Since the beginning of time women have, for the most part, given birth with the help of a birth partner. So who’s it going to be? Your partner? Your mother? A doula? A friend? We look at all the options
Giving birth is a life-altering experience and the one thing you shouldn’t have to do alone. Aside from the actual physical reasons why a qualified birth practitioner such as a doctor or midwife should be present at your delivery, it’s also a profoundly emotional time for you and the support from a birth partner, be it a husband, a doula, a family member or a friend, can make a significant difference to your birth experience.
Continuous support during pregnancy has its benefits
Research shows that women with continuous support need fewer painkillers and have a better chance of experiencing a normal delivery.
It also suggests that women are much more positive about their labour experience, find it easier to adjust to motherhood and are less likely to suffer from postnatal depression if they receive support from a birth partner.
The birth partner
Of course, your baby’s dad is usually the number one choice of birth partner, but often this is not the reality for many reasons. If you’re single, the chances of dad being there to support you are minimal.
But even if you’re in a solid relationship, your partner may not cope with seeing you in so much pain or have other issues about seeing you give birth. This is where you might want to consider choosing someone else (your mom, a friend, a doula) to help you through your labour.
The best case scenario would be to have your partner there, as well as another, more supportive birth partner, but this is not always possible and depends hugely on hospital policy.
How to choose a birth partner
You should have a very open and trusting relationship with your birth partner and the person you choose should be able to offer you unconditional support before the birth, at the time of delivery and after the delivery.
A supportive birth partner is imperative
Your birth partner should be kind and supportive. Always remember that choosing a birth partner is a personal decision and you don’t need to explain your reasons behind your choice. If you’re a single mom, your birth partner should respect that and she should not try to influence you with her opinions.
Remember, giving birth often leaves you feeling weak and tired so it’s not the time for you to deal with any unnecessary stress or emotionally draining situations.
This is why you need to make sure that both you and your birth partner are on the same page and that she understands your needs and expectations regarding labour and delivery. That way, you don’t have to spend unnecessary time and energy trying to convince her of your choices.
Your birth partner should know your birth plan
Your birth partner also needs a copy of your birth plan as she will become your voice during the birthing process. She needs to be confident, assertive and have good communication skills as you will be relying on this person to stick up for you during the often painful and stressful labour process.
Your birth partner should be flexible enough to fit into your schedule
Time wise, your birth partner should be flexible enough to fit into your schedule, especially if you’re a single mother and reliant on this person only. Make sure that you choose a partner who won’t have difficulty leaving work at a moment’s notice and who is organised enough to get up and go as soon as she gets your call.
Your birth partner should be accessible
Make sure your birth partner is accessible and doesn’t live kilometres away. She needs to be at your side at a moment’s notice and travelling half way across town in peak-hour traffic will become the biggest obstacle in an emergency situation.
Also, you need to find out about your hospital’s policy regarding the limit on birth partners before deciding that you want all your siblings or best girlfriends present. Most medical facilities will only allow one person into the labour room with you.
Your birth partner should understand the labour process
Whomever you choose as your birth partner should have some understanding of the labour process and you should definitely take this person along with you to antenatal classes. Be sure to discuss the impending birth with her on a regular basis – anything new that you learn should be passed on.
Your birth partner can be expected to:
- Provide a never-ending supply of positive emotional support through words of encouragement and reassurance.
- Provide physical support by helping to keep you comfortable, bringing you snacks and drinks, and walking you around when you need to get up.
- Provide an advocate role by answering questions for you when you can’t answer them yourself
- Supporting your birth plan during the birth process, talking you through the labour and reminding you of all those little things you learned in antenatal class but have since forgotten.
Professional birth partners
What is a doula?
The word comes from Greek and means “hand maiden”. Doulas are experienced women who are hired to act as birth partners. They have no medical qualifications so anyone can call themselves a doula, although there are now training courses available specifically for them. You can find one
What is a midwife?
The word midwife comes from Old English and means “with woman”. Midwives have helped women deliver babies since the beginning of time and references to them are found in ancient Hindu records and in Greek and Roman manuscripts.
A midwife is a healthcare professional that provides an array of healthcare services for women including medical histories and gynaecological examinations, contraceptive counselling, prescriptions, and labour and delivery care. Providing care during labour, delivery, and after birth is a speciality of midwives that makes them unique experts.
Both a midwife and a birth partner will coach you through your birth, and often, midwives end up delivering the baby if your doctor doesn’t get there on time. The hospital where you give birth will provide you one. For more information on homebirths, please go to www.earthbabies.co.za
To read first hand experiences from mothers who have used doulas, midwives and other birthing partners, go to page 2
"Using a midwife and doula was the best decision I made"
When Karen Turis and her husband, Itsik, decided to have their baby at home, a good friend referred them to a midwife. “After meeting with the midwife and doing some research I decided that a home birth was in fact the safest route to go.
"My midwife recommended we use a doula as well, as she would be a more experienced birth assistant than a friend and it would allow my husband to be a part of the experience, rather than have to rush around doing the fetching and cleaning,” she says.
“Using both a midwife and a doula was the best decision I made. The doula helped my husband set up the birthing pool, she fed us and kept us well-hydrated, she took photos, she kept the pool temperature constant, she assisted the midwife, she cleaned up and packed away after the birth, she brought my pyjamas to the hospital when my placenta was retained and she even did a grocery shop for us after the birth. She was amazing!”
Meanwhile, Karen’s midwife was with her all the time and was (along with her husband) her strength and encouragement throughout the labour. She monitored Karen and her baby constantly, checking her baby’s heart rate.
“She guided us safely through this intimate and magical process. The midwife was my technical support and she facilitated the birth process. Her antenatal classes were incredibly comprehensive and I saw her for all my check-ups before the birth. She also came to visit for 7 days after the birth for breastfeeding counselling, baby wellness and my recovery.”
"My best friend and brother were there"
Bear in mind, though, that while the doula or your partner are the most traditional choice of birth partner, they may not suit your individual needs. Family members make popular birthing partners too where familiarity and history make these people excellent choices. They lend an air of security and the expectant mother can relax in their company.
For example, single mom Lynn Radford chose her best friend and her brother as her birth partners. “Tracy’s cool, calm and collected and like so many of my other friends and family members, had lived through my angst – from discovering I was pregnant to when I decided to become a single mom.
"My brother, Howard, offered to be there to support me too. He is an anaesthetist by profession and knew the obstetrician and anaesthetist very well. Both Tracy and Howard took appropriate pics and shared in my delight. It was great having them both there for such a special, life-changing day in my life,” she says, adding that she could have chosen her mom but she was seriously ill at the time.
"My mom was just as excited as I was"
Tracy McMahon, also a single mom, is very close to her family and reveals that she and her partner had split up after finding out that she was pregnant.
“Throughout the pregnancy, my mom, Jill, and my brother, Sean, whom I was living with at the time, were my support system. They got excited when they saw the scans, and supported me through all my pregnancy moods and dramas. I wanted to have my mom and my brother with me during the birth, as they had both become so involved.
"At the hospital, they said that I was only allowed one person in the theatre so I chose my mom. I felt that, as a woman who had been through this before, she would give me the most support and love that I needed.
"My mom was just as excited as I was at the birth and her constant support and love kept me positive. Although I had some feelings of regret that the father was not there to support me, my mom kept my spirits high.
"I would have managed alone, yet I wouldn’t ever choose to do it alone. To be able to share the excitement, pain, happiness, tears, fears and joy with someone so close to me meant the world to me.”
"I picked two of my closest friends"
Friends make great birth partners too. They’re often more level-headed than family members, remaining confident under pressure.
Brendah Nyakudya had two good friends with her in theatre while undergoing a caesarean section. “Having more than one person with me was initially a problem as hospital policy only allows 1 person to accompany you into the theatre. But after some well-timed tears, my OB, the most amazing man ever, managed to talk to the theatre staff and they agreed to let both of my friends in,” she laughs.
“Due to the fact that the father of the child couldn’t be there I had to make alternative arrangements. So I picked 2 of my closest friends, Olga and Rhonnie. Olga, because she is my best friend and my daughter’s godmother and Rhonnie because she has had kids before so would at least know how to calm me down when the going got icky – and it did.
"One videotaped all the action while the other held my hand. And it worked a treat. They were both very supportive and non-squeamish, which helped a lot. Also, due to my friends’ amazing videoing skills, I have precious memories of my day. It was an absolutely wonderful experience.”