Fathers & Partners – Your Role During Childbirth
The days when fathers were kept from entering the delivery room are thankfully a thing of the past (apart from during coronavirus).
It seems unfathomable to us now but right up until the early 1970s fathers were definitely not a regular sight in labour suites during childbirth. Now, happily, this is not the case and spouses and partners are more or less expected to be present, supportive and fully engaged with the childbirth process whenever possible.
This can feel like a big responsibility, and it is, but it is also a wonderful opportunity for you to cement your bond with your partner, be actively useful during childbirth, and to ensure that you start your journey into parenthood from the very first moments of your new baby’s life.
Here we provide some tips about what is likely to happen so that you can overcome any anxiety you may have about childbirth and labour.
Know the birth plan
Firstly, get familiar with what your partner wants for childbirth. Chances are that she has done lots of research and has some very firm ideas about how she wants labour to happen. She is likely to have put all this down in a birth plan (if she hasn’t, your first step is to encourage this). Familiarise yourself with this important document so that you are not desperately trying to remind yourself of the important details at crucial moments.
Get into childbirth training
It is really helpful to both you and your partner if you familiarise yourself with the labour environment before the big event. For example, book a tour of the hospital, attend antenatal classes and/or NCT classes. And do your research by speaking with someone, perhaps a brother, cousin or friend, about their experiences of being a birthing partner.
Your role during the earliest stages of labour
Sometimes, it’s not absolutely clear that labour has started. Your role at this stage is to stay supportive and (having done your homework) to know what the signs of labour are. There may be a period lasting many hours or even several days when your partner experiences backache, intermittent contractions and unusual moods without it actually being clear that she is in labour.
During the very early “latent stage”, there is no point rushing anything. The birth plan and hospital bag should hopefully be ready to go and, at this point you should try to stay cool, provide distractions, and offer your partner plenty of comfort. For example, you may wish to:
- Give your partner a massage
- Run her a bath
- Make her a nice meal
- Spend some low-key (i.e don’t tell everybody) time at home
- Go for a walk with your partner
- Offer your partner a hot water bottle
Know the signs of active labour
Your partner is likely to be moving toward the active first stage of labour when she experiences the following:
- The passing of the mucus plug (also known as a “show”): although this is not always a sign of imminent labour, it is a part of the latent first stage. It is usual for the show to be blood stained, but if your partner is passing fresh blood you should calmly seek medical advice immediately.
- Her waters break: not all women whose waters break immediately go into labour (Read our article on PROM). However, contractions often begin once they do, and if they do not, labour may be induced anyway to reduce the risk of infection.
- Persistent lower back pain: minor back pain is common in the late stages of pregnancy; however, if it becomes persistent and feels similar to premenstrual discomfort, it may be a sign of labour.
- Contractions: contractions that are occurring at regular intervals, getting closer together, and with increasing intensity are likely to be a sign of active labour.
Stay calm and focused and don’t take anything personally
Your job during the early stages of labour is really to take care of your partner, to help her stay calm, to help her take deep breaths and to show her that she is supported. Yes, she may get irritable with you, particularly when she is experiencing contractions, but this is all completely normal and should not be taken personally. At times, she may want you close by with your hands on her as she experiences contractions or she may ask you to take a step back so that she has plenty of personal space. Whatever the case, be steadfast, listen to your partner, stick to the birth plan if at all possible, and stay engaged with the process.
Know when to go to hospital
If you are having a hospital birth, you will need to gauge the right time to go to the hospital. You can call your midwife or delivery suite about when to make the move. If your partner’s contractions are five minutes apart or less and last for half a minute or longer it is almost certainly time to go into the hospital.
Remember the essentials
You should already have a bag packed and ready to go. This should include a change of clothes, toothbrush, favourite snacks and anything else your partner has requested alongside all the necessary items for baby and her own post-birth aftercare, such as a nursing bra and maternity pads. You should have the birth plan to hand (it’s a good idea to pack a copy in the bag) and your partner’s handheld notes, so that you can easily share them with hospital staff. At this point you may want to gather some fresh snacks, such as fruit, yogurts, anything that can’t be pre-packed, but might be nice to have if you are in the hospital for some time.
Sorry if we’re repeating this message, but it really is important that you keep your emotions in check. Once the baby is born there will be plenty of time for you to express your joy, relief and tears. For now, your partner needs you to be as strong, supportive and selfless as possible.
Keep communicating with staff and be your partner’s advocate
Once at the hospital, be friendly and communicative with nurses, doctors, midwives and all other hospital staff. You know what your partner wants and you understand her birth plan, so you can communicate clearly with those around you, and this means you can be the best possible advocate for your partner. Sometimes you may need to be assertive, but you also need to stay as friendly as possible.
Be hands-on – if you want to be
Some dads-to-be are happy to be more hands on than others. For example, some fathers want be down at the ‘business end’ to see their baby arrive and to cut the umbilical cord, while others might want to stay closer to their partner so they can hold her hand and give close-up support. Let’s be honest here, if you are squeamish, childbirth may be difficult but you will be unable to stay supportive if you faint or feel ill. So, while the midwives may invite you to be ‘hands on’, you don’t have to. It’s all a matter of choice.
Be prepared for the unexpected
Although you will probably have a birth plan that details the treatment your partner wants, including the kinds of interventions she is happy to receive, once she is in labour, you should always be prepared to deal with the unexpected – for example, unplanned pain relief medication or a C-section. Although these things should be entirely your partner’s decision, she is likely to want to consult you, but may not be able to think as rationally or clearly as she would usually do. Be prepared to act quickly, responsibly, and decisively, but in a way that is faithful to your partner’s wishes.
There is even a chance that because of the pain – or perhaps because of the pain relief medication – your partner will not remember much of the birth, so you may be the only who is able to remember the details. Try to stay focused and present at all times and you will have the most wonderful story to tell.
Important – If you or your child are unwell you should seek medical advice from a professional – contact your GP or visit an A&E department in an emergency. While My BabyManual strives to provide dependable and trusted information on pregnancy and childcare 24/7 via our website pages, we cannot provide individual answers to specific healthcare questions.