Whether this is your first time at the rodeo or if you are taking another go around the track, the birth of a baby can always be unsettling. The language, body parts, sights, sounds and smells of pregnancy and labour are not common conversation topics for most men. Yet, as foreign as this other realm may be, you are still a significant part of this journey. Check out the ways Dads can do their part in labour and don’t worry, you won’t be just a fly on the wall!
1. Know Her Choices and Protect Her
Women were built to birth but that does not mean she is best to go at it alone. Having a supportive, attentive partner is critical in helping her feel safe, protected and relaxed enough to let her instincts take over. If she feels afraid or vulnerable her neocortex, in her brain, will be too stimulated and unable to shut down, which prevents her primitive brain from having control. Having conversations and having to focus on things other than labour will also stimulate the neocortex, possible slowing or shutting down labour. Therefore knowing her birth plan and her desires for her labour will allow you to direct any care givers when they ask and also allow you to advocate for your partner if someone tries to deviate from her birth plans.
How a doula can help: As a doula I do not take your place. You are the birth partner with a history of love and trust that cannot be replaced. In this scenario I can assist you in creating a calm environment for your partner. We would have discussed beforehand the decisions you and your partner wish to make during labour and I can help remind and encourage you in your previous choices or explain the other options if labor is not progressing as we planned. I can also translate medical terminology that may be thrown around as well as remain with mom as you discuss things with your care giver.
2. Control the Family
Labour and birth is not a time for family get togethers and every cousin, uncle and aunt should not be popping their heads in to say hi (unless mother wishes them to be). One of your roles may be body guard/referee to ensure mom is quiet, peaceful and that she has as few interruptions as possible. Back to the neocortex, this again can cause unnecessary stimulation. It may be best to explain this to family before hand so you can be with your partner as much as possible.
How a doula can help: Here I can help speak with family. They will always be related to you and birth is a highly emotional time. If I am there I can step out to speak with family, explain your wishes and help them understand the need for calm and a sense of safety for mom. If they are offended by me I do not take it personally and, unlike you, will not need to face them at every family gathering 😉
3. Take Care of Yourself
Labour can last hours to days. As her primary support you will most likely be by her side the majority of the time. Make sure you eat frequent snacks, drink lots of water, and take a moment to use the bathroom when necessary. It is better to take occasional 2 minute breaks to refocus and regain some energy so that you can be with her for the long haul.
How a doula can help: As there would be two of us supporting mom, you and I work as a team. If you need a break I am able to support and encourage mom while you have a bite to eat or even rest if it has been a long labour. When my doula showed up for my birth she immediately put on some coffee and asked my husband if he needed a chance to use the toilet. He gratefully accepted and I felt supported still, although I did want him to hurry back 🙂
4. Prepare Physically if You Can
Labour for a support person is often difficult work. Whether you are supporting mom as she squats, holding her up as she works through a contraction, pushing on her lower back to relieve pain (called counter pressure) or squeezing her hips together with 90% of your strength you will be tired. You don’t have to be hitting the gym every chance you get but knowing that physical exertion will be a factor in supporting your partner may help you prepare your body for some hard work. This also means sleeping well in the weeks where she could begin labour so you are ready if things start at 3AM (as they usually do).
How a doula can help: Now, I obviously won’t be joining you at the gym but during our prenatal get togethers we can discuss nutrition for both mom and partner for pregnancy and labour. There are a lot of great snack options that are handy to have around for hungry moms and these make great choices for you as dad also!
5. Go to a Prenatal Class
Understanding labour and birth will build your confidence. Knowing what to expect and when (as much as it can be predicted) will leave you with less anxiety of the unknown. Having hands on practice of comfort techniques and positions to support your partner can ease the process of labour and make you a valuable asset to your partner. Don’t wait to practice these things during labour. Have them prepared and in your tool box of go to’s for when you partner needs encouragement or physical support.
How a doula can help: I can personally offer you a prenatal class, whether you wish to take one with a group or privately. Also, as your doula, we will have one or two prenatal appointments where we chat about your desires for labour and come up with a plan for various ways you can help mom in reaching her goals.
6. Watch Her
Labouring women give off cues as to how they are mentally and physically coping. Whether it be a wince, tense shoulders, scrunched up hands or relaxed low moans you can often tell how a mom is dealing with labour by her expressions. If mom seems to be panicky or unable to find her rhythm you may need to step in and give her some direct encouragement of where and how to relax. And that is encouragement, not sympathy. If she has her eyes closed, is looking relaxed, is moaning in a low tone or not at all then things may be ok for awhile. Keep watching her for when she needs support and possible direction.
How a doula can help: You obviously know your partner best, but as a doula I can guide you in what to say to her, how to touch her, what positions might be beneficial or when to just sit quietly and let her labour. This is where the team dynamic truly hits a peak as you know her expressions the best of anyone and I can then guide to how best meet her needs in labour.
7. Encourage, Don’t Sympathize
Imagine one of these scenarios. A goalie in the Stanley Cup Final shoot-out. A golfer at his final put to win a tournament. A business partner about to do a huge presentation that could boost his career. These are all people who have prepared, they have trained and they usually have natural talent involved in making it to where they are. Your partner is the same. She was designed to give birth. She has planned, prepared and has goals and desires for the outcome of her labour and will be hard, there will be pressure and she will be rewarded at the end. During the above scenarios what would you say to those people before their big moment? Would you say ‘I am so sorry you have to be under this pressure’, ‘I feel so bad that you are in this difficult situation’ etc? No way! You would encourage them with phrases like ‘you’ve got this’, ‘you have prepared for this, you can do it’, ‘stay focused and don’t give up’! These are the exact same motivating things your partner needs to hear. Telling her you feel bad for her or that you sorry she is dealing with the pain (sympathy) is discouraging and can cause her to focus on the hardship, the pain and the difficulty. But lifting her up with encouraging remarks and sincere empowering words will boost her on. They will guide her in focusing on getting past each contraction and concentrating on the positive work her discomfort is achieving. Be an encourager not a sympathizer!
How a doula can help: As I would with any physical guidance I can guide verbally as well. By working with you beforehand we can determine what phrases your partner finds motivating and what is discouraging. I can also offer suggestions during labour as to what terms, phrases and encouragements to share with her as we tune in to how mom reacts to different techniques.
Dads are needed in labour and birth. You are no longer expected to wait around for your child to be placed in your arms, but you have an active role in the entire process. Enjoy this journey and know you play a necessary role in your child’s birth. You can help labour be shorter, less painful and have fewer interventions. Get in touch with me today if you want the support of a doula or the education from the prenatal classes!