Dads and delivery: What an OB-GYN wants you to know
While most expectant couples are familiar with the pushing part of labor and delivery, many do not realize most women spend hours—even days—in the hospital before the baby emerges. It can be a long wait, and anxiety often runs high.
What are some tips for dads during delivery?
Partners play an essential role during the labor and delivery process, says Octavia Cannon, DO, a board-certified osteopathic OB-GYN and co-owner of Arboretum Obstetrics and Gynecology in Charlotte, North Carolina. At their best, they act as a support person and advocate for the patient.
Dr. Cannon, who has delivered over 5,000 babies, shares guidance for dads—or partners—who want to be in the room but don’t know what to expect.
Early labor typically will last approximately eight-to-twelve hours. The pain most women face will ebb and flow depending on their contractions and the aids they decide to use. At a minimum, it’s uncomfortable and stressful.
“What is most important is to be a calming and encouraging force during this part of the process,” says Dr. Cannon. “A great birth partner is supportive, strong, and a good listener.”
Walk together during early labor. Or stay with her as she works through pre-labor activities like sitting on a medicine ball or relaxing in a bath. Fanning her or rubbing her back may also help, as well as applying a cool compress to her neck and forehead, says Dr. Cannon.
During this period, a physician, nurse or midwife may monitor vital signs and keep an eye on the dilation of the cervix.
At this point, contractions become more painful and the patient may choose to have the epidural administered. This portion of the labor process, during which the cervix dilates further from 6 cm to 10 cm, lasts another four-to-eight hours on average and leads to the final stage, sometimes called the transition.
For first-time mothers, the average length of pushing is one-to-two hours, though it varies patient-to-patient. Sometimes the partner does not want to “look down there,” and the mom may feel the same. That’s fine, Dr. Cannon says.
“Mom needs you by her head,” Dr. Cannon shares. “A partner can hold up the head or help flex their partner’s leg while she pushes. Or, they can hold her hand between pushes.”
While most fathers help calm a patient, Dr. Cannon says sometimes the partner has the opposite effect. She has a few tips on how not to detract from the birthing experience.
What not to do during delivery
“Dads are welcome to say whatever they like, but ultimately all decisions about the patient’s body are up to the patient,” says Dr. Cannon. “He’s not helpful when he tries to control the situation independent of the doctor or nurse’s suggestions. We welcome an advocate, but understand that your physician is acting in the mom’s best interest.”
A partner is also not helpful when they have significant anxiety issues, she notes.
“I had a patient who had to drive herself to the hospital while in active labor because her spouse was too nervous,” Dr. Cannon recalls. “Fortunately, there are now many classes available to men as well as therapists who can help fathers-to-be manage their emotions in the lead-up to the main event.”
However, if Dad is uncomfortable, he needs to let someone know, she says. Sometimes partners pass out during delivery. If you start to feel woozy or dizzy, find a chair and sit down, Dr. Cannon suggests.
If stress or anxiety starts to mount, there are ways to refocus.
Dr. Cannon encourages partners to walk outside for a few minutes, get a snack, or step out to give the family an update. Take a beat, she says. And if it is too late to leave, then take a few deep, silent breaths and put your game face on.
It’s the little things
Dr. Cannon has had countless “great dad” moments, but one experience stands out to her.
“The mom was pushing, but in a lot of pain. Even though the dad looked so scared and nervous, he asked her, ‘Do you want me to turn over your pillow to the cool side?’” says Dr. Cannon. “I’ve never forgotten that, and it happened 15 years ago.”
Overall, expectant fathers should try to be involved and be patient, she says. Her closing advice:
- Ask questions.
- Try to come to a few office visits.
- Be supportive.
- Try to do some nice little things for Mom once in a while.
- Take time for yourself, and talk to friends and co-workers who are dads.
- Most of all, enjoy the journey!