Social support during labour, birth and the early postnatal period

The majority of the mothers we spoke to gave birth with a support person present. For most mothers, this was their partner. If single, women chose to have their mother or a close friend attend. Several fathers also talked about their experiences of supporting their partner’s labour and birth.

A few women felt it was important to have another support person in addition to their partner. They thought an extra person could take pressure off their partner, or provide support in case their partner was unable to. Some women said their partners were ‘squeamish’ or being unable to cope with seeing their partner in pain. Several women had another woman present, and they mostly preferred someone who had experienced or witnessed birth. A few women had their mother supporting them during labour while several were concerned their mother would not provide the kind of support they felt they needed.

Rumer asked two close female friends as well as her partner to support her during her labour and birth.

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Michelle’s mother and her partner took turns supporting her during her labour.

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Support during labour and birth included emotional support, information about labour progress, advice regarding coping techniques, massage, offering drinks and snacks, keeping family members updated, and advocacy (communicating their wishes to midwives and doctors). Lara wanted an intervention-free birth but her labour had slowed down and the hospital staff wanted to break her waters.

Lara managed her labour’s slow progress with the support of her partner and friends.

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A few men talked about their role in supporting their partner through labour and birth. Luke, a young father, felt there was not much he could do during his partner’s long and difficult labour but supported her as best he could. He provided her physical comfort assisting her in decision making with pain relief and intervention and kept family members updated. Fred played a ‘hands on’ role during the birth of his first baby and was disappointed to miss the birth of his second child. Two fathers via surrogacy were unable to attend their children’s births due to clinic regulations concerning the privacy of surrogate mothers. Matthew was updated about the progress of the surrogate mother’s labour in the next room, then had the baby brought to him when she was born.

Luke described the support he provided to his partner during her prolonged labour.

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Fred described the emotional impact of missing his second child’s birth.

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Due to circumstances beyond their control, several women did not have their preferred support person attend their labour and delivery. Erin gave birth to her fourth child with a friend present because her husband and her other three children were ill at home. After migrating to Australia, Rose and her husband had their second child. They could not afford to fly their parents over for the birth and missed their support. Instead they talked and prayed together over the phone in the lead-up to Rose’s induction. During Alice’s long and difficult labour she started haemorrhaging and had to have an emergency caesarean. Her partner Luke was too afraid to accompany her into theatre and asked his sister to go instead.

Alice would have liked her sister to join her in theatre for her emergency caesarean rather than her partner’s sister.

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A few women felt that they did not have adequate support from attending partners. Maree, a mother of two, thought that the midwives were more attentive during her first labour than her partner was. Cecilia gave birth to her daughter during the breakdown of her relationship with her daughter’s father, which was challenging.

Despite having the father of her baby present, Cecilia felt alone and unsupported during her labour and birth.

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Witnessing labour and birth, especially if the birth was long and difficult or resulted in emergency intervention had an emotional impact on the support partners. Ajay said being at his baby’s birth was both ‘terrible’ and ‘wonderful’.

Witnessing his wife’s pain during labour and birth was difficult for Ajay and made him appreciate her more.

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The duration of women’s postnatal hospital stay depended on their birth experience. For vaginal births, women went home one to three days after the baby was born, or three to five days after a caesarean. Some women had to stay in hospital longer if they or their baby were unwell. Many women enjoyed the first few days after having their baby and found family and friends visiting exciting. Others felt alone. Some women, who gave birth in a public hospital, missed their partners during the night.

Joanne did not realise how important it was for her to have her partner with her at night during her postnatal hospital stay.

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Other women missed family overseas. Mishi, from Pakistan, said her parents-in-law did not visit her and her new baby in hospital because of their opposition to her marriage to their son. Sara L, a mother of two, said her family visited her in hospital after her first baby, but her husband was busy with an upcoming job interview and her mother was sick so they did not provide her as much support as she would have liked.

Sara L said she felt overwhelmed after the birth of her baby, despite her family members visiting her.

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Some parents talked about the importance of practical support during the first few days of becoming parents. Daniel and his partner stayed in a hotel after their twins were born via a surrogate mother. They initially hired a nurse to help with their daughters but soon felt more confident and were able to support each other. Daniel explained, ‘We learnt how to juggle both babies at once – when you’re not used to anything else, you certainly learn very quickly to juggle two as quickly as one’.