The labour ward who's who when you give birth
You’re in labour – who are you going to call? From the midwife to your mum, here’s the lowdown on your birth squad
Image credit: Istock
You've probably googled birth positions and researched your pain relief options for labour, but have you considered who will be there for you when the time comes to push the baby out? From the midwife to your mum, we present the supporting players who will back up the star of the show - that's you.
Top of the list is your birthing partner. And this is the only one who doesn't need to be an expert at all. Essentially, they're there for emotional support as the person who knows you best - y'know, the you who is actually a reasonable person when they don't have contractions coursing through their body. Birthing partners' usefulness in the role varies... but if it's your life partner, there's much mileage to be had in the point of view that they got you into this situation in the first place. Demand massages, food, ice, pillow feng shui - the works. If it's your best friend, well, maybe keep her at the head end and be grateful she's there for you rather than at work/yoga/on a Tinder date*. [*Delete as appropriate.]
Midwives are the real experts here – more so than anyone else you’ll meet in hospital, they know childbirth, er, inside out. Midwife literally means ‘with woman’ and it’s recognised as the oldest female occupation. Never hesitate to call them with any concerns, during pregnancy or labour – supporting pregnant women is literally their job and they would far rather you picked up the phone than worried alone. Realistically you’re unlikely to see the same midwife for antenatal appointments throughout your pregnancy. But when it comes to labour, the chemistry between you and whichever midwife is on duty is important. If you don’t feel that they are listening to you, you can request someone else.
In an ideal world, we’d have continuous care from the same midwife during pregnancy, birth and postpartum. In reality, that isn’t the case with NHS care. If you want that continuity of care, you can pay for it – either by using a private midwifery company or hiring a doula. A doula can really get to know you and your family before the big day and then be there during birth, helping you make the best decisions for you and your baby. They’ll also be around after the birth as you learn to feed and get to know your baby.
If you have a high-risk pregnancy, you’ll probably have had appointments with an obstetrician already. If not, you may not need to see one at any point during pregnancy or labour. Essentially, they are doctors who specialise in pregnancy, childbirth and the reproductive system and they tend to make an appearance only when there’s a problem in labour or special care is needed. If you need to have a caesarean – whether scheduled or unexpected – the obstetrician will be the one to do it.
Colloquially known as the one with the drugs. The anaesthetist will only rock up if you need an epidural to let you rest before the next big push, or to prep you for an instrumental delivery or a caesarean, so the chances are you’ll meet them at a pretty involved stage of your labour. You might think that would be embarrassing, but when you need them, these guys and gals might as well be riding into the labour ward on a white charger (as in horse, not iphone). But as you might imagine, they can be pretty in demand… you may have to wait for them to finish helping the woman next door first. Not easy when you’re eight hours into labour and five centimetres dilated.
No, she won’t be on the labour ward with you – but if she’s done her job right she’ll be there in spirit. If you’ve been to antenatal classes (and they’re not in any way compulsory) the idea is that forewarned is forearmed. The teacher’s job is to thoroughly explain the process of birth to parents-to-be without scaring them. In the surreal last month or so before labour, their advice can feel like the last staging post and almost too much to take in. But once those contractions kick off, the prep work kicks in and, quite frankly, navigating labour after being briefed on the techniques, lingo, options and possibilities is a far less intimidating prospect than just winging it.
Not everyone has a mum to lean on during the baby-making years and for those who do, much like birth partners, they offer varying levels of usefulness. But while our mum friends are mostly taking wobbly first steps on the road, there’s no denying that our own mums have been there, seen it and done it. They’re also often handy for feeding you up, providing cute baby outfits and taking care of you when the baby arrives. If she isn’t in the room with you in labour, just be sure to ask somebody to call her first when the baby is born. First-grandchild news is about as big as it gets.
Like mums, mothers-in-law offer hugely varying types of help – and hindrance! If you’re lucky, you’ll have one who can fulfil any areas your own mum doesn’t excel in and sometimes, they offer a slightly more rational perspective because it’s not their own little girl who has to carry and deliver the baby. One thing that some MILS seem to specialise in is a line in outdated baby advice. The best thing to do here is smile and nod politely, retreat to your happy place (try out those hypnobirthing techniques again) and try to remember that it’s their way of being useful. Annoyingly, their advice is sometimes bang on.
And don't forget... YOU!
No woman is an island, and you absolutely need the support of the birth squad you’ll build up over the months leading up to your delivery. They’ll all be brimming with great ideas and advice but remember, it’s just that – advice. You’ll be amazed at how you know, just know, what’s the right thing for you and your baby and who the right person is to be by your side at different stages. It’s time to tune into your mama instincts – they’re nearly ready to emerge with your baby, as you make the amazing journey from just you, to brand-new mama.