How to cope if your partner can no longer support you during labour

With such uncertainty surrounding the current pandemic, ensuing health risks and understandably, higher levels of anxiety, it can feel like we are in the midst of the most stressful time to become a new parent. Since restrictions began tightening in the UK, NHS trusts across the country have placed restrictions on who can be present during and post labour, as well as limiting routine antenatal and postnatal appointments to just pregnant women themselves.

While the exact restrictions vary between trusts, some women may now face giving birth without the support of their partner at all, while others may be limited to only one birth partner once they have reached a set point in labour. For those who had planned on a home birth, some maternity units are cancelling some or all home births due to having less staff on hand thanks to sickness, self-isolation, or reallocation of staff to support other units within hospitals.

Uncertainty around how long restrictions will last has led many women to question if they may need to change their birth plan over the coming months. Having a birth partner you trust can provide a significant support system during labour.

Couple posing with hands over baby bump

While an NHS spokesperson confirmed in late March that “it is important that visiting is restricted to help stop the spread of coronavirus, but our guidance is absolutely clear that a specific exception should be made for birthing partners when a woman is in labour,” many women are still worried that their original plans may have to change due to developing events, staff shortages, or family illness.

As explained by the Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynaecologists, “If your birth partner has symptoms of coronavirus, they will not be allowed to go into the maternity suite, to safeguard the health of the women, other women and babies, and the maternity staff supporting you.

“Local Trusts may place restrictions on visitors which might mean that birth partners or other supportive people are not able to attend routine antenatal appointments or stay with women on antenatal or postnatal wards. However, this should not impact on your birth partner’s presence during your labour and the birth.”

However, while women who are being induced in a single room on a labour ward should be able to have their birth partner with them, for those who are induced on the main ward, due to social distancing measures, they are not allowed to have their partner with them.

According to the most recent guidelines, due to social distancing measures, visitor restrictions remain in place across all hospital wards including antenatal and postnatal wards, meaning many women many only have the support of a birth partner during active labour and birth. Women are understandably worried that this may leave significant periods of time where they are unable to access the emotional support they had originally planned to have accompanying them.

Can hypnobirthing help me feel more calm and in control?

No matter what the current climate, it’s hard to deny that pregnancy and childbirth can be an anxiety-inducing experience for many women. We may expect to feel ‘glowing’ and ‘radiant’, as popular culture so often makes out all pregnant women to feel, yet with so many unknown factors – what if something goes wrong? What if plans have to change last-minute? Do I really know what to expect? – it’s no wonder that a past study found nearly half of women to be ‘bitterly afraid’ of childbirth.

With the fear of childbirth often increasing the potential risk for complications during and after birth, not to mention putting yourself under extra stress and pressure to cope with how you are feeling. Ensuring you are able to feel as relaxed and calm as possible can be key in putting your (and your baby’s) wellbeing first.

Hypnobirthing describes the use of hypnosis during childbirth. In the weeks before you are due to give birth, you can attend hypnobirthing classes (in person or online) to help you learn self-hypnosis, relaxation, and breathing techniques. In turn, you can use these new ways of staying calm, focused, and relaxed to help you through delivery.

Hypnobirthing is designed to help you have a better birthing experience, giving you back a feeling of control that many of us worry we are losing during such stressful times. Through practising the techniques you learn through hypnobirthing, you are giving yourself a better chance to feel relaxed, calm, and even happy throughout labour.

An increasingly popular choice for those looking for a more natural birth (without medication or drugs), as well as for those who are feeling anxious about giving birth, hypnobirthing can provide a level of calmness, whether this is your first experience with childbirth, or you have had a past stressful or traumatic experience.

As one first time mum, Ellie, explains, “One breathing technique I learnt was to inhale for four and exhale for eight, which helps to control the pain during contractions. I still use the technique now, as it’s been amazing for easing any little bits of anxiety I get. When I went into labour, I used this breathing technique as well as listening to my hypnobirthing tracks, to remain calm whilst we travelled to the hospital.

“Even though we expected to have more time to prepare for the birth, hypnobirthing taught us enough to have an incredibly calm delivery. I never believed I could ‘breathe through’ every contraction, but I did. I really believe that bringing our baby into the world in this positive way has made our relationship as a family much stronger and more loving.”

How does hypnobirthing work?

The more anxious, stressed, or scared we feel during labour, the more stress hormones (such as adrenaline) are released into your body. This can put you into ‘fight or flight’ mode, which can push your blood to flow more readily towards your muscles designed to help you run away, which can leave less blood and oxygen for where you really need it most at that time.

The more we produce stress hormones, the less we produce ‘love hormones’ which can help naturally ease the pain of labour. While a level of stress is natural, too much can stop our bodies from naturally reducing our perceived pain.

Hypnotherapy can help promote relaxation, reduce stress, and even aid with pain management. By starting hypnobirthing with plenty of time for you to attend (physically or digitally) sessions and practice techniques you have learnt by yourself or with your partner, you are giving yourself the best possible chance to feel relaxed, calm, and confident in your knowledge and ability to practice the skills taught through hypnobirthing.

Ideally, starting classes around 25-30 weeks will give you plenty of time to practice, try out different techniques, and feel more ready for what is to come. No matter far along you are, learning the basic techniques can still be extremely helpful and supportive in creating a calmer, more confident you.

Hypnobirthing can help to increase your chance of having a shorter labour, reduce the chance of needing medical intervention as well as decreasing the recovery time for you post-birth. Many also report an increased sense of bonding between them and their child, as well as a higher chance of their baby sleeping and feeding well.

What does hypnobirthing actually involve?

A key component of hypnobirthing is helping you to reframe how you are thinking and feeling about giving birth, and helping you to reframe it in a more positive way. We hear so many horror stories about what can happen when things go wrong, that some of us may feel more anxious than we otherwise would, expecting a more painful and distressing situation. These expectations, in turn, can impact our experiences.

Hypnobirthing classes encourage the use of positive language to create a solid foundation for self-hypnosis, visualisation, and breathing techniques. Instead of terms like false labour, they encourage practice labour; surges or tightening instead of contractions; and birth breathing rather than pushing. By tweaking these focuses and making them more positive, the goal is to help you gain a sense of control, reduce stress, and ease anxiety.

What can I do if my partner can no longer support me during labour?

We spoke with Siobhan Miller, founder of the Positive Birth Company and bestselling author of Practical Ways to Make Your Birth Better, to find out more about how women can remain calm and still feel in control, even if their birth plan has to change.

“Remember to use your hypnobirthing toolkit [what you have learnt through hypnobirthing] as these tools and techniques are proven to reduce anxiety and aid relaxation. They will be more effective and helpful now than ever before.

“Never underestimate the impact of the environment – use the five senses checklist to transform your birth space (wherever that is) into one that is conducive for birth. Pack in your birth bag things that you can use to ensure each of your senses is met with something that aids relaxation, e.g. headphones or a wireless speaker, battery-operated tea lights or fairy lights, an eye mask, a room spray or essential oil rollerball, a cosy familiar throw or blanket from home and your favourite edible treats!”

Using audio hypnotherapy sessions, or downloading hypnobirthing apps can also provide an extra level of support, as well as a gentle reminder of the techniques you will have learnt during hypnobirthing sessions.

Apps such as Freya, The Positive Birth Company’s virtual birth partner app, can help to coach you through surges with breathing techniques. They can also offer positive affirmations, guided meditations, gentle music, and calming visualisations to help you stay on track.

“Hypnobirthing tools and techniques are life skills! They can be used at any point in your life when you feel stressed, anxious or overwhelmed. Given the current situation, it’s understandable to be feeling all of the above. Hypnobirthing tools are beneficial to everyone, as they are simply relaxation techniques. For example, doing some simple breathing practice can slow your heart rate down and prevent you from hyperventilating, as well as helping you release tension in your chest, which often accompanies anxiety.

“Using positive affirmations has been proven to reduce anxiety and boost confidence and can create a change in mindset, leaving you feeling better and brighter. Listening to guided meditations and engaging in other mindfulness practice offers numerous mental health benefits.

“If you are currently pregnant and facing a huge amount of uncertainty when it comes to your birth place options or your birth partner, it’s never been more important to do a hypnobirthing course. Empower yourself with knowledge so you know what to expect and understand what you can do to make the process quicker, easier and more positive for you and your baby. You have all the strength and power you need within yourself! It’s time to believe it because you can do it and you will.”

To find out more information about hypnobirthing, check out our latest member articles or hypnobirthing page. To find an experienced hypnotherapist online or near you, check out our list of experienced hypnotherapists dealing with hypnobirthing.

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Written by Bonnie Gifford
Bonnie Evie Gifford is a Senior Writer at Happiful.
Written by Bonnie Gifford
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