There are many dads who regret being present for their baby’s birth. A recent survey in the UK found 30% of dads wished they hadn’t been at the birth of their firstborn.
Pampers polled almost 1,400 mothers and 612 dads for International Day of the Midwife.
The results of the survey are eye opening:
Dads Who Regret Being Present For Their Baby’s Birth
- Almost half of the fathers surveyed said they desperately wanted to be supportive but weren’t prepared for their role as birth support persons.
- 90% of the dads believed they weren’t useful at all, and felt ‘nervous’, ‘useless’ and ‘overwhelmed’.
- Nearly 50% of men felt they were doing the wrong thing during labour, such as stroking their partner’s back when she didn’t want to be touched.
Why Do Dads Regret Being At Their Baby’s Birth?
Not so long ago, the most involvement partners had with birth was the conception. Dads didn’t take birth classes, they didn’t witness the birth and they probably didn’t do much nappy changing either.
Today, it’s the rare dad who isn’t present for the birth of his baby. Yet the experience can trigger a lot of different feelings, particularly when he feels completely unprepared in his role as support person.
Being unprepared paves the way for negative emotions. Many dads talk about how they worried about their partners’ safety, were anxious about the baby and felt stressed out and guilty about the pain their partners were in.
Men often talk about how unprepared they were for the length of time labour would take, how they felt about how their partners coped, and how helpless they themselves felt.
Many men said they felt completely out of their depth when it came to witnessing their partners going through labour. They didn’t have any experience or understanding of what normal birth looks like, and tended to have a ‘make it better’ attitude rather than take a ‘be present and supportive’ stance.
There is a natural tendency for men to feel they need to ‘fix’ things. This is partly an ingrained response of the male psyche, which prompts him to protect his partner from pain and possible harm.
Although this response can be useful, in an unprepared dad it can show up in the form of an attempt to control what is happening in the birth room.
You can read more in BellyBelly’s 5 Reasons Why Dads Need To Avoid ‘Fixing’ Birth.
Should Dads Be Present At Birth?
There are those who advocate for dads to witness every moment of their baby’s birth and others who warn dads to avoid the ‘business end’, for fear it will traumatise them for life.
Michel Odent, a well known and respected French obstetrician, firmly believes fathers have no place in the birth space if they can’t handle it. As Dr Odent has pointed out, men’s anxiety and stress can increase a birthing woman’s adrenaline, which interferes with the process of normal labour.
Some fathers don’t want to be present and some women don’t want their partners to be in their space while they are giving birth. Although this might seem selfish and unnatural to some, for others it is the most logical solution.
When she’s in labour a woman should not be stressed and focused on someone else’s feelings. She needs to feel supported and nurtured, and having the best people there on the day is critical for that.
Why? Because positive support plays an important role in how birth unfolds. It’s not just knowing how to do a double hip squeeze or breathe through contractions with your partner for five solid hours.
It’s about knowing your limits and fears and then leaving them at the door.
Birth preparation should focus on both the mother and the father, and on their respective roles during labour. Both men and women need to understand what normal, undisturbed labour is and how it can be achieved.
A man who understand how labour works and is in tune with his partner’s preferences becomes the guardian of her birth space. He protects her from what could disturb her labour and gives her the comfort of knowing she can slip into the primal headspace she needs to labour well.
Can Dad Be A Good Support Person During Labour?
Very few men will have witnessed a birth before their own baby is born. The media is very good at promoting labour as a horrible and scary experience, punctuated by birthing women hurling abuse at their partners.
The man isn’t the one actually pushing another human being out of his body. Knowing all the nitty gritty of birth might take time that could be better spent on figuring out the fastest way to hospital or putting together the nursery furniture.
Fast forward to the big day. Dad is confronted by the sounds his partner makes as she labours, and hearing them sets off a chain reaction.
Is she ok? Is the pain really that bad? Does she need anything?
He begins to feel worried, stressed, and helpless. He asks her questions, or wants to hand over responsibility to someone who is an authority on birth, such as a midwife or doctor.
This raises the anxiety and stress a woman feels, and interrupts the flow of her natural birth hormones.
A well informed dad understands his partner will make sounds that help her to move through each contraction. He will greet each sound with silence, but show his supportive presence so she can let go. He is aware each contraction will bring her closer to a space where her neocortex, the thinking brain, will quieten down and leave the primal brain in charge.
What can men do to be well informed and the best birth support person on the day?
Here are BellyBelly’s top tips for dads:
- Engage in independent birth classes. Don’t just attend out of duty – make an effort to really become informed. Being aware of your fears and concerns helps you to find solutions. It also brings your connection with your partner into focus.
Check out what’s available in your local area, such as BellyBelly’s Birth & Early Parenting Immersion (recordings are available if you’re not local).
- Talk to your partner about what she might want from you. You know her better than anyone, and if you’re sensitive to her needs, you can be guided by her when she’s in labour.
Check out Birth Support – 10 Best Tips For An Untrained Support Person for ideas.
- Get support for both of you, in the form of a doula. A doula can complement you in your role as birth support person. Having an experienced person with you can give you confidence.
Find out more here in Dads and Doulas – 7 Ways Doulas Benefit Dads And Partners.
- If you don’t feel you can handle the sights and sounds of birth, talk to the midwife or doula about your concerns. They can assure you of what is normal and how to cope.
- Respect your partner’s wishes about how she wants to give birth. It is her body and ultimately everything going on revolves around how she feels.
- Be prepared to feel out of control and unsure. From the outside, birth looks very different from how it is experienced. If you’re worried, quietly talk to a midwife or your doula; avoid making your partner feel stressed or needing to help you.
With some commitment and preparation, as well as support for themselves, dads can take on the important role of birth support person and not regret it.