By:Dr. Emanuel Gracias, Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Gracias Maternity Hospital.
For centuries, women across the world have given birth surrounded by female members of the family who assisted them physically and emotionally. Labour is a long and arduous process, more so for women giving birth for the first time. It’s only natural that many will feel like giving up just before the finish line. Having a supportive partner, or birthing buddy as we like to call them, can make all the difference.
In almost every scenario, as a woman nears her due date, her mind is on the impending labour, an experience no amount of research can truly prepare her for. In reality, her mind ought to be on selecting the one person most don’t think of until the baby’s head is crowning: the birthing buddy.
This is a term we like to give to the support partner. It could be anyone the expectant woman trusts and can rely on for emotional support as she goes through labour and birth.
At our medical facility we allow mothers-to-be the option of having a birthing buddy accompany them in the labour room and assist with the birthing process. The Birthing Buddy Programme aims to make labour more relaxed with the support of a trusted partner – this could be the woman’s husband, a close friend or relative.
In fact, this setup isn’t new. For centuries, women across the world have given birth surrounded by female members of the family who assisted them physically and emotionally. Labour is a long and arduous process, more so for women giving birth for the first time. It’s only natural that many will feel like giving up just before the finish line. Having a supportive partner, or buddy as we like to call them, can make all the difference.
The institutionalisation of labour and birth distanced women from this age-old support system. Hospitals were sterile spaces where groups were often discouraged, and rightly so. At Gracias Maternity Hospital in Margao, we have reinvented this support system within the safety of a hospital. The Birthing Buddy Programme encourages ante-natal visits with the expectant mother, setting up of the pre-labour room in a manner comfortable for her, and finally support in the labour room.
COVID-19 truly upset the gynaec’s apple cart. Many women were forced to deliver with just the hospital staff. We have noticed that birthing buddies significantly raise the success rate of normal deliveries.
So who is the ideal birthing buddy? They’ll need to be someone the mother can completely rely on from 36 weeks onwards, without responsibilities of their own. This means being available as soon as the mother needs to be admitted into the hospital, through to labour and birth. Ideally, they can drive her to the hospital, fill out her paperwork and help with the baby bag. As labour progresses, their role becomes even more vital as the mother tires. It’s quite the same as a coach pushing a marathon runner to give a little bit more each time they feel like pulling out of the race.
In that way, a birthing buddy needs to be physically strong themselves. Labour can easily last more than 12 hours – mothers can’t have a birthing buddy who will tire from running around with paperwork, fetching water or helping her to the bathroom in a few hours. They’ll need to be responsible for their own well-being as well as the mother’s.
Being a liaison between the hospital staff and the mother helps reduce confusion and stress on both ends. For this, our Birthing Buddy Programme advises companions to attend at least the last 4-5 ante-natal visits with the mother. This gives both sides a chance to know and get comfortable with each other. Additionally, it builds trust with the hospital staff so labour can proceed smoothly without doctors needing to reassure patients with unnecessary details.
These ante-natal visits also offer them the opportunity to acquaint themselves with the pre-labour room. In most hospitals, labouring women are moved from the patient room straight to the labour room. Here, we offer an intermediary pre-labour room that can be arranged to make the patient comfortable until she is fully dilated and which is fitted with all the necessary monitoring equipment.
The birthing buddy can set it up with scented candles, play soothing music or the mother’s favourite shows. Here, they can give the mother deep tissue massages on their back and feet, and constantly remind them to relax. All of this serves the vital purpose of keeping the mother calm, a state that boosts the flow of oxytocin, the hormone that induces and augments labour.
In the final throes of childbirth, mothers can say unexpected things, and birthing buddies must remember to avoid taking any jibes personally. It’s important for mothers to choose birthing buddies who are not too sensitive – to verbal barbs if any, and to the messiness of labour. Expectant women must remember that birthing buddies will see them in a pretty intimate state – they might need assistance to pee and will be barely clothed in the labour room. The birthing buddy also needs to be a decision-maker – if there is fetal distress, a quick approval for c-section can add more time for a safe surgery.
We hope more expectant women carefully consider birthing buddies to help ride out the rollercoaster of labour.
(Dr. Emanuel Gracias, is an Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Gracias Maternity Hospital in Margao)