Dads during labour
Dads during labour: What to do and say
Many dads spend the whole of their partners' pregnancies feeling dazed, confused, and a bit left out. After all, they're not the ones whose bodies are going through major changes; feeling a baby grow and move inside of them; having to watch what they eat, drink, and do. And then there's all the new terminology to get used to - "placenta", "trimester", "meconium"... it's overwhelming!
Antenatal classes can help toward clearing up the mysteries, but put a dad in a room full of pregnant women and their possum-in-the-headlights partners and he's likely to clam up and keep his feelings to himself, along with the majority of the other dads-to-be in the room.
It's perfectly normal to be nervous about attending the birth of your child, especially if it is your first and you've never seen it happen before. A dad-to-be is actually the most valuable asset his partner will have during labour, because he knows her best, and she will look to him for support and strength. That means a dad-to-be's role in the delivery room is extremely important.
But by the time labour is imminent, a dad-to-be might be wishing for the "good old days" when the father skulked around the hospital corridors smoking a pipe while his wife laboured elsewhere. Or he may wish desperately to be involved in the birth, but isn't sure what to expect or how to handle seeing his partner in pain. And besides that, what can he do to help anyway?
Here are 15 tips (from men who have been there!) to help dads-to-be prepare for labour and be useful and relevant in the delivery room.
- Get familiar. Hospitals and birthing centres offer tours of their facilities for expectant parents, and although you might find this the most boring event of the pregnancy, you should definitely familiarize yourself with the environment you and your partner will in for hours, and maybe even days if her labour is lengthy or complicated. Make a mental note of where the entrance and exit is located, whether there is a drop-off point with wheelchairs in case your wife is unable to walk, where parking is located in relation to the entrance, where the labour and delivery ward is and how to get there.
- Plan. Work out a few different routes to the hospital and allow time for different types of traffic. One way might be faster in the middle of the night than during the day, or there may be construction to contend with. Do a few trial runs so you know where you're going.
- Prepare. Make a sign for the car that says "Woman in labour!" and write your mobile number below it, then keep it in the car's glovebox. This comes in extremely handy if you have to park in the hospital's drop-off zone and take your partner up to the ward without your car getting towed - just stick it on the dashboard and do what you need to do.
- Pack. Make sure the labour bag is packed well before your partner's due date, and keep it by the front door or even in the boot of the car in the days leading up to her due date. Make sure the baby's capsule fits in your car, and make sure you know how to belt it in so that you're not stranded in the carpark wrestling with it while your newborn baby squalls uncomfortably in your irritated wife's arms.
- Get educated. Attend antenatal classes with your partner, and read the materials they hand out. There are some excellent books aimed at dads-to-be out there - click here for our best picks.
- Ask questions. If you don't understand something the antenatal class teacher is telling you, speak up. You might not feel comfortable at first, but it's undoubtable that all of the other fathers-to-be in the class are wondering the same thing that you are. Sometimes it just takes one person to break the ice by asking a question, and then others will follow - and the rest of the guys will be grateful to you for sticking your neck out.
- Make sure your partner has enough support. If you are worried that you won't be able to handle the labour side of things, talk to your partner about it. She may want to have another support person in the room, such as a doula, a close friend, or a relative, in case you aren't able to cope. If you really don't want to be at the birth, you need to tell your partner this, and explain why, then talk about how you can give her your support in other ways and make sure she's supported when she is in labour.
- Get to know people. Make friends with your partner's LMC (lead maternity caregiver), any specialists, nurses and other staff at the hospital or birthing centre. Ask them what's going on and what they're doing, but keep your tone positive and interested, not aggressive or defensive. The more you know, the better able you'll be to handle any unexpected situations, especially if equipment is required.
- Don't be shy. Tell your partner she's doing a brilliant job - lavish her with praise and encouragement. If she is in pain, tell her to express herself however she needs to - screaming, moaning, groaning, punching pillows, squeezing your hand. Be positive, encouraging, and loving.
- Don't take it personally. If your partner is critical or aggressive in the heat of labour, try not to get upset - this often happens when the pain is very intense, especially near the time of transition (right before she will feel the urge to push).
- Be ready for action. This may mean massaging your partner's neck, shoulders, and back, helping her to pace the halls in order to try to get labour going, helping her to change labouring positions, timing contractions, placing a cold cloth on her forehead (and keeping it cool), moistening her lips with ice or lip balm, offering her ice chips or water, holding a mirror so that she can see the baby's head crowning, holding her leg or foot while she pushes, or telling her what is happening while she has a caesarean or epidural (since she won't be able to see). If you want to, you may be able to catch the baby while it is being born, or even cut the umbilical cord.
- Be flexible. Labour doesn't always go to plan, and birth plans sometimes go out the window if there are complications. Also, your partner might change her mind about what kind of pain relief she wants - she may have said before labour that she wanted no pain relief, but might decide she wants an epidural after being in labour for a while. This is her choice, so be flexible and allow her to do what she needs to do in order to be comfortable and cope. Support her choices. Also, her needs during labour may change - at the beginning, she may want lots of touching and encouragement, and as the experience intensifies, she might withdraw and become very internally focused, ignoring you. This is totally normal.
- Be her advocate. If something is happening and she doesn't understand what is going on or why, ask questions and make sure she is given an opportunity to respond to any interventions or medical decisions, if she is able. If she needs help, get it for her. If something seems to be wrong or if she's not coping, tell her LMC.
- Be the bouncer. If there seem to be a lot of people in the room and it is upsetting your partner, find out whose presence is medically necessary and ask everyone else to leave. If she does not want medical students or student midwives present, make this known and ask them to leave. If friends and relatives have come along to be supportive but are not doing anything but taking up space, herd them into the hallway.
- Remember yourself. You may get so caught up in the labour process that you forget to eat, drink, go to the toilet, or take a moment to catch your breath. Try to take breaks when you can (for example, if your partner manages to get some sleep after having an epidural, take the opportunity to grab some zzz's as well). If you've been up all night while she was in labour, call a taxi or a relative to take you home to shower, change, and sleep - don't drive if you haven't had any sleep the night before. Remember to drink and eat, so that you can keep your own strength up and you don't pass out at a critical moment.