For a dad-to-be, labor and delivery are unfamiliar territory; yet there are many opportunities for a man to become an important part of his family’s birth experience by coaching the laboring mom and offering support.
A few decades ago, the role of the father during childbirth often amounted to smoking a couple of packs of cigarettes and wearing trails in the waiting room carpet as the baby was delivered. Of course, fathers have been encouraged to be more involved in recent times, but specific information about the role of the father as a birth coach remains scarce.
Greg Bishop, “head coach” of a fatherhood organization called Boot Camp for New Dads, shares some of the wisdom accumulated from the thousands of fathers who have participated in the Boot Camp program.
“While the dad obviously isn’t the one who is giving birth, he is in a unique position to make the process much easier for Mom,” Bishop says. “It’s important to remember that Mom may be experiencing pain, worry or fear; first-time moms often feel like they’re losing control over their bodies when the birth process begins. When pain and emotions like these are taking center stage, expecting Mom to keep track of added concerns like whether or not the birth plan is being followed, or if the private room she requested is available, is just too much. It is in this area where Dad can step up and help her feel supported, by handling details and speaking up for her.”
Not a Spectator Sport
Being a birth coach is not a spectator sport. By the time you arrive in the delivery room, you are already a father, owing responsibilities to Mom and to your baby. You’ll only be relegated to the role of spectator if you fail to accept that responsibility.
Mom Needs You
Whether she says so or not, she will need you. Considering everything that happens to her body during labor and birth, a mom may not have physical or emotional energy left over to clearly spell out what she needs from you. Even if she doesn’t recite a list of her needs, it’s still your responsibility to identify them—by asking.
Keep Track of Details
Focusing on what’s happening inside her body is more than enough to keep a laboring woman fully occupied. All the other details, like following the birth plan, managing communications with medical staff, or arranging room accommodations after the birth, can all be handled by you. Taking care of those concerns allows your mate to concentrate on the baby.
Watch the Temper
A woman may be in pain during labor and delivery, and feel there’s exactly one person she can blame for her current circumstances—you. Something you may do with a constructive motive, like reminding her to breathe as you practiced in Lamaze class, might trigger an angry response. If that should happen, remember that her response is the pain talking to you; take the shot, don’t be critical or sarcastic, and give her some space. After a minute or two, get back in the game by asking how you can help.
Most moms would agree that giving birth is not easy. If you sincerely and frequently tell her how well she’s doing, how proud you are of her, how much you love her, and how brave she is, she won’t feel as alone during labor and delivery.
Attend to Her Physical Comfort
Meeting her physical needs can be as simple as giving her ice chips to suck on or giving her a massage. You might help her keep her mind off any discomfort by reading to her or watching her favorite movie on a portable DVD player. You can remind her to keep drinking fluids if she is allowed them and to keep emptying her bladder. If she is in labor for a long while, you might also help her take a shower, take her for a walk around the ward, or help her balance on a birthing ball. Ask her what you can do to make her more comfortable—and get it done quickly.
You May Faint
Have a plan if you think you might faint. The process of giving birth is messy and can involve blood, other fluids, or body wastes. If you think that you might faint under these circumstances, there are three points to keep in mind:
- Medical personnel need to worry about the baby’s delivery, but your primary concern at this point should be Mom. Don’t look at where the baby will come out; look into your mate’s eyes instead.
- Don’t feel pressured to cut the umbilical cord; politely say “no” and continue with your task of supporting Mom.
- If you think you may faint, earmark a place in the delivery room for you to go if you feel light-headed, like a chair or out-of-the-way corner in the delivery room. Should you feel faint, back off to this area, sit with your head between your knees and get right back to coaching as soon as the dizziness passes.
- If you do faint, it’s no time to let embarrassment stop you from being a dad. When you regain your awareness, get right back in there and continue supporting Mom as if nothing had happened.
You and your wife may have developed a detailed birth plan and perhaps decided on a birth position or certain level of pain medication. While having a plan is certainly helpful, take heed of the old military axiom: no battle plan survives contact with the enemy. When a woman enters labor, she may change her mind about any aspect of what you discussed in light of how she feels at the time; other concerns beyond Mom’s control might also surface, such as a need for forceps or a Cesarean birth, and could affect your plan.
Be Her Advocate
As the liaison between your partner and the medical staff, it’s important that you convey her wants and needs clearly, while ensuring that they’re carried out. While conflict with the medical staff is to be avoided if at all possible, politely but firmly drawing attention to Mom’s requests and pressing the matter until those requests are met will help her feel supported.
Enjoy the Ride
Throughout this experience, don’t forget that this is the day you’ll become a father. When your baby comes, you’ll have an opportunity to spend a few moments with him or her while Mom is delivering the placenta and/or having an episiotomy stitched. During that time, talk to the baby; your voice will be familiar and soothing to the infant. Ask if you can take the baby to the warming table, let the child grip your little finger. Of course, don’t forget your baby’s mom during this time—calling out to her and letting her know the baby is all right will reassure her and help her feel involved.