Becoming a Dad – 10 Tips for Birth
by Jene Hinds Kelly
“It’s a funny feeling knowing the labour has started and that a child is about to be born. You fear for its safety and hope for the Mama and the babba to do well. You think of all the potential problems and pit falls. All these things we prepared for, but caution always tells you to be aware of anything. From the moment we decided to have a child we worked hard on trying to be as healthy as possible. Healthy from a physical, mental and emotional point of view. A lot of hard work goes into the whole process from trying to conceive, feeding Anna a healthy diet of smoothies with cabbage in, to lots of chocolate and of course choosing the birth path”
Excerpt from a 42 Weeks birth story from the father’s perspective. Read more here:
When you think of the portrayal of Dads in the birthroom there are countless scenes that flash through your mind….the bumbling Dad that does everything wrong. The Dad that faints. The Dad who has his hand squeezed or is called every name under the sun by his partner while looking white as a sheet…..Who is that guy? The reality is often very different. The Dad is strong, quiet, loving, attentive, supporting his partner through labour.
The role of Dads in the birthroom is a relatively new concept in Ireland – it was not long ago when Dads were left out of the birth process, seen as ‘women’s work’. Thankfully, things have changed, and fathers are now included in the preparing, the birthing, the bonding. And thank goodness, cause we need you!
“He knows me better than anyone else walking this Earth. I trust him like no other. I cannot imagine doing it without him. He was at the birth of all of our children, and like me, he grew each time. He was a fantastic support to me when I needed it the most.”
An AIMSI member speaks about her husband as a birthpartner.
So, what exactly is the role of a Dad in the birthroom?
Childbirth can be a very emotional and vulnerable time for women and your partner needs you now more than ever. She is probably nervous, maybe a little scared, about going through labour and birth. Maybe worried about what will happen to her body? Worried if she will cope? Nervous to be around strangers in labour? Conscious of making noise? Or being seen undressed? A combination of the above – or – none at all!
The birth partner (usually a Dad, but not always) is there to provide practical, emotional, and sometimes physical support to guide her throughout her pregnancy and during the birth of your baby. The birth partner should be an active participant in pregnancy – attending appointments, antenatal classes, and scans with their partner. Dads need to be interested in her needs, fears, desires, and to be involved in her pregnancy experience and birth preparations. To care of her, remind her to look after herself – to rest, to help her with everyday tasks or older children. Pregnancy, labour and birth are times of great physical changes to a woman’s body. Dads need to be supportive of their partner’s choices for childbirth, without trying to influence their partner’s decisions in labour. She needs to know that you are a team and that you will be on her side!
Becoming a Dad – 10 Tips for Birth
1) Be open with your partner – Pregnancy and birth are times of big changes for both mothers and fathers. Its really important to be honest with yourself and not bottle things up. Be open with your partner – talk about your feelings, worries. Sometimes Dads have a hard time knowing what to do. Be up front: “I want to help, but I’m not sure how” or “what role would you like me to play on the day” will help her understand where you are coming from and open you both up to chat about the events ahead and preparing for it together, as a team.
2.) Be informed – If you have read anything from AIMS Ireland, you will know that we feel being informed is a huge advantage for childbirth. But, this advice is not just for mothers – informed fathers is equally important. Read, attend classes, talk to your partner about her needs and desires. Understand the 3 stages of labour and what to expect during them. I’ts also important to recognise the signs of labour which can include regular contractions, a bloody show, or waters breaking. Read up on interventions, and their implications. All these factors will help you provide support on the day. Don’t be afraid to ask questions of the HCPs, midwives, doctors about the physiological process of birth and what happens in the hospital where you are attending (ie. who will be there during labour?, will you have time to yourselves if you want it?, can you catch the baby and/or cut the cord, if you wish? if an emergency were to arise, can you be in theatre with your partner?). Finding out these things beforehand can be reassuring for both you and your partner. Talk to your partner about her preferences for pain relief – if she is adamant she doesn’t want intervention, it is important to support her.
3.) Be honest – At 42 weeks, we cannot hit home enough how important the role of the birth partner is in labour. We also recognise that, while she is the one experiencing labour, it can be equally challenging to support a woman through labour. If you don’t feel you will be able to provide emotional support for your partner, be honest. She will thank you. You may consider suggesting having another person there with you to provide 100% labour support to your partner – a friend, mother, sister, doula. Or look out for preparation classes which focus on birth partners to boost your confidence.
4.) Get to Work! – It can be really helpful to give yourself jobs to be in charge of in labour. This can be a great way to be actively involved in the birth. Look up coping techniques and relaxation techniques – practice them throughout the pregnancy so you are an expert on the day! Other jobs:
* how to apply counter-pressure (she will love this!) on the back
* double hip squeeze
* acupressure or reflexology points
* different birth positions
* if she is using a homeopathy birth kit, read through the information & be in charge
* create the right atmosphere – music she loves, Gentlebirth, anything else that is imortant to her
* taking pictures or videoing
* making sure she eats/drinks
* fill the bath or birthpool
* taking the weight off her – supported stance
* ensuring you both have healthy snacks and drinks for energy
5.) Make a Support Plan – At 42 weeks we talk alot about birth plans for mothers, why not a plan for dads? A support-plan can help keep you on track when things get tough. Do your research beforehand – a good plan should include short phrases or keywords to help you make suggestions for your partner, tools for coping, ways to show her support, distraction techniques.
6.) Pack a Labour Bag – Take the time to pack a bag for you to use during labour and after the birth. Labour has no time limits and often occurs during unsocial hours when no shops are open! You also may not have an opportunity or desire to leave your partner, once labour begins. Have a small bag packed and ready to go in the car.
Pack: a spare shirt, deodorant, toothbrush/toothpaste, bottle of water, snacks, change for the parking meters, camera, batteries, copy of your support plan, copy of your partner’s birth preference/birth plan, contact numbers for family/childminders (many units have bad reception and you may not be able to use your phone!), games to play in labour with your partner, a small notebook and anything else personal you may think of.
7.) Be Practical – If you are planning a hospital birth, make sure that you think about how you will get there on the day. Map out the drive and alternative routes being aware of travel time at peak and non-peak times. Make sure your car is full of petrol! Have money in the car for tolls and parking. If taking a taxi, have numbers of reliable companies in easy reach. If you are planning a homebirth, have all the necessary equipment at hand and in easy reach. Do a test run of the pool and pump before hand. See how long it takes to fill the pool, heat the water. Have spare sheets/waterproof layers to protect floors and furniture.
8.) Keep it light! – Labour is hard work and keeping things light can keep your partner releaxed in the early stages. Suggest upbeat music, a funny movie, playing games, SLEEP, for the early stages of labour. Many women enjoy a walk or even going out for something to eat! These are all great ways to help pass time and act as good distractions. Keep the banter going! Research has shown that women who participate in healthy banter during labour have better outcomes!
9.) Ditch the clock! – You know that saying about how a watched kettle never boils? Far too much emphasis is put on watching the clock and time in labour. Particularly in the early stages of labour, watching time is unhelpful and many couples end up going to hospital too early, especially first time parents. Instead, tune into your partner. You know her better than anyone! How is she acting? How is she moving? Is she talking through contractions? In early labour most women can continue on as normal: chatting, eating, walking, watching tv, playing games. As labour becomes more intense most women experience a change. They start to go into themselves. They might start closing their eyes during contractions, be unable to walk, might become vocal. Their expressions may change. Many women will no longer want to chat, be unable to focus on a film or game as the contractions become more intense and closer. Many women also feel a desire to make the trip to the hospital as labour progresses. Use your eyes and your ears to judge when you decide as a team when its time to go.
10.) Act as a Team, Be on Her Side – Be true to your partner. Only the labouring woman knows how she is feeling, how she is coping. Good birth support means being true to her needs and her preferences. Sometimes, an intervention might be recommended for medical or non-medical reasons. This can be down to a concern for her, for your baby, or can be due to hospital policy or individual practice. 42 weeks has lots of information and tools to help women make these important decisions. Be on her side – if she says no, back her up.
Helpful questions may help buy more time, give you more information, and re-confirm your partner’s wishes:
* Ask the Health Care Provider to repeat the question to her – “I’m not sure if she heard you, could you repeat the question?”
* Reconfirm she understands what was said – “Do you understand what that means?”
* Pretend you don’t understand – “Sorry, I’m not familiar with that, could you explain it to me?”
* Reference her Birth Plan – “She was really hoping to avoid that, is there anything else we can try?”
* Repeat her wishes – “she said not at this time”
Remind Your Partner of the tools she can use to help her make these important decisions:
Is my baby OK?
Am I OK?
What other suggestions do you have?
Another helpful tool is to “use your brain”.
B – what are the Benefits involved?
R – what are the Risks involved?
A– what are the Alternatives?
I – what does my Intuition tell me?
N – what would happen if we do Nothing?
Further information on care choices, evidence based care, and healthy births for healthy mothers and babies is available on 42 weeks and AIMS Ireland websites. Independent, one-to-one support is available at: firstname.lastname@example.org