Birth Partner Handbook: Everything You Need to Know for a Healthy, Positive Birth Experienceby Carl Jones
The Birth Partner Handbook is the essential guide for today's fathers, family, and friends who want to help create a healthy, positive birth experience for the new mother. Covering all types of births, it offers information and support for every step of the way, including the latest in mind-body relaxation techniques and new insight into understanding the mother's
The Birth Partner Handbook is the essential guide for today's fathers, family, and friends who want to help create a healthy, positive birth experience for the new mother. Covering all types of births, it offers information and support for every step of the way, including the latest in mind-body relaxation techniques and new insight into understanding the mother's perspective during labor.
Featuring easy-to-follow information on:
understanding and preparing for every stage of labor
what to expect on delivery day
approaches that minimize the need for pain medication
massage and breathing techniques to manage stress
supporting the mother through complications and Cesarean section
bonding, breast-feeding, and newborn care
and much, much more
With this helpful guide, anyone attending the birth of a child will be fully ready to support the new mother before, during, and after the big event in the best way possible.
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The Birth Partner Handbook
Everything You Need to Know for a Healthy, Positive Birth Experience
By Carl Jones
Sourcebooks, Inc.Copyright © 2010 Carl Jones
All rights reserved.
THE BIRTH PARTNER
If you are well prepared for labor, you are worth your weight in Demerol. There is nothing that can ease the laboring mother's fear and soothe her pain like a supportive childbirth companion. Nothing can more easily help her to experience a joyful birth.
I have asked scores of women, "What helped you most during labor?" Their answers include "My partner," "I could have never done it without my husband," "I was not alone during labor. My mother was with me every minute. It made all the difference in the world for me," and "During many hard-to-handle contractions, my husband was indispensable to me. His soothing voice, caring smile, and warm, supporting arms meant the difference between manageable contractions and being dominated by pain." Another woman said, "I was terrified of labor. I couldn't imagine anything short of general anesthesia getting me through the ordeal. But Roger was amazing. Just being by my side and holding my hand, he helped me focus during many difficult contractions. I labored medication free and have never regretted it!"
"Like most women I know, I was afraid of labor," recalled Tess about the birth of her first child. "I had my doubts about my husband, Larry, being able to help me. When it came right down to the wire, he was as nervous as I was. But he was wonderful during labor! Just standing by my side, walking with me, holding me when I lay down, evaporated the sting of the most difficult contractions and set my whirling mind at peace."
So you are going to attend a labor. You are about to embark on one of the greatest and most rewarding adventures life has to offer: the birth of a child. Nothing is more exciting that witnessing the entrance of a child into the world. It is especially miraculous when it is your own child being born. "I can't believe what a thrill being at the birth was for me," said Jared about the birth of his baby girl. "It was such a high. I was so elated I could hardly speak. I would recommend [that] every father get as well prepared for labor as possible. The better prepared he is, the better he can take away his mate's pain. The better prepared he is, the more likely he will be swept away by the ecstasy of birth."
While you enjoy the birth, you can reduce the mother's fear and pain as you maximize her joy in the childbearing miracle. No form of pain medication is as safe or as effective as her childbirth companion's labor support. As a companion, you can spell the difference between a nightmare of agony and confusion and an event always to be remembered with joy. There are numerous benefits to the mother who has a supportive birth partner. The childbirth companion can help the mother relax, reduce her fear, alleviate her pain, reduce the length of labor, lessen the chance of a Cesarean section, reduce the chance of childbirth complications, minimize the need for medical intervention, help the mother make a smooth transition to parenthood, result in more successful breast-feeding, and reduce the chance of postpartum depression.
In an oft-quoted medical study, Dr. John Kennel and his colleagues discovered that women who had a supportive companion with them during labor had shorter labors, developed fewer complications, and experienced significantly less pain than women who did not have supportive companions. The mothers with companions also stroked, smiled at, and talked to their newborns significantly more than did those without companions.
Why does effective labor support make such a tremendous difference in the mother's experience of childbirth? Largely because the mother is very vulnerable and open to suggestion during labor. The childbirth companion's presence helps keep the mother focused on coping with her contractions while easing the pain of labor. And the childbirth companion is able to give the mother positive suggestions that actually reduce her pain in labor and the length of labor. The childbirth companion can also help the mother relax. Labor is more painful when the mother is tense, but a relaxed woman is able to labor with less discomfort. In addition, the childbirth companion's practical help increases the effectiveness of labor-coping techniques, such as guided imagery.
The support that a mother receives during labor molds her entire experience. As mentioned, throughout labor, the mother is vulnerable, highly sensitive, and easily influenced by suggestion—especially the positive suggestions of a loving word or touch. Just being by her side helps her surrender to rather than fight the forces to give birth to her child.
Whatever your relationship with the mother, you can provide something that her physician or midwife and nurses cannot—the comfort and support of someone she knows and trusts. A familiar face, a kind word, a caressing touch can mean more than any drug or analgesia. Labor is undeniably painful at times, and it is not like any other pain. The pain of being in labor responds to emotional and physical support. The well-supported mother often experiences her labor as richly rewarding. "It was the most rewarding experience of my life," recalls Jamie about the birth of her first child. "Andrew and I did it together. I felt like I was plugged into something greater than myself. I had pain, yes. But the pain was nothing compared to the immense joy that labor brought. Of course giving birth was joyful. But I am talking about all of labor. It was a rewarding experience that I will never, ever forget."
Women frequently report that they could have never gone through labor as confidently without their husband, friend, or other childbirth companion. For example, one new mother, Anna, said, "I can't imagine how I could ever have gone through labor without my friend Cheryl present. Just being with me, she gave me the strength I needed." June, the mother of a newborn girl, recalled, "I feared being alone during labor. I felt too vulnerable, too easily upset to be by myself. Jim was with me throughout labor, from the very first contraction to the first hours after the baby was born. His presence meant everything to me. I was able to concentrate on getting through labor rather than being frightened and alone. Every father should attend the birth of his child. Lacking the father present, the mother should recruit a family member or close friend to help her through labor. If she can't find someone she trusts, she should honestly consider hiring someone: a professional labor support person or childbirth companion."
Anyone—father, friend, or family member, male or female—can help a mother through labor. Andrea, a first-time mother, remarked, "My friend Janet was everything to me. I don't know how I would have coped with labor without her. She helped me relax and talked me through contractions. When labor got rough, the look in her eyes said to me, 'I've done this before and so can you.' And that gave me confidence."
But you may feel that you know nothing about childbirth or you may be nervous if you have never attended a birth. Rest assured that most people who assist a woman through labor have never previously attended a birth. You don't need a world of knowledge to help a woman through labor. Many childbirth companions have never even seen a videotape of a birth. Most fathers know only what they have learned in childbirth classes. Some never even go to childbirth classes. But these fathers are still able to reduce the mother's fear and pain dramatically. Andy, a new father who helped his partner through labor, said, "I didn't know very much about childbirth besides what I had read. I was nervous about helping my wife, Linda, through labor. I only knew that my presence during labor meant a great deal to her. I didn't attend childbirth classes but I practiced guided imagery with Linda. When it came time for the real thing, I was able to lead her through an imagery exercise and I was just able to cuddle her when contractions waxed strong. She labored smoothly without the use of pain relief medication and had a beautiful birth."
How can you help when you don't have a shred of confidence about your role during labor? It is normal for you to feel anxious and unsure of yourself. The chapters ahead will share with you all you need to know to reduce fear and pain greatly and to enjoy the childbearing miracle to the fullest. Understanding labor will let you know what to expect about your partner's changing behavior and state of mind—and you can help her immensely.
"Bill read accurate descriptions of the mother's changing behavior," recalled Cherie, the mother of three children. "He knew what to expect and how best to meet my changing needs. He was immensely helpful during labor. Just being there with me, accepting my behavior as normal, caused me to feel that labor was something I could take in stride. And I sailed through labor because of that. Without his presence and acceptance, I would surely have been lost."
If you are a secondary birth partner, attending the birth with the father or other primary birth partner, you can help both the mother and her partner cope, and you can help the primary birth partner better support the mother. Jackie, a new mother of a baby girl, remembered, "My friend Sharon kept pouring hot water over me in the tub. This helped a lot when contractions were really intense. Meanwhile, my husband, Brandon, held my hand and kept up eye contact."
Some single mothers and couples hire a trained childbirth companion, called a doula, to give primary labor support. In this case, the partner, relative, or friend has an important role to play in giving secondary labor support. The secondary support person can rub the mother's back, make her comfortable, give emotional encouragement, and provide the assurance of a familiar face. There are innumerable ways you can assist the mother or the primary birth partner. (For specific suggestions, see chapter 4, "Helping Her Every Step of the Way: Early Labor" and chapter 5, "Helping Her Every Step of the Way: Active Labor.")
However you prepare for birth and whether you are the primary or secondary labor support person, bear in mind that you are not a coach. Some childbirth educators used to use the term labor coach to describe the birth partner's role in labor. But labor coach does not adequately describe what the childbirth companion does. Fortunately, the majority of childbirth educators no longer use this term, but nonetheless it has stuck for some people. If someone calls you a coach, correct him or her. The coach belongs on the football field. You are there to nurture the laboring mother, to give her emotional and physical support, and to help her surrender to the childbearing miracle.
ESPECIALLY FOR FATHERS
Today, almost all expectant fathers attend the birth of their child, and obstetricians and other health-care professionals welcome fathers during prenatal appointments and during labor. For the most part, childbirth classes are for couples. Most women want their partners by their side during the life-altering hours of labor.
Every expectant father can help his partner in ways no one else can. No one cares for the laboring woman as her partner does. Aside from the mother herself, no one else is more deeply involved in her labor than the father of the child. For the father, no task is more rewarding that helping your partner through labor and knowing that your touch can ease her pain. And nothing is as satisfying or as utterly overwhelming as participating in the birth of your own child. "If there was ever one turning point in my life," recalled Toby, a new father, "this was it. Being there was the greatest joy I have ever known."
Of the birth of his son Damien, Brandon said, "It was the most important day of my life. Words can't describe it!" Derek, a new father to a baby girl, commented, "It was an intense experience. We were fully prepared for the birth and knew precisely what to expect. But when the time came, a flood of emotion came over me. I wanted to cry aloud. I wanted to tell the whole world our story—Sara and I gave birth together!"
A father's facial expressions during birth reveal the story unfolding. Powerful emotions pulse through his body, his eyes fill with tears, and his mouth tightens and then quivers into a wide smile. Considering the deep pride and elation that sweep through a father when he first gazes into the eyes of his child, and the incomparable image of family unity when mother, father, and newborn embrace after birth, it's easy to understand why so many men speak of their child's birth as the most sacred event of their lives.
At the birth of my first child, I felt as if I were standing on the threshold of mystery, privileged to witness a miracle as great as the creation of the earth. I had planned to take pictures for our family album, but at the time, photography was the last thing on my mind. Jan, my wife, was utterly beside herself. The expression on her face as she bore down with contractions was one of pure pleasure.
I could see a bit of the baby's head in the birth canal—a mere spot of wet, matted hair. Jan bore down fiercely. She gripped me so powerfully in her arms that I staggered against the bed and nearly fell on top of her. The climax was upon us. The baby moved downward in the birth canal and the head became larger and larger. I trembled. For a brief moment I was so afraid that I wanted to hide my face in my hands. It was all too wonderful to believe. Suddenly Jan gripped me in a wild, passionate embrace. The head was born. A few seconds more and the body slipped out easily.
I stood back for a moment, shaking with excitement. In the dimly lit room, Jan's face glowed and her blond hair fell in radiant folds. She looked like a goddess. As she lifted our son to her breast, her whole body radiated with ecstasy. She smiled. I took the baby into my arms and we locked eyes, my son and I. Waves of indescribable feeling swept down and up my spine.
"We are pregnant" is a common expression. It is more than a cute turn of phrase. Today, pregnancy means more than the growth of a baby in the uterus. It connotes the state of expectant parenthood that both mother and father share. The father may even have a feeling that a baby is on the way or share his partner's prenatal symptoms, such as morning sickness, gas pains, inexplicable weight gain, and constipation. These symptoms have been reported in fathers for centuries and are known as couvade syndrome (couvade comes from the French verb couver, which means "to hatch" or "brood"). Couvade syndrome represents a sharing of the childbearing experience on a deep psychological level.
The father of the child has a twofold role during labor. First is to witness the birth of the child and enjoy the childbearing miracle. Kenny, a new father, explained that watching the birth of his child was the most exhilarating thing he ever experienced and that a father can't know that feeling without being there. Second is to reduce the mother's fear and pain, and help her to enjoy childbearing to the fullest. Pamela, the mother of two children, found that her husband's presence during her second labor was as valuable as it was during her first, much-longer labor. "I wanted to have David next to me so I could hold on to him when I needed to," she said. Cammie, who labored for 3 days with her first child, said of her husband Steve: "We were a team. He helped me keep my breathing relaxed and easy, applied pressure to my lower back when I had back pain, and helped me relax. His help was invaluable."
Helping the mother relax and reducing her discomfort are not the only benefits of a father's presence during labor. According to a study conducted by Drs. Peterson, Mehl, and Leiderman, fathers who attend the birth of their child adapt more quickly to their nurturing role with the infant. The first moment with the newborn is the most dramatic part of childbirth for many fathers. As Paul, a new father of a boy says, "The moment we locked eyes, my newborn son and I, was even more awesome than witnessing the birth. I felt electric energy all through my body. This was the beginning of father-son attachment and I enjoyed it thoroughly."
Don't worry about the fact that you will never go through labor yourself. You don't need personal experience to make a difference. As the father of the child, because of your special relationship with the mother, you may even be a more effective labor support companion than her friends and relatives. "I didn't know the first thing about labor," recalled J. T. about the birth of his first child. "I could sense the sheer power my words and touch had on Marion. I was able to reduce her fear and lessen her pain. I was instrumental in making our birth the number-one experience of our lives."
You are bound to be anxious about the birth. This is especially true if you have never seen a birth and the upcoming one is the first you'll be attending. Many expectant fathers feel anxious about being with their partners in labor and seeing the actual birth. Some imagine childbirth as a medical event during which they will only feel awkward and in the way. Tessa's husband Ron doesn't want to attend the birth of his child because he feels that he can't "take it." This is not an uncommon reaction. But few fathers regret having shared the birth experience with their partners. They learn that giving birth can be the most creative and positive experience in their lives—hard work, yes, but an event of triumph and joy.
Excerpted from The Birth Partner Handbook by Carl Jones. Copyright © 2010 Carl Jones. Excerpted by permission of Sourcebooks, Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
Carl Jones is a certified childbirth educator who has attended hundreds of births and is a popular speaker who organizes childbirth workshops nationally. He lives in Whitefield, New Hampshire.
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