Tips for Dad’s Role During Labor and Childbirth

Over the course of 11 years and two sons, I’ve stood by my wife for about 20 hours of labor. As it turns out, that’s enough time to do and say some truly stupid things.

During my first stint in the labor room, I developed an obsessive interest in the monitor that measured the strength of every contraction. It was easier to look at the numbers than my wife’s anguished face. Even worse, I started to believe the numbers actually meant something. When a “small” contraction came along, I said, “Now that one wasn’t so bad.” She’s squeezing an 8-pound boy through her birth canal, and I’m telling her it doesn’t hurt.

Ever since dads have been allowed in the delivery room, they’ve struggled to find their proper role. Some faint. Some let their attention drift to a television set or a book. Some do a great job. And, yes, some spend too much time looking at the monitors when they should be focused on their partners. Despite the occasional missteps, expectant fathers can play a vital role in deliveries. If you’re planning to accompany your partner on the big day, you should think ahead of time about how to give her the comfort and support she needs.

Making a Game Plan

Ideally, you should start preparing for the big day months in advance, says Nancy Draznin, a midwife and certified birth educator living in Genesee, Idaho. You and your partner don’t necessarily need to go to birth classes — unless she wants to — but you should work together to form a detailed birth plan. The plan should cover everything from who will be in the room to the use of pain medications. Chances are, your wife will be happy to share her hopes and expectations in detail. As Josh Kraft, a father of two, puts it, “Your wife will tell you what needs to happen.”

You should also be prepared for the unexpected. For example, your partner may plan to go without painkillers, but such vows don’t always hold up when the contractions start. As part of the birth plan, ask her what to do if she starts asking for drugs. Does she want you to try to talk her out of it? Or should you support her decision and follow up with the nurse or doctor until she gets what she needs?

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