In days gone by, fathers weren’t allowed in the delivery room, but much has changed since that time. In the Cayman Islands and many other countries, fathers are not only allowed but are encouraged to be in the delivery room, to support the mother and witness the birth of their child. It’s a special moment to be a part of, and something as a dad you’re likely never to forget.
But if this is your first time in the delivery room (or even if it’s not) you may be feeling a little uncertain or overwhelmed. There’s a lot of information around for mothers to help them prepare for the birth of their child (and rightly so!) but as the dad, it’s important for you to be prepared for this experience too.
Your primary role as a dad in the delivery room is to support the mother of your child. They will need you at every stage of the labor process, for support and encouragement. How you do this may vary, so it’s important to talk to the mother of your child and see what they need and would like you to do for them.
Before the birth, first-time mothers, in particular, may not know what exactly they will need you to do during labor. That’s why it’s important for both of you to work with your OBGYN and midwife team to make a birthing plan. Understanding your partner’s wishes can help you both to be on the same page, and should your partner not be in a position to communicate their plan, you will need to work with the delivery team to ensure that their wishes are upheld (as much as is medically possible).
While your partner prepares themselves for birth, you should consider how you can support them with logistics surrounding the birth. How will you get to the hospital, how will you know labor has started and how will you notify the birthing team? These questions will all be answered in either your obstetric appointment with your OBGYN or your midwife appointment at around 36 weeks. During labor, or afterward, when the baby has arrived, you may need to make calls to friends and family to provide updates.
Birthing classes aren’t just for mothers. You can attend birthing classes at HSA or Doctors hospital. You will have ongoing conversations with your maternity team about labor and delivery. At 36 weeks your midwife will provide all the information you need about the physiology of birth and what to expect and how to cope during labor. Educate yourself on what each stage of labor involves, as it can be distressing to see the mother of your child in pain.
Here are a couple of tips for how you might be able to help in each stage.
1. Early Labor – As contractions begin, your partner will likely need distracting. Take the initiative to offer distractions to your partner; put some music on, take a walk with them, run a bath, offer to rub their feet. Consider researching beforehand various distraction techniques for during labor, and read the room to figure out what your spouse might find most helpful. Some mothers may appreciate distractions like TV during labor, but others may prefer it switched off. Talk with your partner and discuss some things you might offer to assist them.
2. Active labor – Contractions will now be coming closer together, and pain will likely be intensifying for your partner. Consider the lessons you learned in birthing class, such as breathing techniques. Or ask your midwife for tips and assistance to keep the mother as calm as possible. Handholding and verbal encouragement are important. But don’t take it personally if this isn’t always received well. Remember your partner is going through one of the most intense experiences of their life, so some screaming (which may be directed at you) is pretty normal. Support them as best you can.
3. Delivery – This is the moment you’ve been waiting for. Try and stay calm, as best you can. If the labor has progressed well with no complications your partner will eventually be encouraged to push. Reassure them that they’re almost there, as you begin to see the baby. Depending on their birthing position your partner may need to brace against your body as they push. Keep encouraging, and if you’re able, take a moment to watch the actual birth take place.
4. The baby is here! – Seeing your child for the first time can be incredibly emotional for both mother and father, so don’t be worried about shedding a few tears. You might like to take a few photos of the mother and baby’s first cuddle. Then it’s your turn to hold your baby. The midwives and doctors will be performing the important initial checks on the mother at this time. If surgery is needed, or the baby is needed to be taken to the nursery the delivery team will let you know your options. You are often able to accompany your baby to the nursery, which is often a good idea, especially if the mother needs to be taken to surgery. Take the time when you’re ready to call friends and family to give them an update.
While the medical team assisting in the birth of your child will do their best to stick to the mother’s birthing plan, sometimes changes are necessary. Rest assured that changes will only be made if medically necessary for the safety of the mother and the child. If intervention is needed, it’s important that you stay calm so you can assist the mother in making a decision and understand what is happening.