4 Reasons Why Dads Are More Than Labour Coaches

4 Reasons Why Dads Are More Than Labour Coaches
Photo Credit: Laura Paulescu, Crowned Photography

As more and more men have become actively involved in pregnancy, labour and birth (fact: now over 90% of men are now present for the birth of their baby in the US, UK and Australia), their roles have changed radically.

Initially, dad was just there. A bystander. Invited and welcomed in, but very much of the view that his role was not a hands on one. Rather, he was just there for the pure spectacle and to share the moment of birth with his partner while the professionals did their thing ‘for’ mum and baby.

Then gradually, men’s role at birth began to expand. We began to realise that men can in fact contribute more to the birth space than just their mere physical presence. Typically, men at birth were very emotionally, psychologically and practically separate from mum and baby.

With this shift, women began to pull men closer into the experience for more love and support. Men began answering the call. Couples began preparing for birth in a more connected way with a clearer, more defined role for men to play. That’s when ‘dad as labour coach’ was coined.

I can see the point and purpose in this expression. It’s a safe way for men to own their role and step into it by fusing the vulnerable space of birth with the more macho side of the masculine identity. This has been a great strategy used by childbirth educators to get dads on board by engaging them as a ‘labour coach’. It works and I’m all for it!

But dads are more than just labour coaches! Men’s contribution is much more than that of a coach and birth is of much greater importance to them than relegating them to that narrow role.

Here are 4 reasons why:

1. It’s Not Always What Everyone Wants

Not every woman wants their partner to be a coach, and not every dad wants to be a coach.

If we limit the role of men at birth to that as ‘labour coach’, what happens when a women decides that she doesn’t want her partner to play that role? Likewise, what happens when a man feels, that for whatever reason, he doesn’t want to or can’t play it?

We need to acknowledge and make space for other possibilities. My take on this is that every woman should be at the centre of her labour and birth experience. So if she wishes to invite her partner to share that with her, then it becomes a question ‘in what role or capacity?’ Then, I see partners should have the right to accept or decline that invitation. This is my view on what’s ultimately best for the couple’s shared birth journey. Communication is essential. Everyone should be in clear agreement on who is playing what role.

This is when you might want to call a doula! Doulas allow dads to be supported as well so they can play their own unique role at birth.

2. Birth Is A Man’s Only Real “Becoming Dad” Moment

That’s why being there matters to men so much.

Men’s experience of becoming a parent is profoundly different to women’s. Women grow and birth babies. With that, the experience is happening inside of them, while for men, everything is happening outside of them.

To add, men typically receive very little engagement about their own experience of becoming a dad. The focus is very much mother-baby and they’re on the fringe of the experience at best, or at worst, feeling completely left out.

The birth of their child is for most men, their first real and only ‘becoming dad’ moment. When it gets real for them. This is why it matters for men.

3. ‘Coach’ Doesn’t Capture The Emotional, Psychological Or Spiritual Contribution Dads Makes At Birth

When I think of ‘coach’, I see (and hear!) someone encouraging and motivating me. It conjures the sense of a more professional relationship and connection, rather than a deeply personal one. When I think of dad as labour coach, I see him with a whistle and adrenaline charged. It doesn’t scream Oxytocin — which is the key hormone present during labour, breastfeeding and acts of love — at all. Yet we now know that dads at birth can play a key role in boosting Oxytocin flow which helps labour to flow, contributing to an easier and more pleasurable birth experience.

Coach doesn’t do justice to capturing the role that men play in the birth space. Through their presence, connection and affection, men bring love, create safety and are the emotional, psychological and spiritual rocks that their partners can lean on during labour and birth.

4. We’re Holding The Evolution Of Masculinity Back By Sticking With ‘Labour Coach’

Modern masculinity is evolving. This is a great thing for women, children, men, families and communities. The ‘becoming dad’ experience is a rare gateway to access the heart of a man. It’s a reason for him to open up to being more emotional and vulnerable. The best reason he’ll most likely ever have.

We have to harness this. Including in the birth space. Not at the compromise of his birthing partner, but alongside of her also experiencing an empowered birth.

We have to encourage and support him to experience his individual and deeply personal moment of awe so that he too feels powerfully connected and bonded to his partner and baby. This is the opportunity for men, couples and families. To benefit from the gifts of having a man who is transformed by birth and becoming dad.

To make advances in the childbirth education and preparation spaces, we need to find ways to allow men more opportunities to engage with and embrace this part of themselves, their role and their journey. By sticking with ‘labour coach’, we’re not allowing or facilitating this important masculine evolution to unfold.

 
Last Updated: April 1, 2015

CONTRIBUTOR

Darren Mattock is the Co-Editor and Men’s Editor of BellyBelly. He is also the founder of Becoming Dad and an expectant and new dad specialist who works with men, couples and birth professionals. Darren is dad to his son Charlie – his greatest source of inspiration!


4 comments

  1. Well…now that you mention it… I don’t think that doulas are or should be replacements for dads and there’s a gentle implication of that in your article. I hear what you are saying though. I just think that having a doula can give the dad space to be her first birthkeeper and I agree, having a doula gives dad the space to take on the role that he (and his partner) wants.

    I am so glad to hear someone championing the role and the place of the father. It is so so important and so key to the family dynamic. I’m always excited by what you write and the work that you do. Keep up the good work.

  2. For accuracy sake the excuse that first had fathers attend births round 45years ago was because he was the coach. This was the Lamaze method of mind over matter with particular breathing training and massage techniques that couples learnt in classes, practised at home and took into the hospitals to avoid drugs during labour. At many hospitals there was resolute objections to fathers being present. Sneeky stratagies were employed by vigilant matrons to keep dad in the waiting room or to be sent home being told that nothing would happen for a long time.. It took years of sustained campaigning by natural birthing groups to have the level of acceptance enjoyed today.
    The journey through pregnancy and birth can bring a couple’s relationship to a much deeper and profound level. it also presents particular challenges. A woman takes her man’s seed into her inner sanctum and performs the ultimate alchemy returning it to him as their child and transforms them into a mother and father. Regardless of what he might be called it is the quality of the love and trust that they share that moves them into deeper intimacy. This is a great blessing for the child . However it is most important that it is the mother’s sincere wish to have him present,particularly for first births some women do better without the father present. It is the child’s birth. There has been an increase in the use of epidurals and C/sections since fathers have been at births . Michel Odent has addressed this most thoroughly. This is often because they have not been properly prepared and supported and their anxiety influences the mother. It is important if it occurs to respect a man’s wish not to be present too.

    1. This is a great topic for expectant men to consider. Shivam, you describe the potential experience of natural birth quite beautifully. I agree with the premise of this article that there may be a better name than coach for fathers assisting at birth, inclusive of bonding with their babies for the first time, though many men can relate to that historic title as they learn how to best support their wives in pregnancy & childbirth. Freedom to exercise the role of coach and the privilege to attend birth took a lot of effort, but actually thanks to another, earlier natural chilbirth pioneer than LaMaze.

      Dr. Robert Bradley was affectionately nicknamed the father of fathers. He authored the book, “Husband Coached Childbirth,” around 1965, several years after he began training and welcoming fathers to births as “coach” in the late 1940s and ’50s. It is still in print today, co authored by Marjie & Jay Hathaway, Bradley instructor educators.

      In the mid 1900s, many a Bradley-trained husband would handcuff himself to his wife in order to not be separated when it was time for the baby to be born. Dr B. didn’t avocate that measure for them to stay together, but he certainly didn’t complain as the point finally got across that fathers had a place in the birth room (aka delivery room.)

      The Bradley Method(r) is the longest existing and most utilized natural childbirth series worldwide that prepares the father to be the primary pregnancy, labor & birth support. A standard series is never a crash course, but rather a trimester of 12 weekly lessons that are thorough, evidence based & time tested principles and preparation couples take together in small classes and practice every day.

      Certified Bradley instructors encourage daddy/baby skin to skin bonding as depicted in this article’s photo, shortly after the birth. The title “coach” may not cover everything, but Bradley classes certainIy prepare men for just about everything pregnancy that is essential for a healthy mom and baby as well as a satisfying birth experience for mom, dad & baby(ies.)

      The point attributed to Michel Odent regarding unprepared fathers [as well as un- or under-prepared mothers, my point,] being an obstacle to unmedicated natural birth is apparent. Anything (i.e., fear, excitement) that can cause the mom’s adrenalin to rise can hinder or hault labor.

      Bradley trained couples are well prepared for normal, natural labor and common variations and therefore have a much lower rate of interventions in labor, meaning lower rates of inductions, augmentation, epidurals & cesareans than national averages.

      To be well prepared for your birth takes time and committment. Rarely does a natural birth occur without weeks of good nutrtion, appropriate exercise and practice together for optimal positioning of baby, readiness for labor and working with the birth team.

      It is refreshing to see this article and the comments generated in support of fathers preparing for birth with their partners!

  3. He is the holder of hands, the bringer of jelly babies, the guard of my privacy and babies safety. He is my partner, my coach, my dresser, my bather. My confessor and whipping boy. He is the familiar, the safe the friendly in the room. He is my family, my champion, and my crutch. I would no sooner go into labour without him, than I would jump out of a plane without a parachute.

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