Fathers and Labor: Where Do They Fit In?

,h2.Fathers and Labor: Where Do They Fit In?

For those of you who think that nothing is difficult in comparison to giving birth: give your spouse some credit. I’ve never seen my husband work harder than when he was my coach during labor. There is an indescribable joy when you give birth naturally and realize that you and your husband worked together as a team, not only in the creation of life, but in the birth of your choice.

Dr. Robert Bradley, author of Husband Coached Childbirth, was a pioneer in obstetrics; in 1947 he was the first doctor to advocate for the continual presence of the father during birth. He believed, “that a husband should be man enough to finish what he starts.”1 Before entering the LDR (labor and delivery room), discuss what role your partner will play during the birth. You don’t want to be pushing during second stage labor and then find out there are different expectations about your partner’s involvement. Discuss what level of partner participation best fits your birth plan: Do you want your partner to sit on the sidelines as an observer? Do you want your partner to work as a fill-in helping out by bringing blankets and ice chips when needed? Do you want your partner to act as an advisor, making medical decisions? Do you want him to be an active participant in your labor? Whatever your desires are, discuss them early and often so the expectation of involvement is clear.

Many partners act as a labor coach, an assistant who provides support for a woman in labor by encouraging her to use techniques learned during childbirth education. Fathers bring in elements of humor, joy, peace and confidence to the delivery room. In fact, Dr. Bradley noticed “how much more calm and cooperative the patient [mother] was when her husband was present. If he left the room, even temporarily, the mother became anxious and tense and relaxed poorly with contractions.”1 There is something wonderful about having the assistance of your partner, whom you love and trust, support you through the birthing process.

But how does the father get involved? Often we’re caught in stereotypes believing (a.) men know nothing about pregnancy and (b.) men are ill equipped to provide support during labor and delivery. These myths are so ingrained that women often dismiss and displace their husbands rather than embrace them. “Fathers may find being with their wives in labor difficult unless (1) the wife has been trained how to perform in labor and has physically prepared her birth-giving muscles, and (2) the father has been prepared so that he understands how, why and what his wife is doing, enabling him to coach, guide and encourage her.”1 During your first pregnancy, you’re unsure what to expect. This is magnified even more so for the father. He can experience great stress during labor about “the changes occurring in the mother, the obvious pain, anxiety, unusual sounds and fluid discharges never seen before.”2 These appearances in labor can be overwhelming for the father who is wondering where to stand, what to do, and how to help. He should be well acquainted in advance with her appearance in the various stages of labor. This familiarity with the laboring process, preparation and knowledge regarding birth enables him to apply knowledge by acting as the coach to help her work with contractions.

What is the best way to gain this knowledge? A childbirth education course can teach you a great deal about the stages of labor, exercises, hospital routines, etc. Be certain the course you choose isn’t an ‘obedience’ class which Doris Haire, President of the American Foundation for Maternal and Child Health, has labeled as classes which teach you only how to comply with rules. Specifically choose a course that will focus on adequately preparing you and your partner to work as a team during your birth.

The coach’s job can be as difficult as the mom’s. After hours of labor, the coach continues to be motivated, positive, encouraging, working on labor positions and implementing comfort techniques. As labor approaches second stage, the coach becomes the primary advocate for the mother, making many of the medical decisions according to the birth plan. Your coach will have to make immense sacrifices; he becomes hungry, thirsty and tired but continues to concentrate all his efforts on assisting his laboring wife. Many partners feel that they need assistance in their responsibility as labor coach and invite a friend or family member to provide support for him, allowing him respite to regain/recharge. In fact, some families think it is important enough to hire a doula, a woman caregiver. During childbirth, a doula acts as an experienced labor companion who provides the woman and her husband or partner both emotional and physical support throughout the entire labor and delivery and to some extent afterward. “Suggesting the support of a doula does not diminish the father’s role but enhances it, freeing him up to stand by the mother.”2

Fathers are an essential part of the birthing experience. Before you get to labor and delivery, make sure you sit down together and discuss how your partner will participate in the birth experience. “For many fathers, the child is not real until they hold the baby in their arms or touch the baby in the moments after birth. It is then, gazing at their new child, that birth becomes real; emotions surface and unbreakable bonds are formed.”3

Editorial provided by Bonnie Parker, a childbirth educator and owner of Joy Filled Birth in Denver, CO.

  1. Bradley, Robert. (2008). Husband Coached Childbirth the Bradley Method © of Natural Childbirth. New York: Bantam Books.
  2. Klaus, Marshall, Kennell, John, & Klaus, Phyllis. (2002). The Doula Book: How a Trained Labor Companion Can Help You Have a Shorter, Easier and Healthier Birth. Massachusetts: Merloyd Lawrence Book.

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