may need to use forceps or a vacuum or give your partner an episiotomy to help the baby come out.
- Your partner may need to have a caesarean, which means you would go to an operating theatre with her.
Caring for yourself
Being a birth support partner can be exhausting so look after yourself as well as her, including taking rest breaks when it works for your partner or if there is another support person there.
Bring snacks and drinks for yourself, comfortable walking shoes, a clean shirt and toothbrush, and swimwear if you plan to go into a birthing pool or shower.
Where to go for more advice
To find out more about being a birth support partner:
- Ask your doctor, midwife, or doula, if you have one.
- Learn more about the best positions for labour and birth.
- Attend antenatal classes with your partner.
- Tour the birth facility beforehand and ask questions.
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Last reviewed: February 2020