Not sure about being at the birth?
If you're not sure about being at your baby's birth, being well prepared can help you feel more confident.
You can work through any concerns about the birth by discussing them with your partner. Having the right information can also help ease your worries.
But if you're sure that you don't want to be there, let your partner know as soon as possible and together you can find another birth support person. You could talk about where you'll be during the birth and how you'll be involved afterwards.
Preparing for the birth
It can help to get ready for birth by going with your partner to birth classes and reading about the different stages of labour. This way you'll know what's likely to help at each stage. It will also help you understand how early labour progresses so you don't rush your partner to hospital too soon (if that's where your baby will be born).
Some men find it helps to watch births - for example, on YouTube or TV. Others visit a birthing room to have a look at the equipment.
You might also want to plan your route to hospital or the birth centre, where you'll park your car if you're driving, and which entrance to go to.
If you and your partner are thinking about a birth plan, this is a good time to find out from your partner how you can support her during labour. What she wants and needs might change on the day, though, so think of the birth plan as a guide and stay flexible.
It's a good idea to share your birth plan with the health professionals who'll be looking after you. This will help them understand your preferences. They might also have useful suggestions for your plan.
Another part of planning for birth is packing the hospital bag. Your partner might pack it herself, or you might like to do it together.
You or she could write a list of things for the bag - for example, music, favourite lip balm, undies and so on. It's a good idea to get familiar with what's in the bag so you can grab things quickly when needed. Or you could offer to help organise or pack the things on her list.
And it's a good idea to pack some snacks for yourself - labour can go on for a very long time.
There are many ways you can welcome your baby to the world. You can stroke your baby while your partner has skin-to-skin contact. Some men might also like to cut the umbilical cord after the baby is born. If you want to cut the cord, speak with your health professional. You'll be given safety scissors to do the job.
Your birth support role: vaginal birth
Basically, you are 'the rock'.
You'll be the one giving non-stop emotional and physical support, encouragement and reassurance.
You'll also be guiding your partner through breathing and relaxation techniques and reminding her of other information she learned in pregnancy and birth classes. You can also offer massage and help her get into comfortable positions.
Lots of men find that their partners are pretty blunt about what they do and don't want during labour and birth. Don't be surprised if she tells you to do different things at different times.
It'll also be your job to speak up and make sure she gets what she needs. If she's in the middle of a contraction or getting very tired, she might not be able to speak for herself. If you find yourself in this situation, try to stay calm and polite when you're talking to staff - they're doing their best to look after your partner and you.
For example, if your doctor or midwife suggests an unplanned medical procedure or pain medication, ask for information and time to discuss it with your partner, unless it's an emergency.
Some men can feel strange, unsure or upset about their partner having a vaginal examination. It might help to know that this examination helps the doctors or midwives find out whether your partner is in labour, how far her labour has gone, and what position your baby is in. With this information, they can tell your partner when to start pushing and what positions or movements to use so your baby can be born.
I had pain where she had pain - I was trying to control it. She was screaming and she said, 'Massage me there'. I massaged there and she said, 'Don't do that!' You just have to be there in every possible capacity and that's the joy of it, because in a sense you lose yourself to it.
- Phillip, father of two
Your birth support role: caesarean birth
Just having you there in the operating theatre will reassure your partner, but you'll also need to encourage her with calm and positive words.
If your partner is having a planned caesarean, you can help by knowing what's involved before, during and after the operation. Start by finding out more about planned caesareans and what to expect after a caesarean.
If your partner needs an emergency caesarean, she might be exhausted from hours of labour, as well as worried and anxious. Depending on how your partner is going emotionally and physically, it might be up to you to speak with health professionals on her behalf.
There might be times when you won't be allowed in the operating theatre. It's still a good idea to speak with health professionals on your partner's behalf before and after her caesarean.
When you need a break or you're finding it hard to cope with birth
If you need a break, time it for between contractions or wait until the midwife is there. This way you can get a breather or go to the toilet or make calls knowing your partner is in good hands.
It's also worth knowing that the sight of blood can make some men feel faint. If you begin to feel light-headed, sit down straight away - before you fall down. Put your head between your knees and take deep, slow breaths in and out. The light-headedness will soon pass.
As part of getting ready for these aspects of birth, you could think about how you'll stay calm during birth, and do some practice. You might use deep, steady breathing or some other method that you know works for you.
Things you can do
- Go to birth classes and any sessions just for expectant dads.
- If you and your partner are writing a birth plan, find out from your partner how you can support her during labour - but be flexible on the day.
- Share a copy of the birth plan with the health professionals who'll be involved in your partner's care.
- Know what's in your partner's hospital bag, or help her organise things on her list for the bag.
- Plan to keep the birth environment calm, nurturing and positive.
- Think about whether you'd like to cut the cord.