How dads-to-be can be helpful during labour
Your partner has an important supporting role to play in your labour.
ADVICE FOR MUMS-TO-BE
To support you in practical and emotional ways during labour and birth. This includes anything from driving you to hospital to holding you through a contraction. His role is to advocate your birth plan and if it looks like things may deviate, to help make sure your wishes – as far as possible – are respected in spite of those changes. The role of birth partner is sometimes misunderstood. Sometimes mums-to-be say things to their partner like, ‘You will be at the birth so you can see what I have to go through to have our baby.’ In reality, a birth partner is not there as an observer, but they have an important role in protecting the birth environment and advocating your wishes and preferences.
Your birth partner can be the key to supporting you to having a more positive labour. Numerous studies have shown how the birth partner has the capacity to impact on the length of labour, how much pain is perceived, the likelihood of interventions, of an assisted birth or even a caesarean. A confident birth partner is much more likely to be able to support you to have a positive labour and birth. If, for some reason, your partner wants to be there but you are concerned he won’t be able to fulfil what you need on his own, discuss this with him. Dads can feel worried that if there is someone else there, like your mum, that they will be pushed out and not get those first moments to bond with their child. In these situations, it can be useful to discuss how your wishes for support can be respected, but while also respecting how he feels and how he wants to be involved. Ultimately, if you decide between yourselves that your partner will be your sole birth partner, he needs to be prepared for his role and not feel afraid. And you need to support him to feel confident about his abilities.
Some positions will make giving birth easier. Despite what has been commonly depicted on TV, birthing on your back makes it much more difficult. Your pelvis is designed to be mobile during birth (the hormone relaxin produced in pregnancy relaxes the ligaments of the pelvis) and so it is able to stretch and open. Your tailbone is designed to move backwards as your baby moves down through the pelvis; if you are laid on the tailbone during birth, it cannot move as fully, so your baby has to be birthed through a small space, making it more difficult.
All that said, the ‘right’ birthing position is the one which feels right to you on the day. Talk together in advance about which positions you might want to use during labour, and how you can work together to use those positions. If you find standing upright helpful in labour, how can your partner support you to stay standing when you are more tired? Or working through a strong contraction?
Labour sensations and contractions often make women feel they are unable to keep still – wanting to move is instinctive. Working with your body, instead of against it, helps the body and baby birth. Changing position, swaying the hips, walking and leaning forward are all common and can help the baby get into a good position and labour to progress. Discuss together that if you find moving around in labour helpful, how can your partner support this?
Will I moo like a cow?
You might do. You might make other noises. Or you might make no noise. It is impossible to know in advance, as all women are different and each birth will be different. Sounds made in labour are involuntary, and are just what your body needs to do. Don’t worry about being embarrassed, your partner’s role is to support you – and midwives have heard it all before. If you can feel comfortable enough to let go and allow your body to do what it needs to do, you will be supporting your labour to happen as it needs to.
What if I poo myself?
Many women worry about this. As baby moves down to be born, the pressure can cause an emptying of the bowel. Although the idea of it might seem mortifying to you now, the midwives looking after you will not be at all bothered by this. In one way, your midwife will see it as a great thing to happen, as it signals that your baby is moving in the right direction. And remember, just because you might feel as though you need a poo, it doesn’t actually mean that you will.
ADVICE FOR DADS-TO-BE
In the majority of cases, your partner will want you with her during the birth. You made this baby together and will be raising this baby together, so it makes sense that you now welcome your baby into the world together. But with this comes responsibility – responsibility to be the best support you can be. Dad, you have two main roles…
You're her protector!
Adrenalin can have a very detrimental impact on the progress of labour. If you can help your partner to feel safe and ‘protected’, you will help keep the happy hormone oxytocin flowing, and minimise the production of adrenalin. You might be surprised to hear that you also need to protect your partner from yourself! During labour, your partner’s senses will be heightened; Mother Nature gave this as a gift to labouring women so that they can sense any dangers. These heightened senses mean that your partner will sense any worries or tension coming from you. In a nutshell: she can smell your fear! If she senses you are afraid or worried, it will trigger her fear and thus her adrenalin. The better prepared and informed you are, the calmer and more confident you will be. If you need a reminder, look how calm the midwife is.
Your role is to create a relaxing environment, to focus on her and to keep reassuring her. Your job is not to direct, so resist any urge to tell her what to do and to ‘coach’ her. Your role is to protect; this can be easier said than done for many men due to an inbuilt ‘fix-it reflex’; however, understanding that you have this impulse is the first step to taking control of it.
You're her advocate!
Put simply, to be an advocate is to make sure your partner’s wishes are heard and understood. So common sense should tell you that you cannot advocate successfully if you don’t know what your partner’s wishes are. If you wait until she is in labour, she may not be able to tell you how she feels, so making the birth plan together is so important. If you find a topic you do not see eye-to-eye on, your partner’s wishes come first. You have to wholeheartedly accept this; a true advocate always puts forward the view of the person they are advocating for, regardless of their own feelings on the matter. It is also crucial for the birth process that your partner has complete trust that you will honour her wishes.
Most women, when labouring in the right environment, will ‘zone out’. This means that during contractions your partner will almost ‘go into herself’ and be focused on what she is doing. You need to protect that state. Nobody, not you, not the midwife, should ask her a question during a contraction. If anyone does ask her a question, gently ask the person to wait a moment and ask the question again when the contraction has passed. During labour, you partner may be offered pain relief or other interventions. Here, your role as her advocate is to ensure that the wishes you have discussed are respected. During labour, your partner is vulnerable on two counts: firstly, the logical right side of her brain shuts down, enabling her to stay in the birthing zone; this means she cannot easily debate or discuss, and forcing her to do so brings her out of the birthing zone and can impact on her birth experience. Secondly, your partner is vulnerable as she may be finding labour a very challenging experience; this may make her susceptible to agreeing to things she does not really want, when all she really needs is encouragement and support.
Safeguarding your partner’s wishes is your job. You may need to explain her preferences, you need to ensure these are respected, and that she isn’t pressured into anything she isn’t comfortable with. For any treatment, it will be your partner who will ultimately need to consent or not consent. She is classed as the ‘patient’, but you can certainly back her up and reaffirm her wishes at each step, and this is absolutely crucial.
From His and Hers Guide to Pregnancy and Birth by Dean and Steph Beaumont (out now; £12.99, Vermilion)