What you need to know

  • Know the birth plan so you can support the mum to have the kind of labour and birth she wants.  
  • Understand the basics of labour and birth. If you know what’s happening, you can provide reassurance and support to the mum – and stress less, yourself! 
  • Being a birth partner is hard work. It can be emotionally and physically draining – but it’s also a privilege, and an amazing moment to be a part of.  

What is a birth partner?

A birth partner is a mum’s go-to support person during labour and birth, along with her lead maternity carer (LMC).  

They’re often the mum’s partner, the father of the baby, a trusted whānau member or friend, and/or a doula (professional birth partner) 

The mum might also choose to have more than one birth partner 

How to be a great birth partner

Are you going to be a birth partner soon? Here are some things that might help: 

Be ‘the rock’ 

The mum you’re supporting will go through a lot in labour, and it’s your job to be the calm and reassuring presence that helps her through it.  

This could look like:  

  • Coaching her through contractions 
    • Encourage hersaying things like: “You can do this” … “Kia kaha” … “I’m so proud of you” 
      • It might be useful to ask beforehand if there’s a phrase/mantra/whakatauki that’s meaningful for the mum that would be helpful for her to say, or for you to say or remind her of during labour 
    • Mirimiri/massage or pushing acupressure points to help manage pain, if that’s something she wants 
  • Physically just ‘being there’ 
    • Distract her and keep her company during early labour
    • Be the hand she can squeeze during contractions  
    • Ensure she has plenty to drink and eat to keep her energy level up 
    • Offer her ice chips or a cold flannel for her face  
    • Be by her side during a c-section operation, talking to her and helping her feel safe and at ease. 

Do your research 

Birth is nothing like what you see in the movies. To be the best support you can for the mum (and to be emotionally prepared yourself!), it’s really helpful to know what to expect.  

This could look like:  

  • Attending antenatal classes and appointments 
    • Plunket provides antenatal education across the country facilitated by qualified Child Birth Educators 
  • Finding out more 
    • ask whānau and friends what it’s like to give birth, and what helped them  
    • listen to empowering experiences that support your vision 
    • have a read of our Giving birth section 
    • check out some podcasts, YouTube videos, or books about labour and birth  
    • find out about the common interventions that might be needed
  • Knowing the practical stuff    
    • where the hospital bag is, and what additional bits might be needed (food, phone charger, medication) 
    • when to call the LMC 
    • how to get to the birthing centre or hospital (where to park, how to get to the birthing suites or labour ward). 

If you know what’s happening, you’ll be better able to provide reassurance to the mum (and stress less, yourself).  

Take ‘transition’, for example, the most intense part of labour.  

It’s when the mum goes from 8cm to fully dilated (10cm), and it’s very common for her to feel completely overwhelmed

She might be physically sick, or say things like – “I can’t do this anymore, I have to have the epidural ...” 

If you know about this stage, then you: 

  • can reassure her that she’s nearly there – that this is the hardest, but shortest, part of labour – and that she can do it  
  • know that an epidural unfortunately isn’t an option at this stage  
  • can support her to do things that may help – like panting through contractions and staying upright to work with gravity. 

Know what she wants  

It’s important you know the mum’s birth plan and how she wants labour to go. This allows you to support her in her decisions – and speak up for her if necessary.  

 This could look like:  

  • helping to create the birthing environment she wants  
  • knowing where she stands on interventions  
    • does she want an epidural as soon as possible? Does she want a natural labour?  
    • knowing what she wants means you can empower and support her in her choices  
  • Speak up for her  
    • you might need to advocate for the mum to the LMC or doctors if she’s not able to.  Just remember to keep things respectful, the medical team want what’s best for mum and baby, too 

Look after yourself

Being a birth partner is hard work. You’re providing non-stop support, and it can be emotionally and physically draining.  

Make sure you:  

  • pack yourself some food, water and essential items in the hospital bag as well – including a change of clothes. 
  • so what you can to feel prepared (research what happens in labour, know where to park at the birthing unit) 
  • have some stress management techniques up your sleeve (e.g. deep breathing calms your nervous system – inhale for six seconds and exhale for seven seconds; or head out of the room for a quick toilet break or phone call. Just make sure it’s when the LMC is with the mum).
  • if blood makes you feel faint, stay up by the mum’s face – and if you start feeling light-headed, sit down straight away, put your head between your knees and take slow breaths in and out. This will help the feeling to pass. 

Caleb’s experience as a first-time dad

Seeing Sarah in pain was the hardest part, says first-time dad, Caleb. “I wasn’t expecting that, and I wasn’t ready for it or how it would affect me.”  

“A lot of the focus in antenatal class is to support the mum during labour, which totally makes sense. But it’s helpful to know that as a support person you can feel stressed and overwhelmed as well, and that’s ok. It’s a normal thing to feel,” he says.  

Sarah and Caleb had planned to have a natural, birthing centre experience, but complications meant Sarah needed a range of interventions to get their baby boy out safely, including an induction and emergency c-section.  

As more interventions were needed, Caleb said he ended up asking more and more questionsThings like, ‘are you ok?’, even though I knew the answer was ‘obviously not’. I couldn’t help myself, I just keep thinking – ‘I can fix this’ – but I really couldn’t do anything except be there.” 

But that’s exactly what Sarah needed.  

She said, “The most helpful thing was him just being there and holding my hand. 

Caleb’s advice for first-time parents:  

He laughs, “Don’t ask a million questions during labour. It’s really annoying!” 

“You can also function on less sleep than you think you need.” 

Louise’s experience supporting her sister

I was so honoured and excited to be asked to support my sister at the birth of her first baby, says Louise. “To be honest though, I was also a little apprehensive!” 

“I’d never attended a birth before and wasn’t sure how much use I’d be,” she says.  

In the months leading up to her sister’s home birth, Louise did a lot of reading about the birthing process. “Looking back, it was definitely helpful to find out about at least some aspects of labour and how I might be able to help my sister when the time came.  

The birth was actually quicker than we anticipated, especially for a first baby. My sister started having contractions in mid-afternoon and the baby – my beautiful nephew – was born by dinner time! 

It was a very intense labour and hard to watch my sister in that much pain. But it was good to be there for her, and to know that my presence was making a difference. She squeezed my hand (extremely hard!) through the transition period and pushing, which seemed to help. I think it gave her something to focus on to get through it and out the other side. 

I’ll always remember the relief and utter joy of my nephew arriving and how my sister’s face transformed as she held him close and sang softly to him, says Louise.  

I’m so lucky I got to be there, for both of them,” she says.