The times are long gone when the dad’s role during labor was to hold his partner’s hand and coach her breathing, repeating ‘Push, push!’ like a mantra and trying not to faint with all those forced breathing efforts.
Those were days when the power and ownership of birth were taken away from the birthing woman and taken over by the professional attending the birth.
Now, all evidence highlights the ownership of this experience should be given back to a woman, who is supported by those around her. That means the role of her partner has also shifted to being her most important support person. This is especially true if she’s opted for natural childbirth.
Let’s see what dads-to-be need to know to become the perfect birth partner for their spouses.
What a dad needs to know about having a baby
Becoming a father will probably be the most important event in a man’s life. The days when being the financial provider for the family was the only thing expected from a father are in the past.
You can read more in Dad’s role in the family past and present.
Most women want their partners to be involved in the whole process of parenting – from planning for a baby until the baby’s hair turns grey and beyond.
What’s equally important is that most men want to be the best possible fathers for their children and the best support for their partners.
How do fathers prepare for birth?
Information and support are the key aspects of being a supportive partner. There are many reasons why a human pregnancy lasts around 40 weeks. One of these is to have plenty of time to prepare for birth and the life of the new family once the baby arrives.
Let’s walk you through some of the things you need to take into consideration the moment you know your partner is pregnant.
What should a father do during pregnancy?
Pregnancy is the time when you can prepare for the future. Read about how to support your partner during this period. How is she personally living her pregnancy? What symptoms are specifically affecting her and what you can do to alleviate them?
Signing up for our Pregnancy Symptoms Week By Week is a great way to get relevant information and also a good reminder for tracking pregnancy events.
You also need to prepare for labor and delivery. You should know how to become not only her physical support but also how to support her emotionally. Get involved by finding birthing options together and deciding which ones best suit your partner so you can be fully prepared for your big role once labor begins.
To get much more information about how to support her during pregnancy you can read Dad’s Role During The Pregnancy.
What to do when your partner goes into labor
When early labor starts it’s time to put into practice all the preparation you’ve been doing.
#1: Remain calm
Oxytocin is the most important hormone a laboring mother needs to secrete during labor. It’s not only the hormone that will help your partner’s contractions become regular and strong but natural oxytocin (as opposed to the synthetical drug Pitocin) will also help her body release endorphins, which are the body’s strongest natural painkillers.
At the same time natural oxytocin will prepare her brain, and the baby’s, to fall in love and create a strong bond from the moment of birth onwards.
Natural oxytocin isn’t released in the presence of adrenaline. Any adrenaline around a woman in labor is the number one saboteur of labor and birth.
Make sure she’s calm. You and those around her should stay calm, too. Do you need a bit of time to calm down? Try to do it away from her whenever possible. Ask her if she’s okay to be left for a while or ask another support person to step in while you calm yourself down.
Remember the relationship between oxytocin and adrenaline. If there’s any event during the labor experience that spikes her adrenaline, find and reduce that stress and stay calm yourself.
#2: Be her spokesperson
For the oxytocin to flow down through her veins as it should, a woman in labor should do her own thing and her ‘thinking, rational brain’ should be as switched off as far as possible. Bringing her back to the real world should also be avoided whenever possible.
Unfortunately not every healthcare professional thinks of this and will start asking questions of a laboring woman, forcing her brain to activate. Providing answers to the hospital staff is a wonderful way to support your partner while she focuses on giving birth to your baby.
If things are taking a turn you don’t like – for example, if your partner’s doctor is suggesting something you know she’s strongly against – you should be the one who speaks up. That means she can not only focus on laboring but also feel you are supporting her well.
#3: Be prepared beforehand
Don’t wait until a few days before her due date to find out what she wants. What she wants and how she feels about the different aspects of birth are things you should have discussed many times throughout the pregnancy.
Make sure you know how your partner feels about induction, pain relief options, c-section, cutting the umbilical cord, postpartum care, and skin-to-skin contact with baby. Be an active participant in her labor experience and advocate for her wishes.
#4: Write a birth plan together
‘Together’ means you should be there for your partner. Show you care, and discuss with her the different points in the birth plan. Help her see the broader picture or find out what all her options are, but make sure she’s the one who has the final word in each part of the plan. She is the one who will go through this experience and you are the one who will be her most important support person.
Learn more about birth plans in Birth Plan- Why Write One? Free Birth Plan Template and The Truth About Birth Plans
#5: Be supportive
I know. This is quite a basic statement when you’re trying to find out how to do an amazing job as a partner while your partner is giving birth. But it’s really important to highlight this. Being supportive of her wishes might mean going against what she’s asking you during labor.
If your partner is going to have an elective c-section or if she’s sure she will have an epidural for pain relief as soon as possible, then your supportive role as a partner will be easier.
If she’s opted for a natural birth, bear in mind this is the most intense experience a woman will go through in her life. When the pain intensifies or when she goes through the transition phase of labor, she’s going to need your full support, especially if this is your first baby.
If she’s not well supported as labor progresses, it’s likely she will end up with an intervention she didn’t want to have. You might need to be quite assertive to help her through the difficult parts.
It’s one thing is to say you don’t want an epidural when you’ve never experienced a labor contraction and another thing to go through this experience when the staff might be constantly offering it, or if you just know this option is just a call button away.
If she made it clear that she didn’t want this pain relief option your support to help her through this will be of paramount importance.
You can read more in Dads-To-Be: A Guide To Labour And How To Support Her.
What to say to your wife during labor
Once labor is well established, women need to dive into the experience for the oxytocin to flow at its best. This means their thinking brain needs to be switched off as much as possible to let their mammalian brain, which is in charge of every sexual process, do the work.
Giving birth is a very similar process to having sex. The more active your thinking brain is the less into it you are. Remember having sex thinking about something you have to do or something that worries you? It doesn’t really work, does it?
As a general rule, the only things she needs to hear from you are encouraging words: things like, ‘You can do this’, ‘You’re doing so well, I’m so proud of you’, ‘One contraction less, you’re getting closer’, ‘You’re so brave, hang on in there’, ‘Not long now’, ‘You’re glowing, I love you so much, bring baby to us’…
What dads should not do during labor
Do not activate her thinking process. This mainly means you should avoid asking her questions or saying anything that might distract her.
Just be there for her, cover her needs and protect her space from intrusions.
If someone else asks her questions, answer for her or try to be a protective barrier around her birthing space. If healthcare professionals challenge you, challenge them back with this knowledge and say you can answer for her or ask them whether their questions are really necessary at that moment in time. You can be kind and assertive at the same time.
Do the same if any relative or professional might unknowingly act inappropriately. They might be having an irrelevant conversation in the birth room, for example, or you might feel their adrenaline levels are not what your partner needs right now.
Anticipate her needs and trust that if there’s something she needs she will ask. Bring a glass of water close to her face every now and then, caress her, or massage where she says it hurts. Don’t take it personally if she pushes your hand or the glass away quite abruptly. That means she’s doing exactly what she needs.
Can the father deliver the baby?
Let’s make one thing clear. Babies are not parcels and no one delivers them. It’s mothers who give birth to them.
If you mean can you be the first person to receive the baby as it is born, that shouldn’t be a problem, provided you’ve discussed this previously with your partner. Whether you are at home or at the hospital, make sure the professionals are aware of this decision.
Your rights during birth
One of the most important things in your parenting journey is knowing your rights – especially if you’re not planning to give birth at home. The center where your baby is going to be born at might not have your best interests at heart.
Included in our basic human rights are the right to decline a treatment, the right to make the final decision over our own bodies, and the right to be properly informed before consenting.
When you’re given an option you don’t agree with and you feel you might be coerced into taking, the BRAN anagram will be of help. Perhaps you should write it in your birth plan so you don’t have to memorize it.
What are the Benefits of that procedure?
What are the Risks?
What are the alternatives available?
What could happen if you do Nothing?
Here is a link to the World’s Health Organization’s recommendations for intrapartum care, in case you feel your rights have been violated or you need a tool to counter pressure. Read them and print them out to attach them to your birth plan.
Also, be aware of your baby’s rights and that it is a basic human right of minors to be accompanied by one of their parents at all times. This means if your baby is taken outside the delivery room you can accompany him anywhere, even to the operating room if you want to.
Are dads allowed in the delivery room during pandemic?
Although each hospital has its own protocols, dads should be allowed in. However, many hospitals are applying their own rules – some quite arbitrary – during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Find out what the protocol is in the center you’re planning to attend, and ask the staff to give you an answer in writing with any reasons they have to prevent you from being present at that moment. Also, ask for the alternatives they offer.
How long should dad stay home after birth?
Most dads feel their paternity leave, if any, isn’t long enough to care for their new family after baby’s arrival.
Many dads save their leave days for once their baby is home and that makes a big difference. It would be ideal if the father could stay home for the first few weeks after the baby’s birth. If this isn’t possible, then plan ahead and try to be at home as much as possible and as early as possible.
You can read more about this in dad’s new role during the first year.