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If it takes a village to raise a child, should it take a village to bring one into the world?

Many times in my Antenatal Classes for NCT, clients express their fears that they'll be swamped with visitors after their baby's birth. Well meaning family, mainly, that they worry will overwhelm them and try to take over. In reunions for these classes though, it is rare to hear anyone say they had too much help after their baby was it really does seem to be true that it takes a village to raise a child.

What about bringing one into the world though? For myself I know I only imagined me and my partner at the birth, barely even thinking about the midwife, let alone anyone else being there. When the time came though, I asked my sister-in-law to be there, instinctively feeling I might need a bit of female, intuitive comfort. She did some preparation for the role and even came to an NCT class with us to be sure she'd be a good birth partner.

Rewind 20 years and I was invited to be a birth partner for my friend, along with her husband. I was in my early 20s and just married myself and longing to be pregnant. I jumped at the chance to be her birth partner but did little preparation. I'd done a midwifery module in my nurse training and felt sure that would be enough; but of course it wasn't. I felt completely overwhelmed by the pain that her induced labour on a brightly lit ward brought her - I hadn't even heard the word Oxytocin (birth hormone) before and had no idea about creating an ideal birth environment (calm, dimly lit, peaceful, warm ,comfortable - in case you were wondering!) that would help her to produce it. Neither me or her husband even thought to rub her back; none of us had heard of breathing and visualisation for labour. My only positive contribution was to squeak nervously to the midwife that maybe some gas and air would be good. My dear friend was most gracious and always insisted she couldn't have done it without me; knowing what I know now, I find it hard to believe!

However, back to the experience I had with my sister-in-law. She had done some preparation and so had we. She was quiet and considerate. She took care of my husband as well as me. She fed me little high energy snacks when my husband was a bit too overwhelmed to think of it; she tied my hair back with a scrunchy when I got too hot - I'm don't know if my husband knows how to do that! She put balm on my lips when they became dry due to all the labour breathing. She offered me water between every contraction. Things that came naturally to her, but didn't to my husband.

Research shows that when a woman has another woman (who has had a baby) with her, she tends to labour more quickly and use less medicated pain management. Most units are happy for women to have two birth partners. In the unlikely situation that a baby has to go to Special Care after birth, one birth partner can stay with the baby and one can stay with Mum. Two birth partners can tag team in a long labour so Mum always has someone who is relatively fresh supporting her. If there are two birth partners, one can nip out to get a forgotten item or update waiting family and friends...or just nip to the loo!...without having to leave Mum alone. However, many women and their partners feel uncomfortable about inviting anyone but themselves into this most intimate experience.

How do you feel? Do you have a close female relative or friend who would be a wonderful birth partner who could support both you and your partner? Even if you couldn't bear the idea of someone else at your birth, could you still have a 'village', a support team, around you?

'Team members' could take care of parking the car for you, or taking it home and coming back to collect you so that parking, permits, the cost and the logistics of hospital parking are removed. Could someone be your runner? Not actually in the room but just outside ready to fetch things from the car or pop out to get something that is needed. Could you have someone who you feed info to and they update others? Could there be people in your home, keeping it warm and stocked with food ready to welcome you home? Many a father who had to come home for a night or two without his partner and baby can testify how nice it would have been to come back to a brightly lit home, some compassionate company and a good meal rather than a cold, dark one where he sat alone missing mum and baby. It can be worth thinking outside the box and building in that sense of team work as you birth your baby. We hear so much about it for after the birth, why not during it too?

Not all of us have such support, perhaps not even from a partner. are the registering body for UK professional birth partners. Women (usually) who have had children themselves and undertaken training to be able to provide support for birth - often being able to massage and support or suggest breathing and visualisation for birth. They can act as your advocate or melt into the background. If cost is an issue, they have an access fund to help pay for their services. NCT also provides Doulas ( who are fully trained and licensed. You could even go as far as to hire your own private midwife. Have a look at for the amazing range of services they can offer you at home or at hospital as a professional birth partner. One couple having a very high risk pregnancy, hired a private midwife to come to their home antenatally to give them a sense of normality in their pregnancy, along side their many consultant appointments in hospital. She was at their much needed premature elective cesarean birth doing the same thing...capturing moments of normality for them and supporting their wants as well as their needs in their unique situation.

Have a think about who could support you and don't be afraid to gather your village now, and not just after, the birth.

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