A CRASH COURSE IN BIRTH COMPANIONS

I was born in a nunnery. My father was not allowed in the room and my poor mom had to labour for hours without a birth companion. A positive birth experience for my mother? I think not.

What is a birth companion or birth partner? In short it is someone that gives you physical, emotional and practical support when delivering your baby (via c-section or labour). The right support during birth (over and above good clinical care) goes a long way toward a happier, positive birth experience. In fact, many healthcare providers support the presence of birth companions as hospital midwives working on a busy labour ward are not always in the position to give continuous, un-interrupted one-on-one support.

There are different kinds of birth companions and each bring their own unique benefits to the birth environment. Who you have in your birth space should be your choice, but should also be made with care as you need to feel safe, secure and respected at all times:

Make sure your birth companion/s understand and respect your birth preferences
Make sure your birth companion/s are qualified for his or her role
Make sure your birth companion/s bring postive energy to your birth space
Understand what your hospital or healthcare provider’s merit requirements are for the birth companion of your choice

THE DOULA

A doula offers physical and emotional support to a mother and her partner before, during and after birth. They provide reassurance, comfort, encouragement and respect and focus on non-clinical care needed during labour or in some instances c-sections.

Benefits of a doula include:

Supports YOUR birth preferences and helps you understand them
Supports dad
Helps you deal with the unexpected
Can decrease the length of your labour
Offers physical support
May help minimize interventions or medication
Be your birth resource guide
Assists doctors and medical staff by giving additional emotional support
Helps to create the ideal birth environment
Offers post-natal support

Go to www.wombs.org.za to find a qualified Doula.

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FATHERS / PARTNERS

Some women need the father of their baby there and some don’t. There is no right or wrong and there should be no social norms in birth. What is important is that you talk to your partner about the type of birth you would like and things you would prefer not to do so that that they can support your decisions and advocate them where possible on your behalf.

Tips for the Birth Partner Dad:

Understands his partner’s birth preferences and champions it for her.
Knows how to time contractions or surges.
Knows who to call when and has their numbers.
Knows how to get to the hospital if applicable.
Has loose change for parking and vending machines.
Remembers to bring phones and chargers.
Brings a clean set of clothing for himself.
Remembers to take his partner’s hospital bag.
Handles as much of the administrations and paperwork as he can.
Ensures that there is enough snacks and water for his partner.
Stays calm and reassuring.
Is present and not distracted.
Offers physical support to his partner.

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BIRTH PHOTOGRAPHERS

Yes, professional birth photographers are birth companions too and can bring practical and emotional benefits to the birth space. By capturing the details of the birth story they enable mothers to focus inwardly and not worry about preserving the memories of her birth. They also free fathers from camera duty so that they can focus on being present birth companions. They bring a host of other emotional benefits as well, but for now I am focusing on just the birth space.

The ideal birth photographer:

Understands that it is about the birthing mother and not about the perfect shot.
Understands that being a great photographer does not make you a great birth photographer.
Attends as a birth professional – not as a spectator.
Understands the physiological basics of birth.
Does not direct or pose ANYONE.
Is unobtrusive in every sense of the word.
Has a strong understanding of the safety, privacy and integrity aspects of birth photography.
Is invested in her clients.
Is updated on health care providers merit requirements for attending a birth. Abides by the SABPA Oath of Conduct.

Works on call and has a qualified back-up birth photographer for emergencies.

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MIDWIVES

Private midwives can actually act as a primary healthcare provider at a birth with the back-up of a gynecologist which is why I do not want to group them too definitively as birth companions, however it is important to mention that in some instances mothers employ private midwives in the role of doula if they want someone with clinical qualification as well.

Private midwives can also be the primary healthcare provider at your birth (whether at home or at hospital) and some women have both a a midwife and a doula at their birth.

Birth Companions made easy

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