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Most dads really don’t know what labor and birth is going to be like, except for what they’ve seen in the movies and TV shows. Which they need to forget about! Having a baby within 15 to 30 minutes (we wish!) is unrealistic. I will say that labor can sometimes (very rarely) happen really quickly, but the majority of the time it doesn’t. Especially if this is her first baby. So when labor actually happens in real life, dads can feel overwhelmed and clueless as to what to do and how to best help and support their wife/partner when she needs help the most.
I’ve had several dads ask me, “what are the top things that I need to know to best support my wife during the birth of our baby?” So I’ve come up with a list of what I believe are the best ways to support your partner through what’s going to be the biggest experience of your life. Here are my 7 tips for dads to help you be the perfect birth partner.
1. Know What to Expect During Labor
One of the best ways to be a great support to your laboring partner is to know what to expect during labor. When you know what to expect, you both will feel a lot more empowered and knowledgeable about what’s going on. This is why I highly recommend that you prepare for your baby’s birth by going to a childbirth class with your partner. All hospitals and birth centers hold classes and–in most towns–there are several offsite classes that are offered in each community. Be sure to look into all of your options and talk to your partner about which class is best for the both of you since each type of class focuses on different topics and comfort techniques during labor. By taking a class or series of classes, you will learn what is normal and not normal and you will be able to help her every step of the way.
Note: I actually prefer and recommend non-hospital classes to my clients so that there aren’t any restrictions as to what the instructor can teach or how they can answer your questions. I’m not saying that hospital classes aren’t good classes. I just prefer that my clients learn all of their options that are available to them at each part of labor, about what to expect, and what is normal. I don’t want doctors demanding the instructor to leave out any information that could be helpful to you and your partner during her labor just because it’s an “inconvenience” to them.
2. Help Time Her Contractions
First, let me say, you don’t need to time her contractions when she first starts feeling them. Once you both recognize that they are getting closer together and she is saying that they are getting stronger, that’s a good time to start timing them to see how long they are and how far apart they are.
I always recommend that all of my clients download a “contraction timer” app on their phones. There are plenty of free ones that you can download. Getting an app makes timing and keeping track of your partner’s contractions so much easier. If you do not have a smart phone, make sure your watch has a readable second hand and you have a pen and paper to record them. You will time your partner’s contractions from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next and count the frequency of each contraction in minutes.
Dad Tip: If she is having regular intense contractions lasting 30 seconds or longer, your partner is probably in early labor. Make sure that she is getting enough rest during early labor so she has enough energy for active labor, transition, and pushing.
3. Don’t Go to the Hospital Too Early
I know that it’s so exciting when your wife announces that she is having contractions, but don’t rush to the hospital the minute she says she’s in labor! If you do, more than likely her contractions aren’t frequent enough, strong enough, and her cervix probably hasn’t dilated enough to be admitted into labor and delivery. That means they will turn you both away so you will have to go back home.
To save yourself from making the trip several times, try to not watch the clock and help your partner take her mind off of the contractions. Again, you do want to make sure that she is getting plenty of rest so that she has energy for the rest of labor and pushing, but you can mix it with some activities. You can take a walk, go to the mall or a museum, watch a movie, bake some cookies (your nurses will love that if you bring them some!), whatever it is that she will enjoy and not get exhausted from, you should do that to take her mind off of labor. Home is a much more comfortable place to be in anyways when she’s in labor. At home, she can eat, drink, walk around freely without being hooked up to an IV or monitors, and she can grab a nap in her own bed. And so can you!
Remember, as a general rule, if the contractions are five minutes apart or closer, last one minute or longer, and continue in that pattern for at least an hour, you can make your way to go the hospital.
If her labor starts at night, help her get back to sleep for a few hours. Try rubbing her lower back and/or put a warm compress/heating pad on her lower back to relieve some of the pain.
If her water breaks first, here are a list of questions that you need to ask her:
- “When your water broke, was it a gush of fluid or just a trickle?”
- This will let you know if it was a high tear (trickle of water) or a low tear (big gush).
- Note: Water will continue to come out the entire time until baby is born so don’t worry about it still leaking.
- “Is the fluid clear or is there is a color to it?”
- If there it is a yellow, brown, or greenish color in the water, then it means that there is meconium (baby’s first poop) in the water and it could mean that your baby is in distress since it’s already pooped inside.
- “Does it have a distinct foul smell?”
- Not that the water/amniotic fluid is odorless, but it shouldn’t smell completely foul. If there is a very distinct foul smell, it could be an infection.
- “Do you feel the baby still moving?”
- This is the MOST important question. If the water broke and there was a big gush, the umbilical cord could have slipped through the cervix (cord prolapse) and cut off the oxygen and circulation to your baby. If she does not feel the baby move, have her drink some juice and lay on her side. Wait ten-minutes and if she still does not feel the baby move after that, have her get on her knees, put her head down, and stick her butt in the air to get baby off of the cord and call 9-1-1.
If the color is clear, there is no distinct smell, and she can feel baby move, you have up to 12 hours to get to the hospital. So if she is not feeling any contractions after her water broke, have her get up, go for a walk, sit on an exercise/birthing ball, do nipple stimulation, press on acupressure points, etc. to help contractions come. Because if you go to the hospital and there are no contractions, but her water is broken, they will not let you go back home and she will be induced. This will then double her chances of having a c-section if she is a first time mother.
4. Be an Active Participant
During early labor, remind your wife to stay hydrated and drink plenty of liquids. Pour her a glass of water, gatorade or pedialyte (even better), or herbal tea to ward off dehydration. Make sure she doesn’t eat anything too heavy or acidic because that can cause her to vomit during her labor. Offer her light things like fruit, a bagel, trail mix, yogurt, broth, a protein shake, or anything bland. She will not get anything to eat at the hospital (maybe a sugar-free popsicle) while she’s in labor so she needs to have something for energy.
At the hospital or birth center there will be a lot of experienced people around to help you, but you will be your partner’s most important support. So be there for her. Some things that you can do to help her are:
- hold her hand
- help her focus on slowing down her breathing
- massage her
- do counter pressure on her hips and/or sacrum
- get the room the right temperature for her
- dim the lights to calm the atmosphere
- helping her change positions at least every hour
- remind her to use the restroom every hour so her bladder doesn’t hold up baby’s head
- walk with her through the halls
- get her ice chips
- get a wet, cold wash cloth and wipe her forehead and brow to cool her down
- coach her through each contraction and have her relax all of her muscles
- take pictures or video to remember this incredible moment — you will only have this moment once with this baby
- get a hot or cold pack to relieve pain in her lower abdomen and lower back
- keep track of the music that is playing so she can stay relaxed (if she wants music)
- tell her that she is doing an amazing job and that you are so proud of her
- write down when things happened and when funny things were said so that you have a record and can remember special moments that happened on this big day
- if she has an epidural: help her rotate from her left side to her right side and sitting up every 30 minutes to an hour and keep her pelvis open (the running man position)
Basically, do whatever she needs when she asks you to do something. If she gets frustrated with you, don’t take it personally. She is having a hard time and needs your support.
5. Know What She Wants and Be Her Advocate
After you both have taken a childbirth class, talk to your partner about what she does and doesn’t want during her labor and birth of the baby. This is essentially discussing your birth plan. If you decide not to hire a doula to help you during this time, YOU are the one who needs to take charge and let the doctor, midwife or nurse know what she wants or needs in each moment. To be able to do that, communication during her pregnancy is key so you know what she wants.
The doctor or midwife and nurses are there to primarily make sure your partner and baby are healthy and doing well during labor and birth. But you have a big role in helping your partner get comfortable and in communicating her wishes. Sometimes your care provider will recommend something that isn’t 100% necessary so it’s up to you to know what your partner wants so that you can clearly advocate for her and your wishes.
If your partner and you have written a birth plan, make sure you bring it with you to the hospital so that you can share it with your nurses and the doctor on-call. That way they can know your wishes and you won’t have to remember and speak up each moment about a preference, want, and/or need. Be sure to bring more than one copy in case it gets lost!
6. Be Flexible and Be Prepared
I always tell my clients that you and your partner may have a certain way that you want your baby to be born, but at the end of the day, it’s ultimately up to your baby. If you baby is breech, is tangled in the umbilical cord, has a low heartrate, etc. things can change. As long as baby is doing okay, you can try other things before resorting straight to a c-section, but you need to be flexible with your plan and be prepared if changes do occur. It’s important to ask questions and watch videos about vaginal births and c-sections before the big day. You don’t want to be surprised or unsure of what’s going on because it can cause a lot of fear in you and your partner which is something neither of you want to experience during the birth of your baby.
7. Hire a Doula
If all of this sounds like a lot to you and it is too much to have all on your shoulders, that’s okay. And that’s normal. Men used to not even be allowed in the delivery room and now they are expected to be experts at supporting laboring women. They are supposed to know how to best help their partners have a beautiful and happy birth experience. It’s a lot to handle. To massage her, get her ice, fan her until she cools down, coach her with each contraction, keep her comfortable, know which position for her to get in next, advocate for her, and so much more. You are also becoming a father in this moment too. Doulas honor all of this.
Hiring a doula will allow you to have another support person in the room that is specifically there to keep you and your partner informed on what’s going on and what your choices are, keep your partner as comfortable as much as possible with massage, counter-pressure, hydrotherapy, be your advocate and the list goes on. I always tell dads that in any sport you need a good coach to help you prepare to have a winning game. Doulas do the same thing and are your coach during your labor and birthing time. By hiring a doula, you can enjoy more of this time becoming a dad, have a better outcome and “win” the game.
There it is! My 7 tips for dads during labor and birth to help you be the perfect birth partner. Comment below if you have any questions or if there is anything you would add to the list. 🙂