Dads’ Guide to Childbirth

twins

My wife has friends who are pregnant and others who have just had children. They get together occasionally and talk about their experiences, give each other tips and advice, and chat generally. One subject that caught my attention was when they began discussing child birth to a new mum to be. There was a lot of detail here but I got the impression that this information, whilst daunting, was actually reassuring. Child birth tends to be dressed up as a wonderful, beautiful, never-to-be-forgotten experience, which it is, but surely this rose-tinted view of it only makes the experience scarier in reality: “what’s that pain?”, “why are there so many doctors?”, “is this normal?”, “why is it taking so long?”. By sharing the details as well as the romantic vision women are better prepared mentally to go through the physical act of giving birth.

But what about dads?

I don’t remember having a conversation with anyone about what child birth was going to be like. Don’t get me wrong I was well aware of all the ins and outs having Googled it intensely, but I’d had no advice on how to prepare myself  for it. The majority of advice for new Dads, especially if they’re going to be birthing partners, is focussed on how they can help mom with preparing for the birth, being a good coach, being attentive, breathing exercises, and a host of other things [1]. But in the heat of the moment remembering all of this medical information is extremely difficult when someone you love is in a crap load of pain and you’re limited in what you can do about it.

During the birth I acted on instinct, listened to what my wife wanted and did what felt right at the time. I have spoken to other dads since and their experiences followed a similar theme. If dads-to-be went into the delivery suite with the real information of what to expect it might make the whole experience better for all involved, so I felt compelled to compile a proper dads guide to childbirth with real tips on what you should and shouldn’t be doing during this time.

This list is compiled from feedback from dads, moms and even midwives that have been there

This list is compiled from feedback from dads, moms and even midwives that have been there and done it, and I am extremely grateful to them for sharing what are very personal times in their lives. It is assumed that you will be the birthing partner and this guide is written as such.

Preparing for Labour

  1. Get organised – I had no idea what should and shouldn’t be packed into a hospital bag. Luckily I had a wife who knew this stuff and was ready weeks in advance; my contribution was to fetch and carry the stuff she wanted. For those that don’t have that luxury, the hospital/clinic/health visitor or whoever will give you a sheet of what you will need on the day of the birth. Read it, follow it to the letter, and then check that you followed it to the letter – you don’t want to be the guy who forgot to pack sanitary towels and didn’t notice until 30 minutes after your beautiful child has been born
  2. Organise yourself – this sounds selfish but it is sound advice. Make sure you pack a bag for yourself with food, water, energy drinks and snacks as births, especially first births, can go on for a while. Sometimes days. The last thing your partner needs is someone who starts to flag at the critical moment. I didn’t do this for the birth of my first child and half way through the day I needed something to eat. I was ordered by my wife to go and get some food from the hospital canteen; I have never eaten fish and chips so fast in my life for fear of not being there when she gave birth. You may also want to take some form of entertainment to get you both through the slower parts of labour; books, magazines, music, are all good. You’ll also need cash and a phone charger

During Labour

Your boyhood has just left the building. It’s time to step up and become a man.

  1. If she wants you there, be there – If there’s ever a time to be in the right place at the right time it’s now. If she wants you there it means she needs you. She is probably scared and you are a beacon of safety she can rely on. Your boyhood has just left the building. It’s time to step up and become a man. If you’re not there when it starts, get there as soon as you physically can
  2. Do as you are told – All the back rub you’ve been practicing will only ever be useful if it’s what your partner wants. If you start rubbing her back to ease through a contraction and she tells you to stop, then stop. If you don’t she’ll likely tell you to fuck off and that’s just going to make you feel bad
  3. Try different things – Imagine the situation your partner is in: she is trying to pass a small human through a place that doesn’t seem to be the right size about now. If you continually ask “do you want me to rub your back?”, “are you okay?”, “do you want me to do anything?”, “do you want me to fetch anything?”, she’s going to respond with “I DON’T FUCKING KNOW!” at some point. This is only fair and should be forgiven. In that situation your partner feels as if they are losing control of their own body and that’s scary. They have literally know idea of what does and doesn’t work to ease the pain or even get comfortable so just try rubbing her back or her shoulders, and fetching some water, helping her stand up, helping her sit down, talking to her like she’s a normal person, making her smile or telling her she’s amazing. She will soon tell you to stop if she wants you to; in those cases see step 1
  4. Grow a thick skin – There is a good chance you will be abused, both physically and mentally. Understand that this is not revenge or a calculated decision to inflict some of the pain she’s feeling onto you, it is an almost involuntary reaction and will be a distant memory for her around 15 minutes after the baby has been born. Now is not the time to start sulking
  5. Recognise when you need to be hard – There are times, especially during more difficult or longer labours, that your partner will start to flag and give up. She will tell you that she can’t do it any more and these are the times you need to look her in the eye and tell her how brilliantly she’s doing, but she needs to get past this for it to be over. Sometimes they can start to rely on gas and air (the basic pain relief given to women in labour) too much and won’t be able to focus on the labour. The midwives will be giving her instructions but there’s every chance, with the pain and the effects of pain relief, that she won’t be taking it in. You have to get her to focus and help her carry out those instructions; that is the only way she’s going to be out of pain sooner rather than later
  6. Things get graphic – When a human being comes out of another human being it’s not a clean affair. In addition to, at the very least, a lot of fluid and a placenta there may also be blood and poo. Yes poo. This is not a time to dress it up for you, if your partner has not been to the toilet recently all that pushing could trigger a movement. Any dignity you take into a delivery suite quickly starts to disappear. You will hear words such as dilated and cervix quite a lot. In some cases you may find out what forceps are for or what a ventouse birth is. Hopefully you won’t have to find out what an episiotomy is or experience a caesarean section. What I’m trying to say is if you struggle with these sorts of things you either need to consider whether someone else would be better placed to be the birthing partner or at the very least stay away from the business end. The last thing your partner needs to deal with is you fainting.

Immediately After the Birth

  1. Give her credit – She’s just been through one of the most physically and mentally demanding experiences she’ll ever go through so tell her how amazing she is and mean it
  2. Take photos – This is the time to get your phone out (full of battery because you brought your charger right?) and take some pics of your new family. But:
    1. Wait until she’s ready. She probably feels like crap, so at least allow her to regain some dignity before snapping away
    2. Do not, under any circumstances, share anything on social media until it has been verified and accepted by mom. She will probably never forgive you if you accidentally miss an exposed nipple and post it on Facebook
  3. Enjoy the moment – You have a long and difficult road ahead of you now that you are a dad. Take some time to enjoy this moment of quiet with your beautiful new family as it’ll stay with you for the rest of your life

I would have loved to have ended there but I received a number of tips whilst researching this post that I felt compelled to add another section. I would have hoped that these tips were common sense but apparently some guys are a bit vague in these areas.

  • Don’t laugh if she pulls “funny faces” when having a contraction
  • Choose your expression carefully when the baby’s head first comes out. Mom cannot see anything and a look of disgust on your face may scare the life out of her
  • Don’t complain if you’re feeling uncomfortable or tired
  • Don’t flirt with the midwife
  • Under no circumstances is it acceptable to touch your mother-in-law inappropriately
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