Book Review: The Birth Partner, by Penny Simkin

Anyone who knows me knows that I am a reader! This post is a review of one my favorite books on childbirth, as well as a few key ways in which I found this book incredibly helpful for my second daughter’s birth. Not everyone’s style of childbirth preparation is to read all the books or learn as much as possible; some people want to get to their place of birth and have someone else tell them what to do. Whatever makes each mama feel the most safe and relaxed, and the least fearful, go with that! For those of you looking for a good read to help inform your path toward bringing your baby home, read on!


For the voracious reader or anyone who wants really in-depth information, I love The Birth Partner by Penny Simkin. (If you’re looking for a less intensive study of childbirth, take a look at my review of Natural Hospital Birth by Cynthia Gabriel). The Birth Partner is the most comprehensive portrayal of labor and birth that I have read, with a detailed description of the physiological process, comfort measures, medical aspects of birth in American hospitals, complications that may arise and how to handle them, and pros and cons of the numerous choices to be made. The book’s target audience is anyone who will be accompanying a birthing woman, particularly dads and doulas. Simkin stresses the necessity of supporting a woman emotionally throughout the process and not just while obvious key events are happening like checking the mom’s progress or deciding whether to incorporate an intervention into her labor. The Birth Partner is easy to read, incredibly user-friendly, and straightforward. It also has the page edges of several sections highlighted for quick reference during labor so that it can double as a handbook. Even though this book addresses labor companions, I think it is just as valuable for expectant moms to read, too! As the cover states, it really is a complete guide!

Here are three highlights from The Birth Partner‘s influence on my second labor:

  1. The Three Rs: Relaxation, Rhythm, and Ritual. The Three Rs can make a critical difference in a woman’s experience of labor. Learning to relax can ease the pain of contractions tremendously. Finding a rhythmic way to progress through each contraction can help you work with the pain instead of just enduring it or even fighting against it. And women often naturally create a ritual—a repeated behavior— that they use as a coping mechanism during each contraction. The Three Rs are often indistinguishable from one another; this was true during my second labor. The rhythmic ritual of my husband gently bouncing my leg up and down as I lay on my side in bed helped me relax through each contraction.
  2. Breathing Techniques for Pushing. Remember how I arrived at the hospital ready to push with my first daughter? Boy, did I push. And so I tore. The recovery from that tear was far more painful and difficult than the whole of labor. So, throughout my second pregnancy I was fixated on not tearing this time around, and The Birth Partner taught me how. Simkin explains how and when to ditch the slow, deep breathing used throughout the majority of labor and instead adopt a shallower method of “breathing your baby down,” as it’s sometimes called, in order to let your body ease the baby out (see pages 130-134).
  3. The Importance of an Emotionally Supportive Birth Team. This is a theme throughout The Birth Partner, as evidenced by the title. As you can read in my story of Hope’s birth, I unexpectedly had to live in the hospital for the last 17 days of my pregnancy before delivering our baby girl at just 30 weeks gestation. Because of this turn of events, I wasn’t able to continue with the practice I had been part of for my prenatal care. Not having the team I had planned on at my delivery was a source of considerable stress for me during the first week of my prenatal hospital stay. But, because I had read The Birth Partner, I appreciated the importance of making whoever my support team would be my team. I endeavored to get to know the in-house doctors who were in charge of my care as well as I could, to ask all of my questions, and to be very transparent about my desires and fears surrounding this birth. That level of intention in my interactions with my doctors over a relatively brief period of time eventually brought us to the delivery room, where I felt known by my providers even though we had only met a few times.

Both Natural Hospital Birth and The Birth Partner are available for clients to borrow from my personal lending library. Contact Me for more information.

Happy reading!

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