Fathers as Birth Partners

By: Bree Moore

My own father nearly passed out as I was being born. Whether from the intensity of my mother giving birth or the immense pressure of her hand squeezing his and cutting off his circulation, I’ll never know. I just know that I’m glad he was there and that my own husband has attended every one of my four births.

Men in the delivery room hasn’t always been the norm. Less than sixty years ago, men (outside of doctors) weren’t allowed to witness the births of their children. They paced about smoking cigars outside or near the nursery, waiting to see their tightly wrapped bundle of joy behind a thick pane of glass or in the arms of their wives. Since the advent of hospital birth in the ‘20s, hospitals became busier and busier, meaning nurses could not attend laboring women the same way that midwives at home could. By the 1940s more than half of women in the U.S. were giving birth alone in hospital rooms. Women and men alike protested. By the 1960s men made it into the delivery room, and birth transitioned from a female-only rite of passage to a celebration of making a family together.

Today, most birth partners are in the room all the way through delivery, watching the miraculous event unfold. Some are glorified stress balls, having hands crippled as their partner squeezes. Others prefer to sit back and watch, giving verbal encouragement and support. Still others get actively involved, some with the help of a doula, providing multiple tools for comforting the laboring mother. And others, a little more rarely, are catching their babies, like my husband of seven years.

My husband is the perfect support for me, and like many women, I can’t imagine not having him there for the births of my children. My first baby was born in the hospital without medication after only 4 hours of hard labor, 21 hours after my water broke. My husband caught him with the help of the attending midwife. After watching me bounce on a birth ball, walk around, and relax to my Hypnobabies sound tracks, he caught our son and laid him in my arms, then cut his cord.

He attended childbirth classes with me, despite his misgivings, supported me through natural labor even though no one else in his family had given birth without an epidural, and was my rock and my support. Later he challenged his own beliefs and fears and learned about home birth, and my second baby, a girl, was born into his hands as he sat with me in a tub filled with warm water in our tiny apartment living room. He has caught every single one of our babies. We joke, in all seriousness, that he’s my baby-catcher.

The support doesn’t end at the delivery, either. With the help of extended family and friends, my husband has picked up the bulk of the childcare and housekeeping for at least a week after each of my births, without a single complaint. He has supported me through breastfeeding and nurturing four children born in the space of five years. Each one of these experiences has been a trial by fire, strengthening our bond of love towards each other, improving trust and communication between us.

Maybe your experience has been different. Support doesn’t mean the same thing to everyone. Some women prefer to give birth without their partner in the room. Others want their partner there, but aren’t able to have them. My heart goes out to the women whose husbands are deployed when they give birth. Nothing makes me cry harder than seeing a picture posted online of another valiant military man watching his wife give birth via video chat. Thank goodness for technology, but oh, how we wish it wasn’t needed in those moments. There are women in relationships that aren’t as supportive, and others who are divorced or otherwise single and without support. In those times doulas can be a good alternative. In ideal situations doulas are meant to act as sidekicks, supporting partners as they support you and using our knowledge to help them know what to do in a situation that may be far outside their comfort zone. We have a lot of tools and experience, but nothing we have compares to the intimacy you may share with your partner. That intimacy can get oxytocin (the love hormone that helps the uterus contract and makes contractions stronger) flowing, it can encourage a laboring woman to relax with just a touch or a softly spoken word. When the relationship is strong, it can be most beautiful thing to witness a husband comforting a wife through contractions as they welcome their new baby together.

Birth is such a monumental, once-in-a-lifetime event that it’s important for fathers-to-be to be prepared. It can be intense, loud, a little gross, and generally shocking to witness a birth for a first time, especially in our private and somewhat squeamish society. We don’t talk about birth, we don’t describe birth, and we tend to ignore it most of the time when in polite company. Before you started dating, it’s unlikely you talked about what a perineum is and why you don’t want it cut, what a midwife is or the safety of home birth, or whether he wants to cut the umbilical cord. So it’s understandable he might need a little encouragement and education to be fully prepared for the birthing experience.

Here are six ways a birth partner can prepare to enter the birthing room:

Understand that she knows what she needs and wants

Pregnancy and birth are good times to comfort her fears or encourage her in her goals for childbirth. They are NOT good times to parade your pride or your fears in the face of her desires to have a certain birth experience. If she wants an unmedicated birth at home, support her. If she wants an epidural in the hospital, support her. If she ends up needing a cesarean section, support her. Don’t pretend you know more about birth than she does. Few things make me sadder than having a woman approach me who wants to make the evidence-based decision to birth at home or at a birth center with a midwife and they tell me they can’t because the person who means most to them in the whole world doesn’t support their choices. Don’t be that guy. Be the kind of guy who steps back and watches your woman rock her birth.

Let go of your own fears

This goes with the point mentioned above. If you’re afraid of birth, examine that. Sit with it. Picture your wife’s experience going as she envisions it. Ask her what she hopes for. If you have never seen a birth, watch a few birth videos with her. Attend a childbirth class with her. Read a passage from a book or the articles she sends you. Be willing to be uncomfortable so you can understand, even in a small way, what she’s about to go through. And let her make the decisions about where to give birth and who to have there. If you’re lucky, she’ll want you there too.

Listen to the woman in labor!

This one comes from my husband. He says, “Just go with it. Let go of past preconceived notions or any training you’ve had. If she says it’s not helping, try something else. And don’t get in her way.” I would add, don’t be afraid to do something because she might yell at you or seem upset. Try it anyway, and if she says she doesn’t like it, move on. She does want you there, but birth can be a physically intense and emotionally trying experience. When you do find something that works to make her contractions a bit easier, you’ll feel like the ultimate provider. A doula can be helpful in giving you a multitude of tools and comfort measures to try, so if you’ve hesitated to hire one, it can definitely be worth the dough.

Be involved

In other words, stay awake, turn off your phone, and be present. Even if she has an epidural, unless she’s sleeping or says you can sleep, don’t. She wants you there to support her, not be disengaged. And for heaven’s sake, don’t turn on the football game and discuss it with the doctor as he’s delivering your child. (True story).

Become a birthing expert

Especially if your wife is planning an unmedicated birth, and even more so if she’ll be giving birth outside the hospital, make the effort to learn about birth. I touched on this above, but it bears repeating. You can support her best if you know what’s what, and with the vast amounts of easily-accessed information on the internet, there’s no excuse not to learn at least a few things. Understand her desires for how she wants her birth to go, and be prepared to advocate for her if hospital staff are less than supportive. Make sure she feels as comfortable and safe as possible.

Tell her she’s amazing

While she’s pregnant, while she’s laboring, and right after she gives birth. If you’re sincere, she will never tire of hearing it, and she needs to hear it. Tell her she’s beautiful, that you believe in her, and that she can do hard things. It sounds cheesy now, but try it out while she’s carrying your child, and you’ll be amazed at what it does for your relationship

It has been shown in studies that when a woman feels supported by her birth partner she has a better impression of her experience, even if things don’t go as expected or planned. Fathers can play an important role in the birth of their children when they’re active participants who listen, learn, and support. Here’s to the fathers all over the world, whether they’re pacing outside or giving hip-squeezes. Thank you for being part of the birth experience.

Happy Father’s Day!  

About Bree
Bree Moore is a professional birth and postpartum doula in Ogden, UT. She is most known for her postpartum belly binding services, and her belly binding workshops for other doulas. Bree is a homeschooling mother of four cute kids, and a published fantasy novelist. She loves all things birth and especially loves sharing each birth experience with her husband Tyler, who is her baby-catcher, birth partner, and the love of her life. Find her here: http://www.daydreamdoula.com