Being a birth partner is an exciting and nerve-wracking prospect. There’s so much information to take in, and labour is so unpredictable.

Above all, if you can remember these four things, you’ll be a huge help to your partner:

  • Be prepared

  • Be patient

  • Stay positive

  • Stay calm

The more prepared you feel, the more confident and helpful you will be.

When to seek help

Labour Line

Labour Line is open 24 hours a day, so if you are unsure whether your labour has started or you have any concerning symptoms, it’s best to call.

Call 0300 369 0388 if you experience any of the following:

  • Your waters break

  • You’re bleeding

  • You have unexplained abdominal pain

  • Your baby is moving less than usual, or the pattern of movements has changed

  • You’re less than 37 weeks pregnant and think you might be in labour

  • You feel unwell or feverish

  • You are unsure or worried about your labour, yourself or your baby

999

Call 999 immediately if:

  • You can feel the umbilical cord inside your vagina, or you can see it hanging out of your vagina

  • You are bleeding very heavily

  • You lose consciousness

  • You are pushing or your partner can see your baby’s head

  • You have a seizure or fit

Before labour starts

If you have been to antenatal classes with your partner, you should have some strategies for supporting her in labour and know some of what to expect. If not, talk to each other – ask how you can support her and advocate for her when she needs it.

Your partner will write a birth plan during pregnancy, and it’s good for you to be involved with this process and discuss any worries or concerns. It’s important to listen to your partner and understand that she needs to make the choices she is most comfortable with. There might be times during labour and birth where she is unable to express herself – knowing that you are fully aware and supportive of her wishes, so that you can speak for her, will give her confidence.

Make sure you know the signs of labour, who to contact, where to go and when.

The more you know about labour and birth, the more confident and less frightened you will feel, and the better you’ll be able to support your partner. It’s much less scary for you both if you know what’s happening.

Labour can be an exciting, emotional, stressful and tiring experience for you both, as it can last for many hours or even days. Try not to worry if this is the case! Long labours are normal, especially for first babies, but they can be exhausting for you both. It’s best not to complain to your partner about being tired during labour, but grab bits of rest or a quick nap when you can.

On the other hand, some labours (especially labours with second and subsequent babies) can happen much more quickly, and the baby can arrive before you’ve even settled in at the maternity unit. We’re sure you don’t want to deliver the baby by yourselves in a lay-by, so make sure you leave plenty of time to get to the maternity unit!

You should read our full breakdown on the stages of labour, assisted delivery and caesarean so that you know what to expect.

If the baby is overdue or there are reasons for the baby to be born sooner, your partner may be advised to have an induction. This means that a midwife or obstetrician will use techniques or medication to kickstart labour. Your partner may need to stay in hospital once the induction starts, or they may be able to go home until labour is established. Induction can be a very long process, so keeping your partner motivated, calm and comfortable will be key.

  • Attending antenatal classes with your partner will help you learn more about the process of labour and birth, and give you some tips on caring for your baby
  • Practice breathing and relaxation exercises with your partner so you can use them during labour
  • Get involved with any decisions your partner needs to make, and help her to make her birth plan
  • Know what’s in your partner’s bag and pack a small bag for yourself. Don’t forget to pack her notes when going to hospital
  • Make sure you know which maternity unit you are going to for the birth – it may be different to where she’s had her scans so don’t assume you know.
  • If you’re driving, do a trial run so that you know how long it takes to get there, and figure out where to park. Make sure you have enough fuel, and some de-icer if your baby is due in winter
  • If you’re planning to take a taxi, call local companies in advance to make sure they’re willing to take a woman in labour
  • Keep your phone charged, and consider getting a power bank for extra battery life
  • Discuss in advance who you want to call or text when your partner is in labour and when your baby is born – make sure you have these contacts saved in your phone
  • Familiarise yourself with the stages of labour, read the information on inductions, assisted delivery and caesareans so that you are prepared for whatever happens
  • Consider perineal massage as there’s some evidence that this can prevent tearing or the need for an episiotomy – your partner may feel more comfortable doing this herself or she may ask for your help
  • It’s a good idea to freeze some nutritious meals in the late stages of pregnancy, so you always have something quick, easy and healthy to eat – take the lead on this if you can
  • If people are looking after your children or pets during labour, make sure you have their number – ask them to contact you rather than your partner if there are any problems
  • Discuss photos and videos in advance – would your partner like you to take photos during the labour or birth? Would they like you to capture anything in particular?
  • Download music, films or TV that your partner would like during labour as this can be relaxing and a good distraction
  • Download a contraction timer app for your phone so that you can take on this task during labour

Labour and birth

Remember, there is help and support available to you and your partner 24 hours a day from Labour Line (0300 369 0388). Don’t be afraid to call and ask for advice if you are concerned.

The stages of labour

Early labour

During the latent phase, your partner will feel tightenings / pains in her tummy, sometimes going into her back. At first there won’t be much of a pattern to these pains, but over time they will become regular, closer together and last longer. You can help by timing the contractions so that you know when to call for help – download a contraction timer app for your phone beforehand to make this task easier.

It’s best to stay at home during the latent phase – it can last a long time, and being at home is the best environment for your partner. It will help them relax, which in turn helps the labour to progress. Being at home can be scary as there are no professionals around to help, but understanding the process can help you to feel more confident in supporting your partner.

Your partner’s waters might break during this stage. Sometimes a woman’s waters will break before labour starts, or not at all. Waters breaking can be a huge gush or they can trickle out slowly. When her waters break, you should call Labour Line on 0300 369 0388 for advice.

Your partner may also have what’s known as “a show” (internal link) – a mucous plug that has been protecting the cervix. This can come away in bits or one big blob and is passed out of the vagina. It’s normal for this to be slightly pink or blood-streaked, but if your partner is actively bleeding or there is more blood than you’d expect, you should call Labour Line on  0300 369 0388 right away. If your partner starts to haemorrhage (large amounts of blood coming from the vagina), call 999.

Women often arrive at maternity units during the latent phase as they are scared and feel unable to cope at home. Your support at this time is invaluable, as you can get her through this at home until her labour is established. The Labour Line Midwife can give you some advice on how to cope at home – call them on 0300 369 0388 if you need some help.

Lots of things can help with the pain of early labour when you’re still at home:

  • A warm bath
  • A wheat bag, heat pad or hot water bottle (make sure it has a cover and isn’t leaking)
  • TENS machine
  • Breathing and relaxation exercises
  • Hypnobirthing
  • Paracetamol

If the baby is overdue or there are reasons for the baby to be born sooner, your partner may be advised to have an induction. This means that a midwife or obstetrician will use techniques or medication to kickstart labour. Your partner may need to stay in hospital once the induction starts, or they may be able to go home until labour is established. Induction can be a very long process, so keeping your partner motivated, calm and comfortable will be key.

  • If your partner is having a homebirth, you should call the homebirth team when labour starts. If you can’t reach anyone, call Labour Line on 0300 369 0388.
  • If you are having a second birth partner, let them know when labour has started so that they can make arrangements to get to you, and keep them updated on the progress.
  • Read through the birth plan again to refresh your memory
  • Make sure you get together everything you’ll need to take to the hospital, as things can progress quickly for some women. Put everything by the door or into the car. You’ll need:
    • Your bag
    • Your partner’s bag
    • Your baby’s bag
    • Maternity notes
    • House keys
    • Car keys
    • Phone
    • Loose change
  • Offer your partner drinks and snacks – early labour can last a long time so she needs to keep her strength up. She might struggle to move around, so help her to the loo regularly!
  • Run your partner a bath, light some candles, play some music, offer them a massage – anything that will help them to relax
  • Encourage your partner to stay upright and mobile as much as possible – encourage her to go for a walk, head to the shops, or go for a coffee if they feel up to it – as this will help speed up the process and help distract her, but let her rest when she needs it. Physically support her in positions she feels comfortable in, e.g. if she wants to be upright you can put your arms under her armpits to help take some of the weight. If she wants to lie down, place a pillow behind her back as it’s not safe for her to lie flat on her back in late pregnancy

Active labour

During the latent phase, your partner will feel tightenings / pains in her tummy, sometimes going into her back. At first there won’t be much of a pattern to these pains, but over time they will become regular, closer together and last longer. You can help by timing the contractions so that you know when to call for help – download a contraction timer app for your phone beforehand to make this task easier.

  • Stronger

  • Closer together

  • More intense and painful

Her cervix will be around 4cm dilated at the start of the active phase, and 10cm dilated by the end, ready for the baby to be born. Unless you are having a home birth, now is the time to head to the maternity unit – call Labour Line on 0300 369 0388 before you leave so they are expecting you. If your partner has given birth before, the second stage can be quite short so don’t waste any time getting to the maternity unit!

Once you are at the unit, you will be guided by the midwife who is caring for your partner. They will check partner’s temperature, pulse and blood pressure, feel your partner’s tummy to check your baby’s position, and perform vaginal examinations to see how much your partner’s cervix is dilated. An obstetrician may also be involved in the labour and birth if there are any concerns about your partner or the baby.

The Midwife will ask you about the birth plan, so make sure she knows your partners wishes.

Your baby’s heart rate will be checked regularly, either with a small handheld device, or by an electric machine called a CTG which tracks the heartbeat and contractions. If you want to know more about this, read our section on monitoring your baby.

The midwife will give your partner pain relief as and when they need it.  Lots of women use gas and air (also called Entonox) during labour – it’s sometimes known as laughing gas, but it can have the opposite effect and make some women cry. If your partner decides to have an epidural, this will be done by an anaesthetist in a consultant-led unit. This can be a scary procedure for some women, especially if they are afraid of needles, so give your partner lots of support and encouragement.

If you are at home or using a standalone midwife-led unit, the midwife will be checking to make sure that there are no complications. If there are any concerns, your partner may need to be transferred to a consultant-led unit. This will be done via ambulance, but that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily an emergency – it’s just the safest way to transport them and means they can have care on the way if they need it.

Your partner’s behaviour can change dramatically when she is in labour. She might have periods of quietness, where she doesn’t want to talk or be touched, or she might want you to massage her back and hold her hand. Follow her lead so that she feels supported and comfortable. The entire process can be very overwhelming so don’t be surprised if your partner is very emotional. You might feel very emotional too, and this is completely normal. Tell the midwife how you are feeling, if you are worried or if you need more information about what is happening. midwives are experienced at sensing how you are feeling and will be there to support you, too.

At times you’re likely to feel helpless and scared but remaining calm and supporting her is so important. Ask her how she’s feeling, what she needs, and help her to communicate with the team – this will make labour much easier for her and help you to feel involved. All the support you have given your partner so far has helped her to get to this stage of her labour, so keep up the good work.

When your partner is getting close to the second stage, she will experience powerful, intense contractions, she might have a show, feel sick and often vomit. It can feel overwhelming at this point, so keep supporting your partner with her breathing and tell her how well she is doing.

She may experience a strong urge to push before her cervix is 10 cm. If this happens, the midwife will tell you. Your partner will need to resist the urge to push as this can cause complications and injury, and make an assisted delivery or caesarean more likely. Try to help her with her breathing and give encouragement, as it’s a very difficult thing for her to do.

Remember the birth plan, but keep an open mind as things can change. Support her to make the decisions needed as and when they come up.

If things aren’t going well, the team may need to take action to keep your partner and your baby safe. In some cases, these decisions need to be made quickly. Ask the midwife or obstetrician questions if either of you have concerns or you don’t understand what’s happening. They should always ask your partner for consent before any procedures, but sometimes there is an emergency and they need to act right away.

  • Call Labour Line on 0300 369 0388 before you leave for the maternity unit so they are expecting you
  • Have your birth plan to hand as the midwife will ask you about it – make sure she knows your partner’s wishes
  • Let the midwife know if you plan to cut to cut the cord and / or announce the sex when the baby is born
  • Encourage your partner to say if she needs more pain relief or help with nausea, and advocate for her if she feels unable to speak up.
  • Check if she’s too hot or cold. Use a fan, cool flannel or water spray if she’s too hot, or blankets and fluffy socks if she’s cold. Your partner’s lips can get dry in labour, especially if using gas and air – applying a lip balm will relieve this
  • Encourage her to drink plenty of water (straws are helpful!). Offer light snacks as digestion is slower in labour

The birth

The next stage of labour is where the baby is born. It can last from a few minutes to three hours. Your partner’s cervix is now fully dilated, the baby moves from the uterus into the vagina, and she will need to push the baby out. First babies generally take longer to push out, but subsequent babies can be very quick and take you by surprise!

By this stage, your partner is likely to be extremely tired and struggling. Encouragement from you will be a huge help to her.

During this stage, your partner may experience a perineal tear or she may need an episiotomy to make more room for your baby’s head and prevent a tear. This can be distressing to see, but the team will numb the area before making a cut, unless your wife is already numb from an epidural.

If you want to cut the cord, the midwife will help you – remember that the cord only contains blood vessels and no nerves, so you won’t be hurting the baby. There is usually no rush – it is good to leave the cord attached to mum for a few minutes, but if there are any concerns about your partner or baby it may need to be done quickly by one of the team.

In some cases, labour stalls or problems arise, and the baby may need some help to be born safely. This can happen for a number of reasons, including exhaustion following a long labour, the position of the baby, your partner becoming unwell, or your baby not coping well with the contractions. This can take the form of an assisted delivery with forceps or ventouse, which are tools used to help with the birth. It’s a good idea to read up on assisted delivery so that you are prepared for what might happen. Your partner may need to be taken for theatre for an assisted delivery, in case a caesarean is required.

Sometimes the obstetrician will decide that an emergency caesarean is necessary. Despite the name, this doesn’t mean that things are life-threatening, just that the baby needs to be born soon and this is the safest way to do it. Your partner will be asked to sign a consent form if there is time and if she is well enough.

  • Think about where you want to stand for the birth. Some partners want to see the baby’s head being born, others want to stay away from the bottom end and remain by their partner’s head
  • Help and encourage your partner to use the breathing and relaxation techniques you’ve learnt together in antenatal classes, or any hypnobirthing techniques she’s learnt
  • Support your partner to get into the position that feels most natural for them – support their weight if they’re upright, so support their legs if they want to lie down
  • If you feel sick or dizzy, sit down with your head between your knees and take deep breaths – you wouldn’t be the first birth partner to faint, but we would like to avoid it if possible!
  • Keep an open mind – things can change quickly during labour. If there’s an emergency situation, the room will quickly fill with staff who are all there to help your partner and baby – this can be scary, but reassure your partner that it will be okay. Having you there for support will make a big difference
  • Stay calm. If unexpected things happen, such as needing an episiotomy (internal link), an assisted delivery (internal link) or a caesarean (internal link), your partner may not be able to think clearly or feel able to ask questions. Ask questions on her behalf and help explain things to her

The final stages of labour

This is when the placenta (afterbirth) is delivered. This can take anywhere from five minutes up to an hour.

Your partner will decide whether they want a physiological third stage (where they wait for the placenta to detach naturally), or an active third stage (where an injection is given to help your partner deliver the placenta more quickly). There are pros and cons to both, but the team will recommend the injection if your partner has had a long labour, is bleeding or is experiencing other complications.

After the placenta has been delivered, the Midwife will assess whether your partner needs any stitches. If she’s had an episiotomy, this will be stitched. If not, the midwife will examine your partner’s perineum (the area between her vagina and rectum) to check for tearing. If she has a minor tear, it might not need stitches. Moderate tears will be stitched by the midwife at this point, but if she has more severe tearing she may need to go to theatre for a surgical repair.

The stitching shouldn’t hurt as the area will be numbed, but talking to her and holding your baby together can be a good distraction. This is a good opportunity for you to have some skin-to-skin contact with the baby if your partner is concerned about holding them while being stitched up.

If your partner is breastfeeding, the baby may have already latched and starting feeding during the third stage. Babies will usually feed during the first hour after birth – the midwife will help you and your partner with this, however you’ve decided to feed them. If you’re planning to bottle feed, you can do this while your partner has a rest.

Congratulations, now you can relax and spend time with your new family. Don’t forget to tell mum how well she’s done too!

  • Help your partner to hold the baby if they’re really exhausted or feeling weak
  • Hold the baby yourself if your partner needs to rest – the Midwife will show you how
  • If your partner needs stitches, try to distract them and focus on the baby
  • Offer your partner drinks and snacks as she will need to get her strength up

Caesarean

A caesarean is a surgical procedure where a doctor will cut through your partner’s tummy and uterus to remove the baby. Caesareans can be elective (planned in advance) or emergency (not planned and performed quickly). Read more about Caesarean.

If your partner is scheduled to have an elective caesarean they should receive a date in advance. They will have a pre-op appointment where they’ll be able to ask questions – you can attend this too, or help your partner to make a list of questions in advance.

If they need an emergency caesarean, this might be decided during labour, or before labour starts if either your partner or your baby are having health problems. Emergency caesareans do not always have to be done immediately, but there will be some urgency, so you may see lots of staff helping to prepare your partner for theatre. Some women feel frightened and overwhelmed so it’s important to stay calm and offer lots of reassurance.

While your partner is taken to theatre, you’ll be asked to change into scrubs before you can join her. If she’s having a spinal block, you’ll need to wait outside until this is working – this is usually quick, but might take a little while if they are having difficulty getting it in.

If your partner needs a general anaesthetic, you won’t be able to be present during the surgery. You will wait in the recovery area and the team will bring the baby to you as soon as they can, as long as they are well. The wait can be frightening, but the team will take excellent care of your partner and your baby.

Theatre can seem scary when you first go in. There will be a screen in place so you can’t see the surgery happening. Your partner will be lying on a table and will have a drip into a vein in their hand or arm, giving them fluids and medication. There will also be wires stuck to their chest, and a cuff on their arm to monitor blood pressure. This doesn’t mean there’s anything wrong, these things are just used to make sure she is coping well during the procedure. Your partner will also have a catheter inserted to collect her pee during the procedure and afterwards, which will be removed later. The team will check that the anaesthetic is working before they start.

Your partner may shiver a lot during the procedure. She may also feel nauseous or be sick. The anaesthetist will be there with her, giving her medications to keep her feeling well. She might be drowsy or dizzy because of the medications and the procedure itself, so don’t be alarmed if she seems off – the anaesthetist will be monitoring her carefully for signs of any problems.

Your baby will be born quickly after the surgery starts, usually within ten minutes, but the whole procedure will take around an hour.

You can choose to watch your baby being born if you wish, ask the team to let you know when it’s time to look, but it’s probably best avoided if you are squeamish!

If you want to cut the cord or announce your baby’s sex to your partner, ask the staff – it’s usually possible, unless your partner or baby need urgent care. If your baby needs some help to take their first breath or other urgent care, they’ll be taken over to a table so the team can take care of them. When they are stable you’ll be able to go over and see them, and take a photo for your partner.

Depending on the circumstances, your baby may be handed straight to your partner after birth. If she is not well enough, the baby may be given to you to hold – the midwife will help you if you’re not used to holding babies.

After the baby is born, they will remove your wife’s placenta and then carefully suture (stitch) her uterus and tummy closed. If your partner was labouring before the caesarean, she may also need stitches in her perineum (the area between the vagina and rectum) to repair any cuts or tears. Your partner will not to be able to feel any of this because of the spinal anaesthetic.

After a caesarean, your partner will be taken to the recovery area or back to the ward – if your baby is well, they will stay with her.

Your partner may need strong pain relief and she will struggle to move much on the first day, especially if she has had a spinal anaesthetic, as it will take some time for this to wear off.

Your partner should be able to get up and move around carefully by the following morning. Her catheter will be removed and she will be encouraged to stay mobile but to take things gently. She will usually be able to go home within 48 hours, but if she or the baby need additional care they might need to stay a bit longer. Once you do go home, she will need to take it very easy for a few weeks, so your support and help with the baby will be more important than ever. Read more about recovery from a caesarean.

  • If your partner is scheduled to have an elective caesarean, let your employer know the date beforehand and arrange for childcare if you already have children
  • During the procedure sit by your partner’s head and reassure them – if possible, have a bit of a chat to distract them
  • Take your phone into theatre so that you can capture the first photos of your baby – those moments are just as precious no matter what kind of birth your partner has
  • Some women are very distressed by needing an emergency caesarean and feel like they have somehow failed. Telling her how proud you are of her and how well she has done will be a big help
  • You might still be able to cut the cord or announce the sex, depending on the circumstances – ask the team if it’s possible
  • If your partner is not able to hold the baby right away, take the opportunity to have some skin-to-skin contact with the baby yourself – this is great for bonding, and for the baby’s health

After the birth

Most units will ask women to stay for at least two hours after birth to ensure that mum and baby are both well. If she has had a caesarean, if there are concerns about either of them, or if they need additional care or treatment, they will stay until they are well enough to go home.

If they are spending the night at Bournemouth Birth Centre, Poole Maternity Unit or in a single room at Dorset County Hospital, you will be able to stay with them. If they are staying in a bay at Dorset County Hospital, you won’t be able to stay but the staff will give your partner the support they need.

When your partner and baby are ready to go home, you’ll need to bring in the baby’s car seat – ask the midwife for help if you’re unsure how to strap your baby in safely. Make sure you carry the car seat as your partner may struggle with lifting heavy things – if you’re driving, take the bags to the car first so that she doesn’t have to carry anything.

If mum or baby need some extra care, they may stay on the Transitional Care Unit in Poole – they will stay together until they are both able to go home. Babies who need more care may need to stay in the Neonatal Unit (Poole) or the Special Care Baby Unit (Dorchester). This might be a brief stay or a much longer stay, and in some cases your partner may be discharged first. It can be extremely difficult to go home without your baby – you can visit at any time, 24/7, but it’s also important to get some rest and for your partner to recover from birth.

  • If your partner needs to stay in hospital, check whether you can stay too and ask your partner whether she wants you to stay – she might prefer you to go home and get some rest so that you can give her a break the next day
  • If you stay, be hands-on: change nappies, hold the baby, feed them if you are bottle feeding or pass them to your partner for breastfeeding so she doesn’t have to get up and down. Make sure you are respectful of the other mums in the ward, who will all be feeling very tired and vulnerable
  • When you get home, encourage your partner to get some rest to recover from the birth. This is a good opportunity for you to bond with the baby

Complications and extra care

In most cases, women and babies get through birth with no major complications, but sometimes women and / or babies can become unwell during labour, or labour can stop progressing.

Although this is extremely scary for you both, try not to worry if an emergency situation arises. The room may fill with staff who are there to take care of your partner and the baby. They will stay until the problem has been dealt with. Try to reassure your partner and remain calm. The staff have lots of experience of dealing with complications and will be doing their best to help.

If labour isn’t progressing well, your partner becomes unwell or your baby needs help, the team may suggest either an assisted delivery or an emergency caesarean. It’s good to be prepared for these things by reading the relevant sections so you know what to expect.

The team will do their best to deliver the baby safely. In most cases, mum and baby are fine after receiving this help, but sometimes one or both will need extra care.

If your baby needs treatment, they will be taken to the Neonatal Unit at Poole or the Special Care Baby Unit at Dorchester. In most cases, you can accompany your baby to the NNU/SCBU and your partner can join you when she is well enough. You may not want to leave your partner, especially if they are also unwell, so speak to the Midwife taking care of her about what to do.

In some cases, if your baby needs more intensive care or the unit is full, they may need to be transferred to another hospital, which will be done in a special ambulance. Staff will do their best to keep your partner and your baby together at the same hospital but this isn’t always possible.

Usually your partner will be taken to the postnatal ward, but if she needs more care, she may need to be moved to the High Dependency Unit, or on rare occasions she may need to be transferred to a more specialist hospital.

If your partner and/or the baby do need additional care, the staff will explain everything to you.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions so you understand what’s going on. It can help to write things down if you’re being given a lot of information.

  • If your partner needs to stay in hospital, check whether you can stay too and ask your partner whether she wants you to stay – she might prefer you to go home and get some rest so that you can give her a break the next day
  • If you stay, be hands-on: change nappies, hold the baby, feed them if you are bottle feeding or pass them to your partner for breastfeeding so she doesn’t have to get up and down. Make sure you are respectful of the other mums in the ward, who will all be feeling very tired and vulnerable
  • When you get home, encourage your partner to get some rest to recover from the birth. This is a good opportunity for you to bond with the baby