“The Birth Partner: a Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions” by Penny Simkin


We all know that men (in particular) are “fixers.”

Give them a problem and they will attack it with the enthusiasm and finesse of a pitbull- problem solving usually ranks high for the male gender (generally speaking of course).

Insert said male into a birth scenario and you have one ginormous fish out of water.

Not only do men not have the body parts necessary to fully understand what their partner is going through- there is no “fix it” solution for a mama in labor. Each mama has a job to do and it’s a job that is hers and hers alone.


If there were a way to prepare men (and any other birth companion, females too) for the job of supporting a woman in birth- this book is it.

Penny Simkin, rockstar and legend in the world of birth is a physical therapist who has helped over 11,000 couples prepare for birth. Penny is also a doula, a speaker, an educator, an author and has produced several birth related films. In addition, Penny is mama herself to 4 kiddos and grandma to 8. Did we mention she’s been doing this since 1968? Needless to say, she’s well qualified to share with us all how to support women in labor.

The Birth Partner is divvied up into 4 parts:

1. Before the birth 2. Labor & birth 3. The medical side of birth 4. After the birth

Each section gives actionable items that spouses and birth support can do as well as giving glimpses into how the laboring woman might be feeling or experiencing labor.


-Birth partners come in a variety of packages and can really help women in numerous ways. Your role during birth will depend mainly on what mama wants your role to be.

-There’s a great list of “How Will I feel?” questions to get a good idea on the types of situations you may encounter as a birth partner. Example “I get tired or hungry, but she needs my help with every contraction?” or “She makes distressing sounds that I have never heard her make?”

-For the birth partner who needs/wants “something to do,” Penny gives suggestions like: Keeping track of fetal movements, communicate with your baby, prepare other children for birth, prepare a list of people to call, email, text with their contact info, make a birth plan, take baby care classes (like CPR), gather supplies for baby (there’s a list of suggestions), choose your pediatrician/family practice doc or other provider, prepare meals ahead of time, etc.

-“As birth partner, you can help a laboring woman develop or continue her ritual (comforting rhythmic actions that are repeated over and over). First, observe her behavior during contractions. Is she remaining still, with relaxed muscles? Or is she moving or vocalizing with rhythm? If she is doing any of these, she is coping well, even if her ritual involves moaning loudly or swaying vigorously. If she has lost her rhythm, your job (or the doula’s ) is to help her find or regain a ritual. Do not interrupt her ritual during a contraction by asking a question or telling her to try something else.” (page 117)

-Massage is a great way to relieve tension and stress. If you notice mama clenching fists or gripping your hand or gripping something else, give her a quick hand massage. Penny goes into detail on just how to do that (page 154) as well as other massages that will come in handy.

-There is a difference between pain & suffering. Pain is unpleasant sensations (physical) while suffering is “a distressing psychological state that may include feelings of helplessness, anguish, remorse, fear, panic or loss of control and that may or may not be associated with pain.” The book then delves into ways to decrease pain and prevent suffering altogether.

-The 3 Rs for coping with pain in labor: Relaxation, Rhythm, and Ritual. Meds to reduce pain during childbirth are an option (when giving birth in the hospital), this book dives into how exactly these medications work to relieve/reduce pain and how your role as a birth partner changes (and what that might look like).

-Lots of birth partners are concerned that mama (who strongly did NOT want pain meds) may change her mind and want them. The answer to this dilemma is to establish a “code word”- only to be uttered by the mama when she’s for real wanting pain meds.

-C-sections can and do occur. What is your role before, during and after a c-section? Penny describes what that could look like.

-“Much of the turmoil of the postpartum period can be avoided if you’re prepared for it in advance and if you can simplify your lives for a while.” (page 354)


You will gain insight into what mama could be feeling at various stages in labor AND what you might be able to expect yourself.

 Penny gives specific suggestions on things to try during labor to support your partner and shares what providers (doctor, midwife or even nurses) might be doing at each stage along the way.

There are lots of visuals (diagrams & sketches) as well as tables you can use in labor.

This book is like having your own birth guide showing the way on how to best support a woman in labor.

“The Birth Partner” is very user-friendly- Penny highlights (in grey) sides of pages that you might want to refer back to during labor and encourages labor companions to dog ear the pages (when do you ever hear that from an author?)

 You Can Get the Book Here

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We Hope these Book Notes are just a starting point for some big time Discussion. We can learn so much from each other {especially when we have differing thoughts}… 

 What did you learn from this book? What specifically helped you the most?  How come?  Let’s chat about it. Please share in the comments below.