There is a lot of information out there about the benefits of having a doula for the birthing person. We hold space in the birthing room, we support their birth choices completely and offer physical, emotional and practical support. In my experience, both as a birth doula and as a postnatal doula, the partner is often just as grateful as the birthing person for my support during labour and birth and for the first precious months of their baby’s life.
However, the benefits to the partner of having a doula’s support are often overlooked, so I thought I’d share some of my ideas in this blog. I’d be interested to know if you can think of other benefits to the partner that I haven’t thought of. Please comment below if so!
For the sake of this blog post, I’m thinking of the birth partner as being the baby’s other parent, and in a relationship with the birthing person, because those are my personal experiences. A lot of my suggestions would hold true for birth partners who are the baby’s grandparent or the birthing person’s best friend though.
During the antenatal sessions I always like to meet with the partner to discuss their experiences and preconceptions of labour, birth and their expectations of life with a new baby. Helping them to understand how they can help their partner to get the oxytocin flowing, how they can offer physical support during labour and discuss what they should expect. They often have fears about how they will cope with seeing their loved one in pain; some are traumatised by witnessing previous births or by other stressful experiences in hospital. Doulas listen to their concerns, give them the opportunity to explore their feelings and give practical suggestions. We can demonstrate massage techniques for early labour, established labour and pressure techniques for birth itself.
The birth partner may be experiencing labour and childbirth for the first time, they have not travelled this road before and do not know the route. They may not know the consequences of certain choices and interventions that may be offered (sometimes insisted upon) during labour. They don’t know what may happen if a certain intervention is delayed or declined and may therefore feel disempowered when called upon to advocate for their partners birth preferences. A doula has experienced birth many times before and is likely to have read a great deal about the physiology and theory of childbirth and early parenthood and is therefore well equipped to support them to use their BRAINS* and to advocate with confidence for their partner.
If a birth partner is traumatised by witnessing a previous birth or has had horrible experiences in hospital, they may feel extremely fearful and anxious about being in a medicalised environment again. A doula can offer them the security of knowing that their partner will be supported throughout labour and childbirth without feeling obliged to put themself into a situation that may be triggering for them. They will know that they are allowed to step out of the room, without leaving their partner alone and isolated.
Just as birthing a baby into the world is a life changing experience, so is witnessing the birth of your baby. The birth partner is emotionally invested in the experience and the birthing person and the baby are amongst the people they love most in the whole world. A doula enables the partner to be present throughout, to not have to worry about practical and logistical concerns if they don’t want to. They are then able to focus solely on their partner, to hold their hand and massage their back, to help with their breathing and offer encouragement. The doula will maintain the pool temperature, offer water and snacks (to both partners!), keep the birthing room quiet, calm and dim and calmly hold space.
Childbirth can be a long process, and the birth partner doesn’t have the hormones oxytocin and endorphins sending them into ‘Labour-land’ where time feels distorted as you ride the waves of the contractions (at least that’s the idea!) They may be exhausted and need a rest. A doula offers the partner the opportunity to ‘tag out’ during labour to get some sleep or a proper meal, knowing that their partner is still being supported. That way, when the baby is born their reserves are not quite as depleted as they might be and they’re in a better position to cope with new-born sleep patterns.
Where the couple have older children, they may wish the partner to stay with them, so having a doula as part of the birth team enables this possibility. Similarly, sometimes a birth doula may end up looking after older siblings at a homebirth.
Lockdown and homeworking notwithstanding, often partners have to go back to work a week or two after their baby is born. This can make them feel guilty and anxious that they are leaving their partner, who may be in pain, sleep deprived and still getting to grips with new parenthood and the realities of caring for a new-born baby. Postnatal doulas often start working with a new family a few days after the baby is born, and can provide just the reassurance, support and peace of mind that is needed at this time.
Please do share your thoughts and comments below 😊 Clare xx
*BRAINS is a really useful acronym for making decisions: considering the Benefits, Risks & Alternatives of a procedure, listening to your Intuition, thinking about what will happen if you do Nothing (or taking the time to Negotiate your preferences) and asking for Space to come to your decision.