Recent research by the Royal College of Midwives shows that 40% of dads felt ‘fairly useless’ at the birth of their baby, while 1 in 6 mums claimed that their men simply got in the way. But many expectant fathers are desperate to attend the birth, and really want to be supportive birth partners. So read on to find out how to make your man the perfect support network you’ve always dreamed of…
Before the birth
1) Be prepared
“You need to see the pregnancy as a joint project from the outset,” says Michael Myerscough from The Relationship Gym. “Preparing together for the baby’s arrival will really cement your relationship, and means you’ll be able to offer mutual support when push comes to shove on labour day.”
2) Think teamwork
Michael’s advice is to involve your partner in all decisions, whether it’s pram versus papoose or hospital versus home. “And make sure you take his opinions seriously. Men hate it when their partner ask for their ideas, but have no interest in taking them on board.”
3) Mind your language
It’s easy to slip into talking about ‘my baby’ and ‘my labour’, but this can quickly make expectant dads feel they are out of the loop. Start using ‘we’, ‘our’ and ‘us’ and you’ll both start thinking that way too.
4) It’s good to talk
You need to talk about what you expect from each other during the birthing process. Gillian Fletcher, antenatal teacher and past president of the NCT, advises: “Think in terms of mutual support – in order for him to be a good birth partner, it’s important that his needs are recognised as well as yours.”
5) That’s a plan
A birth partner is your advocate during labour. He needs to understand your birth preferences fully, and this will be helped enormously if you write your birth plan together. That way, you both take ownership of the decisions.
6) Get reading
Understanding what happens during each stage means that your man can offer appropriate support. However, “most guys are actually turned off by baby manuals,” says Michael. “He’s much more likely to take in information from a DVD, magazine or website.”
7) Go back to school
“Antenatal classes equip men with the tools they need to be confident, supportive birth partners,” says Helen Savill, from clinic Oeuf Therapy Rooms. “They like feeling they have something practical to do.”
8) Birth buddies
Dads benefit from meeting other expectant fathers and sharing their feelings about being a birth partner. “Antenatal groups are great for this, because when men meet in the pub, they’re more likely to talk about football than ideal birthing positions!” says Michael.
During the birth
9) Home from home
You’ll want to ensure the birthing environment is as comfortable as possible. “Women labour more effectively in home-like environments,” says Gillian. “So when you tour the labour ward, ask if they have beanbags and birthing balls, and find out if you can bring a CD player.” If possible, take along comfy cushions and family photos too – a practical element that your man can get involved with.
10) Keep on moving
Varying birth positions help facilitate labour and your partner can help. The two of you can try a few out beforehand, and he can take a prompt sheet in case you mind goes blank in the heat of the moment.
11) Hands-on healing
“Many women find massage very helpful,” says Helen. “Pressure on the lower back during contractions confuses the pain impulse.” Also, get your partner to massage your bump between contractions: this brings fresh blood and oxygen to the muscles of the uterus, allowing them to contract more effectively.
12) The reflex
Reflexology can increase the frequency of contractions and aid relaxation. Pressure on the big toe stimulates the pituitary gland to pump out oxytocin, stimulating contractions; while other points help you relax. Practice with your partner before the big day so he knows what to do.
13) Making eyes
“Eye contact is a simple but effective way of keeping channels of communication open,” explains Helen. “It helps the woman feel supported and nurtured, which releases naturally calming chemicals proven to lessen the perception of pain.”
Your partner can help you to visualise the places and events that hold happy memories for you – anywhere calm and tranquil will help. Water is particularly effective, so imagine being beside the seaside or a lake. Alternatively, think in terms of ‘opening’ during contractions by visualising unfolding petals and buds bursting open.
15) Doing and being
Get your partner to distract you in early labour: anything from Sudoku to planning next year’s holiday will do. Later on, however, you’ll need to disengage the cognitive side of your brain and retreat into the instinctive mindset needed to labour effectively. Your partner may feel like a spare part, but his presence is all important.
16) Act on instinct
A woman’s needs may change throughout labour, so birth partners need to be intuitive and responsive. “Some women prefer their partner to be quiet so that they can centre themselves, while others want to be talked through contractions,” says Gillian. Tell your partner not to take offense if you criticise him for something you loved a minute ago – it’s nothing personal!”
17) My space
Your partner’s job is also to maintain your ‘area of safety’ by acting as a filter for enquires from health professionals and ensuring you feel comfortable about all procedures, so make sure he’s aware of this on the day.
18) Ask questions
“It’s often down to the birth partner to raise questions and discuss options with the health professionals,” says Gillian. “If a course of action is suggested, ask to be told more. If you feel in control of decisions that are taken, you are more likely to be comfortable with the outcome.”
19) His needs
You man will be no good as a birth partner if he faints from hunger or can’t concentrate because he’s bursting for the loo! Similarly, he might need to take a break once in a while. Labour is hard work for dads too!
20) Trust him!
“Your partner might be worried about letting you down during labour and if he feels you don’t have any confidence in him,” says Michael. While your man may not do things exactly the way you might do them, if you criticise him he’ll quickly get de-motivated, so try to let him be part of the experience.
Marie Finch, 31, is mum to Taro, now 5 weeks. She went into labour early on the day she was supposed to be starting antenatal classes, so she really needed some support – and fortunately, she and husband Phil had attended couples labour preparation classes…
“Phil is very ‘solution focused’ – he likes to solve problems, reach conclusions and be in control of situations. But what the labour preparation classes taught him was that, in childbirth, you both have to go with the flow of things, and that’s what made him such an amazing birth partner.
Throughout, he was very responsive to my needs, reacting intuitively to my cues rather than trying to manage the situation. Phil just did what I asked him to do without questioning.
When the contractions were so intense that I could no longer articulate what I needed, he always seemed instinctively to know just the right thing to do. Our strong connection meant that he tuned into my needs, which was amazing.
Although I was in this very weird place in my head, I never felt that I was labouring on my own – it was an incredibly bonding experience.”