By Janet Starr
Lead Perinatal Educator at Overlake Hospital Medical Center
Historically, pregnant women have turned to other women to serve as their primary support through the childbirth experience. But over the last generation in Western society, expectant fathers have moved from the waiting room into the delivery room. Most men are happy (and sometimes nervous) to take their place by their partner’s side, even though they may be unsure of their role or how to prepare. There are many ways dads can help moms through labor and delivery, but their most important role is being present, which can help promote a positive birth experience.
A father’s presence in the delivery room can be more comforting to a laboring mother than any technology or medication she can receive. A loving father’s constant presence helps a laboring mother feel safe and secure, allowing her to relax more fully. Studies show that this promotes healthy labor progress and lower complication rates. Without this kind of loving and trusted support, moms may feel more fearful or anxious which can lead to a slowing of labor. With so much attention focused on the mother and baby, many fathers may initially feel like an “accessory” during pregnancy and childbirth. But, dads should know their role is a critical one. This “birth-day” is monumental for him, too, as he greets his new baby for the first time and takes his next step into fatherhood.
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Many expectant fathers share a range of feelings about childbirth, including apprehension about the unknown, fear of doing something wrong, concern for the baby and worry about letting their partner down. Dads should know that while experienced and compassionate staff will provide the medical care mom needs, he provides her with comfort, security, encouragement and perspective. During labor, she draws not only on her own internal resources, but also gains strength from those around her.
Here are some tips to help equip a father for the big day:
- Take childbirth classes together. Ask questions, be active and participate. Talk with your partner about how she feels about the classes. Practice skills together at home. Labor skills are more likely to be effective when well practiced.
- Talk to other dads about their experiences. Many men don’t anticipate how strong their feelings and emotions will be during labor and birth. They are often surprised at how powerless they may feel as they see their partner experience childbirth. Often the intensity of emotion they feel at the moment of birth is unexpected. It helps to prepare by talking with others to learn from their experiences.
- Talk to each other about the childbirth experience. Establishing a birth plan, or writing down your partner’s labor-care preferences, helps you both prepare for the birth. Think about ways you already know to help calm her when she is upset or anxious. These same techniques will probably work during labor as well. Help her by reviewing the skills you learned during childbirth preparation classes and write down the techniques she is planning to use. Writing her preferences down can help her communicate with caregivers during labor. Be concise and remember that labor may be different from what she expects—so be flexible.
Once labor begins, dads can take an even more active role and support mom by:
- Holding and hugging, rubbing her back.
- Helping her make decisions. For example, suggest a walk down the hall, a change in positions, a soothing bath—any distraction from the next contraction.
- Help with breathing and relaxation techniques. You’ll learn these together in classes.
- If a couple feels the need for additional support, they may decide to hire a doula or ask a trusted family member to accompany them.
- Acknowledge pain and offer reassurance.
- Field visitors and calls. Help make sure mom gets enough rest and has privacy for breastfeeding when needed.
- Take pictures. Remember to stand at mom’s side or shoulder (not at her feet) for photos you can share with family.
- Hold the baby, especially if mom is tired. Provide skin-to-skin contact to keep baby warm while you cuddle and talk to the baby; newborns will recognize dad’s voice too.
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