Before helping my sister in law give birth to my new niece this last weekend, I looked for some advice on the internet about being a good birth partner, and what to pack. Although it was remarkably good advice, I still learned a thing or two and wish to share my knowledge with anyone who might need it.
This advice relates to births in hospitals, which we were sent to because of some risk factors. These all turned out to be fine. Labour was fine, baby was fine, mother was fine. All in all it was a lovely, magical experience. I can’t begin to describe how wonderful it is seeing something like that happen, and how privileged you are to be allowed to see it.
Pack 2 birth bags before mother’s due date, and have them ready in the car. One ‘labour’ bag to be taken in during labour, and one ‘postnatal’ bag, to be taken in when she is moved to the postnatal ward.
These bags should include supplies for both you and her. Read below for tips on what to pack, but pack light, those birthing rooms can get pretty full pretty quickly (hence 2 bags).
Read up on labour. Mother will know what’s going to happen and when, but you should know too. Make sure you are familiar with the jargon, e.g. merconium, the ‘third stage’ of labour.
Read mother’s birth plan, take the time to speak to her and understand why she is making those decisions. When she begs you for drugs, you will need to be able to explain to her why you are denying them.
Have an early discussion with the mother about donating stem cells from her cord blood. It’s a brilliant thing to do, both for science and for your baby. Hospitals don’t discuss or encourage it as a matter of routine, it’s up to the mother to request it.
Go to mother when she starts getting pains. These things can progress quickly, and you need to be with her in case you have to leave sooner than you think. Put clean clothes on before you leave the house. You may be wearing those clothes for a while.
Encourage mother to get some sleep while she can. You too. And father. You may all be awake for a very long time indeed.
During early stages of labour, use a stopwatch for contraction time and duration, note these down carefully. Take notes of times and dosage of any medication mother takes. Familiarise yourself with the TENS machine so that you can take over control from mother when necessary.
Find out the phone number for the labour ward at the Hospital. During early stages of labour, phone them to ask when they will want you to come in. You don’t want to get there, then be sent away. Neither do you want to leave it too late.
Call the hospital again before you leave, to alert them that you are coming.
Find out how many bags mother is bringing, and their locations. Then pick them up and bring them.
Drive CAREFULLY to the hospital. Budget time for the journey. Find out where it is, and where specifically you will have to park. Bring lots of change for parking fees.
Bring a bucket, mother may puke.
Bring baby wipes. Not for the baby.
Bring a phone charger, and put your phone on charge immediately when you get to the hospital. Make sure you’ve got any of the mother’s key phone numbers.
Do not be surprised when the hospital and staff treat you (as a birth partner) like a second class citizen. This includes provision of toilet facilities, food and drink.
Bring mags, but don’t expect to get to read them.
Bring a thermos of tea, sugar optional. This is for everyone.
Bring drugs for yourself, i.e. paracetamol, proplus. Do not allow mother to take any over the counter drugs once you are inside the hospital. Let the hospital administer them.
Baby monitors have two sensors. One is for baby’s heart rate, the other is for uterine pressure. Pressure shoots up during a contraction, so these can be useful for you to watch, to know precisely when to press the TENS button.
Midwives are watching the baby’s heartrate read-out for any dips. False dips can be caused when mother moves around too much, so keep an eye on the read out for false dips and real dips.
Do not give energy drinks to the mother during labour. Go with water, and a sportscap. This is in direct contradiction to the advice I read on the internet. Energy drinks are frowned upon by midwives for making the baby hyperactive. Do bring some for her for afterwards, however.
Bring bendy straws to enable mother to get to any other drinks.
Do feel free to bring energy drinks for yourself, though, as well as water.
Make sure the midwives are aware of how much fluid the mother has taken in. The fullness of her bladder can affect the descent of the baby.
Bring carrier bags for her dirty clothes.
Bring a flannel for her. She will get hot.
Bring lip balm. Gas and Air can make mother’s mouth dry.
During contractions, mother may lose the ability to speak. You will have to guess what she wants and when.
Be cool about seeing bits and boobs and icky stuff.
Be cool about handling bits and boobs and icky stuff.
Labour can take hours, but you will need to be alert and active for every single second. Wear comfy shoes, you may be stood up for a long time.
Be firm with the doctors and midwives when they propose various interventions. More jargon to learn here. Make sure you are aware of which ones are necessary for the baby, and which are convenient for the staff, especially if they contradict the mother’s birth plan. Try to negotiate for a few extra contractions, if you can, and make sure mother is aware of what is going to happen and when.
Be firm with the mother.
Support the father as best you can.
Watch, while a miracle happens.
Bring a camera.
Take loads of photos.
Try to make sure mother’s bits and boobs are reasonably covered up when taking photos.
Getting the placenta out can take just as much effort as it took to get the baby out. This is work for both the mother and the midwife. It is painful.
After the birth, the midwives will forget about mother and baby. This is normal. Make sure you keep track of what observations/ checks need to happen and when. Do not be afraid to use the ‘Alert’ button like a service bell.
Make sure you know how to handle a baby. After the birth, mother can be too knackered/ in pain/ attached to drips to move around and move the baby around, but the baby still needs to go places, like to mum, to the cot, to dad.
Watch the hospital staff when they handle the baby. They are the experts. They know exactly how resilient babies are, and you can learn a lot from them by watching and asking.
Make sure that mother is included when hospital staff come around taking food orders.
Bring snacks for mother and for you, both for during labour and afterwards. Hospital food is shite and scarce.
Bring change for vending machines.
After mother has showered, take more pictures of her and the baby. She will look nicer, and these will be more appreciated than the immediate birth pictures.
Postnatal bag should include a change of clothes for yourself, personal wash stuff, and anything you want to leave with the mother, such as the mags you didn’t get to read, and remaining snacks.
Recovery can take a long time, both for mother, father, baby, and for you. Have a self-care plan in place, as well as a care plan for mother, father, and baby.
Steal as many cuddles as you can with the baby. Mother and Father get to cuddle her every day for the rest of forever, but your time is limited. Try to make sure someone takes at least one photo of you with the baby during one of these moments. It doesn’t matter if you don’t look your best. It’s magical.
When the midwives tell you that it’s nothing like ‘One Born Every Minute,’ ignore them. It totally is.