Helpless, anxious & uncertain: What dads can do to take an active role in labour

When looking up tips for how to relax and have the most calm and safe labour possible, it’s common to find almost all the articles geared towards the woman having the child. This is perfectly fine, as women need this info, but as the role of the father in the delivery room evolves, so too should the advice and literature surrounding labour.

A more ‘team’-led approach is necessary if we want partners to truly be involved in a meaningful way in the delivery of the child. Studies from the University of Nottingham suggest that father feel marginalised, helpless, anxious and uncertain about their role during labour, as the information, from birthing classes to online forums, tends to be targeted towards mothers, not fathers, despite the pivotal and important role they play for mother and baby during the turbulent time of delivery.

Birth is increasingly becoming a shared experience, so aside from knowing the terminology and stages of labour (two very important things to know), what can dads do to help during labour?

Take charge when they need you to and be on the team

Man and Child Holding Baby

Every labour and birth is different – but one thing many mums find in common is that they aren’t always listened to in the delivery room. It’s a common theme among hospital births that the birth plan can get thrown out the window – often due to necessity – but women can feel unheard during one of the most important physical and emotional events of their lives – the births of their children.

What mums need from their partner both in the delivery room and before it, is for them to advocate for them. Dads should be mum’s champion, ensuring that when she’s in pain or unable to vocalise her needs, he’s there to step in and be the family’s voice. Be familiar with the process and the hospital and take charge when it comes to paperwork – mum is going through enough without having to do check-in too!

Help them to de-stress

Grayscale Photography of Doctor Holding Baby

You may have learned methods in birthing classes or just know what is good for calming your partner down, but be sure to talk to her through the whole process so you know what she needs. This could involve any number of things, from distracting them to helping them calm down.

Some things to try out are breathing exercises, a gentle massage, telling stories, getting your partner something to eat, drink or cool them down, bringing them for a walk or even just as simple as holding their hand. It’s about feeling like you’re in this together and that she’s not alone in this journey.

Encourage your partner

man in lab suit and mask carrying newborn baby

There will be ups and downs throughout the delivery – and it’s an important part of the role of dad in the delivery room to be able to get their partner through the downs. The pain and exhaustion would overcome anyone eventually, so it’s important to not only distract your partner, but to bolster them against it.

Be sure to tell your partner what a great job they’re doing and how proud you are of what they’re doing – because what they’re doing is amazing! Letting them know you love them and that the child on the way loves them and that they’re acing this incredible act of giving birth is the kind of encouragement they need in that moment. Remind them what they’re pushing for and how soon, you’re both going to get to meet the reason for all the pain.

Be the delivery and recovery room guard

woman lying on hospital bed

During and after birth, mama is going to be sore and utterly exhausted. All she’ll want to do is be with you and baby – and it’s your job to guard that little sanctuary. If she says she doesn’t want her sister in the delivery room, or your mother, or whoever else, it’s your job to be sure they stay away.

You should be the primary contact with the outside world during the delivery, so it’s your job to fend off well-meaning but unwanted visitors. Mum is in a fragile place and gets to decide who she wants around her when she’s this vulnerable. It’s your job to enforce that and make her feel safe and protected.

Do your research and know the birth plan inside out

man in white and black floral button up shirt lying on bed

Doing your research is the best advice you can give a new dad-to-be. While nothing can really prepare you for actually being in the delivery room that first time, knowing how the process usually goes is a huge help when it comes to being there for mum.

From understanding timing the contractions to helping mum through the last of them, knowing the A-Z of childbirth will allows dads to participate more fully in their child’s delivery. Being familiar with your birth plan will also allow for you to advocate for mum when she’s overwhelmed and can’t speak up for herself. Making these decisions as a couple allows you to stick to your guns in the delivery room and make sure your decisions are respected.