First times

Being involved in a birth

Location: UK
Audience: Junior doctors Medical students
Updated: Thursday 10 November 2022
Topics: Your wellbeing

By Lydia Akinola

By some stroke of luck, you’ve found yourself on the labour ward and after the necessary introductions – always introduce yourself to the ward manager or co-ordinator – you’ve been assigned a room with a patient in labour (the holy grail).

After knocking and waiting until you’re called in (there may be an intimate examination going on), please, please, please introduce yourself to the patient and their birthing partner(s). ‘I’m [insert name here], a medical student, and thank you so much for allowing me to learn from your birthing experience. I’m here to learn from you and the midwives but please let me know if you want me to go at any point.’

It is essential that you build rapport with the people in the room – you are a complete stranger and you have just asked to observe one of the most special (and stressful) times of their lives. Take your cues from the midwife – while it is important that you don’t stand mutely in the background, it may not be appropriate for you to be asking limitless questions when the patient is battling contractions.

You will get the most out of the experience when you actively care for the patient in support of the midwife. This could be getting towels, making tea and toast, writing down observations, readjusting the bed, calling for equipment, laughing at the interesting jokes that many new parents like to make…

It is OK to be scared or startled.
Lydia Akinola, junior doctor

Please remember that this time is not about you. If you’ve been waiting patiently for the full 12.5 hours and the last vaginal examination suggests that we are at 8cm dilatation (usually that means that there are at least four more hours to go), congratulate the patient on their progress, thank them for allowing you to be there and give your best to the much-awaited newborn, instead of voicing any frustration you may feel regarding a ‘wasted day’.

Labour ward is a place where the situation may evolve rapidly – dynamics change, decisions are made, and suddenly there could be a life-and-death emergency. It is OK to be scared or startled, but if that’s the case, quietly remove yourself from the situation so that you are not detracting from patient care. If you want to get stuck in, that’s fantastic – but please only do what you are competent and safe to do. It may be an unglamorous task like holding doors or running to collect something, but you’re part of a team and that work is invaluable.

Where things go wrong, please speak to the midwife, the labour ward co-ordinator and the consultant in charge before going home. It is really important that you look after yourself and your mental health.

By some stroke of luck, you’ve found yourself on the labour ward and your opinion of a working day may never be the same again.


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