16 Oct

Book Review: The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin

Penny Simkin is an author, doula, childbirth educator, and birth counsellor.

I was advised to read this book prior to my first job as a birth doula, and having now read it through, I will probably take it with me when I get the call. Aimed at dads, doulas and other birth companions, and packed with details of what happens before, during and after labour, it is not a small book, but its chapters are easily accessible and logically arranged.

The long section on normal labour is particularly useful. Each stage is broken down into a description, followed by what the mother feels, what a birth partner might feel, what a caregiver would be doing, and what a doula would be doing. There are suggestions for self-care and coping strategies appropriate to the challenges of each stage; it’s a real step-by-step manual.

There is a medical level of detail on pain relief, and this would need to be read and absorbed beforehand rather than at the time, but it remains a book to dip into during the process for an idea of what is happening and how to deal with it.

For when things don’t go to plan, the book covers instrumental and caesarean birth as well as other interventions. Helpfully value-free, Simkin sets out the things to take into consideration, and strategies for decision-making.

A comparatively short section at the end covers the baby’s first few days, and post-partum recovery; again with a what to expect/how to support the mother focus.

My one criticism of the book is its US-centric language, which makes me suspect that some of the procedures described may differ in the UK. But women’s bodies are the same all over the world, and ways of supporting a birthing mother are universal.

This book is a must-read for anyone working in birth, and for birth partners who prefer a lot of detailed information in a format they can refer to both before and during labour.