The Birth Partner – Book Review by Olivia Nelson

A complete guide to childbirth for dads, partners, doulas and other labor companions By Penny SIMKIN (& Katie ROHS)

BOOK REVIEW written by Olivia Nelson

The upcoming birth of a child can often make one seem a little out of the loop. Through no ones fault – life partners often find themselves overwhelmed and not sure how to help/where to fit in in this special time.

The Birth Partner is an in-depth yet approachable resource, making space for any future parent, doula or family member on a quest to help a birthing person. Penny SIMKIN uses inclusive language, and her factual writing style will ensure you keep reading until the end. I can’t recommend more highly the reading and re reading of this text – a strong and valuable guide.

PART ONE – Before the Birth

A birth partner can be many different people; the baby’s father, the birthing person’s husband, wife, sister, mother, friend, or even a doula. Not all birth partners will play the same role during the birth, all depending of course on the wants & needs of the birthing person and of the birth partner.

Simkin shares one big focus during this period – becoming informed and communicating freely with the pregnant person as to find out how to work effectively with together during labour and birth.

Birth plans are discussed in this section of the book, and while a doula can help you write one with the birthing person; it’s explained quite clearly and without scary language. Would the birthing person prefer to push spontaneously? Or perhaps with prolonged breath holding & directions? Immediate skin to skin or should baby be moved to a warmer? This part of the book lists everything in one spot, but also refers to later pages in the book (& other recommended resources) for those trickier terms. (Like ummm, what do you mean private storage of cord blood??? Find out more on page 366). Use this tool as a serious, practical guide to write out your preferences.

Are you prepared for life with baby? While we might think we are, Penny SIMKIN has included a practical list of necessities to purchase both for birthing partner and infant. Think of asking visitors to stay away or be more useful with their visits (food).

Concluding this part of the book, we are reminded to ENJOY the wait before labour, the more intimate and quiet moments. To eat out with friends, take photos, etc, before figuring out how you’ll need to help DURING labour.

(Photo credit to Laercio Cavalcanti on Unsplash)

PART TWO Labour and Birth

Chapter 2 Getting into labour explains the 6 steps of labour, and how each step progresses and leads to the other. We learn how to differentiate pre-labour from true-labour (extra tip – be careful of the language you use!)

We learn how to time contractions (either with an app or on pen and paper) and then interpret what that means for the birthing member of your team. Know when to rush to hospital and when to surf the wave at home a little more.

In chapter 3 Moving through the stages of labour we do just that! Penny Simkin starts here by recognising how frustrating it can be for both the birth partner AND the birthing person to not know exactly what is to come. To not have specific times for different things, or 100% sure outcomes. We are then reassured with the fact that there are some things that we can know.

A handy table/summary sheet (pages 138 to 142) goes over the different stages of the labour (and sub stages within those 5), also detailing actions for the birth partner or doula during each phase. This is an excellent resource to have potentially on hand during birth, acting as a ‘memo’ guide on the big day.

Next we discuss comfort measures for labour and making the important differentiation between pain and suffering – two very different sentiments.

As described in the book, there are several ways in which these techniques, or measures, function:

  • By eliminating or reducing the factors that are causing the pain
  • By increasing other pleasant or neutral sensations, dampening awareness of the pain
  • By involving the labouring person in other activities in order to focus their mind on something other than the pain
  • By showing the birthing person that they are loved, cared for, respected and trusted. (This is my favourite!)

THE THREE R’s – Relaxation, Rhythm, Ritual

We learn that the three are usually hugely intertwined – if you can follow a rhythm, are repeat something to that rhythm, you can relax better. A virtuous circle!

Massage techniques for the birth partner or doula to use are presented, showing also alternative and natural techniques to deal with pain. These can also be found in the handy dandy checklist of comfort measures for labour (page 198 & 199). In the same chapter you’ll see some great ways for the birth partner to also self care & replenish energy and strength in an effective, caring way.

Chapter five tells us about slightly more stressful and intense situations, but those that stay in the realm of a normal birth, so may arise. This just prepares the birth partner to be able to react positively, and more effectively make decisions. Examples of the situations covered are breech births, very rapid labour, having to labour in bed, etc etc.

The Take Charge Routine (page 202)

We are supplied with what Penny calls the take charge routine. It’s an excellent reminder of some appropriate ways to bring the situation under control when the birthing person feels as though they don’t have any anymore.

(Photo credit to Dan Meyers on Unsplash)

One of my favourite tips from within this routine, is to not give up on the birthing person! Whether you’re the husband, wife, sister, mother or doula – the birthing person needs you to acknowledge that it is difficult, but not impossible. They are capable!!! You can support them in accomplishing this beautiful, life changing event.

PART 3 – The Medical Side of Childbirth 

Whether the birthing person is looking for a more medical approach, or a more natural one – these chapters cater for everyone. The information is factual, providing you with the basic information you need to make decisions of your own. If the advantages, inconveniences etc are not detailed enough for you to help / inform the pregnant person – feel free to grab a copy of Gentle Birth, Gentle Mothering by Dr Sarah Buckley, a book which in my opinion is strongly scientific study and evidence based, and which covers lots of these topics in more detail.

The Birth Partner reminds us that you as the birth partner act as the liaison more often than not between the birthing person and the medical team. A doula may assist you in fully assuming this role. One of the ways to know if the situation is ideal, is if the labouring person is able to make informed, healthy decisions. A doula will be more than happy to support you (the birth partner) and the labouring person no matter what you decide, as long as it was an informed decision and is right for the labouring person. (*keeping in mind the medical indications & necessities).

In chapter six, we see the reasons why the following might be medically indicated, the advantages, disadvantages and the alternatives to the following medical interventions & tests:

  • Group B Strep (GBS) Screening
  • Ultrasonography
  • Nonstress Test
  • Intravenous (IV) Fluids
  • Electronic Fetal Monitoring (EFM)
  • Fetal Scalp Stimulation Test
  • Artificial Rupture of the Membranes (AROM)
  • Amnioinfusion
  • Induction or Augmentation of Labour
  • Episiotomy
  • Vacuum Extraction
  • Forceps Delivery

Chapter seven guides us through the more serious complications that may arise during labour or the early postpartum period (for baby and birthing person). These all present different challenges and a certain level of submission to the expertise of medical professionals. There are, however, still things that you can do to create and facilitate the best outcome for everyone. Learn more about them in this chapter.

Pain medications are the sole subject of chapter eight, and I strongly recommend reading this chapter even if the pregnant person you are supporting does not intend to use pain medications. This is a chapter I would advise reading together, so as to be better informed on the options available, as well as the support that they require.

Keep in mind that a natural, unmediated birth requires more work and preparation prior to the birth, as well as a more determined mindset. Penny SIMKIN has provided us with a super tool she calls the Pain Medications Preference Scale (page 328 & 329) which should be approached by the birthing person and the birth partner after reading the earlier pages of this chapter.

It is very important to discuss roles, beliefs and preferences well ahead of time, allowing for appropriate supportive action, the hiring of a doula etc if needed.

Also very important is the use of a CODEWORD! The codeword will be useful for the birthing person, the birth partner and for any caregivers to be able to provide appropriate responses when necessary. The code word will allow the labouring person to complain as much as desired aha, without automatically modifying the birth plan; being able to really think things over before getting to that point. This is something I will advise all clients or potential clients to look into, as it can really help.

Finally, for a more in-depth look at each pain medication; pages 332 to 339 summarises in slightly more detail the different options you may have, along with desired effects, potential undesired effects and precautions that may be taken to improve safety.

The ultimate chapter for Part 3 – The Medical Side of Childbirth is all about cesareans, and VBACs (Vaginal Birth After Cesarean). Whether a planned or unplanned cesarean, this helps you and the pregnant person know what to expect during a cesarean birth. How will you feel? How will the medical professionals react? What is the preparation like? What is my (the birth partner’s) role?

Also nice to keep in mind is the possibility (if there are no medical contraindications for baby or birthing person) of a natural or gentle caesarean. This will allow skin to skin contact almost immediately after the birth; maybe the singing of the baby’s song etc, bringing you back closer to what was perhaps your original birth plan.

PART 4 – After the Birth 

As birth partner, and (maybe) new parent, try to ensure you have prepared for the return back home to make the transition as smooth as possible. Plan ahead for supplies the birthing person might need (peri spray bottles, laxatives etc) and supplies the baby might need (nappies, blankets, change table, hats etc). This is a new learning experience for both baby and parents; enjoy it, and ensure you have contact information for your doula, midwife or other health care professionals in case of any questions.

The final chapter is about breastfeeding / chestfeeding. Penny covers the topic quite widely, giving useful tips for positioning of parent and baby, for how (as the non nursing parent) to support your family. Again, it is so important to be ready to seek help! A lactation consult or even a parents group could be excellent resources to make it a more pleasant journey.

(Photo credit to Kelly Sikkema on Unsplash)


I just loved this book. I found that Penny SIMKIN really does speak to everyone, no matter their personal beliefs, gender identity, etc. I learnt so much about the huge and important role that The Birth Partner has to play in this chapter of childbirth, and loved the fear-free, factual approach. The Recommended Resources at the end that take up 10 whole pages are so so useful and varied, taking a lot of the guess work and time-consuming research away from the future parents.

I couldn’t recommend this book more highly to Doulas, Birth Partners and Birthing People! Excellent information.

Namaste and happy birth! 


If you feel like you are interested in hiring a doula and would like to get to know me – use the contact details below to book a free first meeting.

Business Name: The Sunflower Doula
Business Email: [email protected]
Phone: 0480 120 176

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