Six things a birth partner can do besides cutting the cord

October 01, 2015

It’s strange isn’t it, that as birthing mammals, many of us humans seem to find comfort in others when we give birth? Other mammal species go off to find a quiet space to birth privately and in isolation, whereas we have come to expect and perhaps prefer, to go on the childbirth journey with companions. Although it is well-documented that our natural birthing state is one of undisturbed privacy, perhaps there are reasons other than biology that many women prefer to give birth with a partner present. Cultural expectations say that giving birth, becoming a family, is a shared event and it is most likely, in our society, that when a woman gives birth that she will have someone with her, whether that be her life-partner or another family member. But it can be really hard for a partner to know what exactly is expected of them, especially as so much of what happens at a birth is unpredictable and can’t be planned for.

My husband describes his experience of the birth of our first child as one of pure impotence. He says he never felt so helpless and useless in his life and instead stayed glued to the chair by my side, just watching to see what would happen next. There is a photo of him in the minutes before our son was born and he is pale, terrified-looking and appears much younger than his 31 years.  In contrast, a friend says that when her wife gave birth to their daughter she found herself a job and got on with it. She took photos, a lot of photos, really beautiful, raw photos. Yes, she says, she was also terrified, but she had a focus and that meant she had little time to dwell on her feelings and instead could lose herself in the process, in a similar way to her wife was.

However busying yourself needs to be with something useful or something that your partner has asked you to do. Another friend asked me, in all innocent seriousness and good faith, if he should just take his laptop along to the birth, because he had heard they may be there some time. And what of British singer Robbie Williams who was attacked from all sides as he filmed himself singing and dancing around his wife as she worked through her contractions, filming himself and publishing the footage in almost live time. (

So, each to their own and every birth is different, but I think all birth partners could take something from our suggestions.

  1. Attend the childbirth education classes and listen, ask questions, get involved. It may not give you all the answers, but it will certainly give you a base to work from, and it gives you and your partner a springboard to discussion later at home.
  2. Take care of as much of the practical stuff as you can. Make sure you know where the bags are, who to call, when to call, make sure the phone is charged and that all your partner has to think about is just giving birth.
  3. Talk to your partner, get an idea of what she would like you to do. It may be that in the moment she changes her mind, but it will at least mean you are on the same page. It also means that you can advocate for her, if you know her wishes you can be her voice when she is too tired, concentrated or too lost in labour-land to be able to think straight.  But don’t speak for her if she is trying to communicate something. Let her speak for herself, whilst gently reminding her of any wishes she previously had. During the birth of our third child I had stipulated that I wanted no vaginal examinations, my husband knew this. But as soon as the midwife suggested she did a quick VE to check progress I hurriedly agreed. My husband spoke up and asked me three times if I was absolutely sure, I was and the midwife proceeded, but my husband did absolutely the right thing and that little gesture has stayed with me. He advocated for me and then he respected my decision.
  1. Don’t bombard her with questions. Try to listen to her and watch her actions. Try to be a quiet and steady presence, a birthing woman needs to be able to go into the zone and stay there, asking her questions or making chit-chat takes her out of that place and she really needs to be in that place.
  2. Take care of things such as ensuring she is hydrated and has been going to the loo. If she is on an epidural ensure that she remembers to move around every so often.


  1. Tell her you love her, tell her she is doing a great job, tell her that she’s beautiful and strong and amazing. Because she is.


Victoria Machin - UK

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