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Labor Support Tips for Dads

The day my son was born, I walked the hospital corridors for three hours with my husband, Jeff. He kept me company, held my hand, and made corny remarks like "Fetus, don't fail me now!" to take my mind off the contractions. Could I have made it through childbirth without him? Probably. Would I have wanted to? Not on your life.

In the delivery room, it's up to Mom to do all the pushing, but Dad plays a big role in the birthing process too. Labor can be an overwhelming and scary experience for first-time mothers. Just by being there, you're providing your partner with much-needed comfort and encouragement. The tips here can help you feel a little more secure in your scrubs.

Labor may be exciting, but it can also be tedious. In fact, you may spend hours doing nothing more than waiting. Take your wife's mind off her discomfort by keeping her busy. "If your partner has an epidural, there may be less need for physical support during the beginning stages of labor," says Sarah Kilpatrick, M.D., Ph.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Illinois, in Chicago. "Instead, you should be ready to keep her occupied with music, conversation, and card games."

Don't wait until your partner is in the throes of gut-wrenching contractions to find out what kind of assistance she'd like from you. Discuss her birth plan in advance -- find out how she feels about episiotomies and what her expectations of the doctor are. "When Mom is in pain, Dad can often articulate her needs better and make sure her wishes are met," Dr. Kilpatrick says. At the same time, be flexible once labor has started -- your partner might change her mind, or the situation may call for a new plan of action. "Nobody wants a C-section, but remember that things don't always go as planned," says labor nurse Lisa Castillo, of George Washington University Hospital, in Washington, D.C. "Still, feel free to ask questions about your options -- especially if your wife is in too much pain to ask herself."

"A woman can become panicky during labor," says Cathleen Maiolatesi, a nurse at Johns Hopkins Hospital, in Baltimore. "And the best person to get her back on track with her breathing is her partner. After all, you know her better than anyone else." As the contractions grow more intense, reassure her that she's doing a great job and that you love her. You can also help your partner by feeding her ice chips or wiping the sweat off her brow. And though some women don't like to be touched during labor, others appreciate a neck or back rub.

When I gave birth to my son, my husband began counting along with the nurse during my contractions, which I found really annoying. He stopped immediately when I shot him a do-it-and-die look. It wasn't rational, but I appreciated it when he stopped, no questions asked. "Women in labor can be more sharp-tongued than usual, so try not to take it personally," Maiolatesi says. "If you do feel hurt, ask a nurse to watch your partner while you take a break." On a different note: Let the medical staff know if your wife's labor is starting to affect you physically. Many men get light-headed in the delivery room. If you feel queasy, sit down or step outside for some air.

During labor, your partner probably won't be focused on starting a scrapbook -- but for the rest of her life, she'll cherish any moments you capture on film. "When my wife saw the photos of our son's birth, she discovered things she had either forgotten or been too emotional to remember," says Gulu Gambhir, of Annandale, Virginia. If you have a video camera, discuss ahead of time what should be caught on tape. (Not all women want a camera directed between their legs.) Above all, make sure your efforts aren't disruptive to the doctor and nurses -- or your wife.

After hours of sweat and maybe a few tears, the big moment is here -- the arrival of your little bundle of joy. That's where your job comes in: cutting the umbilical cord. If you want to cut the cord, be sure to let the doctor know. If you'd rather leave it to the professionals, simply decline if offered the opportunity. And don't be surprised if you find yourself overwhelmed by emotions -- you've just been through an awe-inspiring experience too. "Being with my wife, Clare, through her labor and delivery was one of the greatest experiences of my life," says Mike Mochizuki, of Bethesda, Maryland. "It was miraculous to see our son come into the world."

Your wife's resting, the baby's in the nursery, and you've contacted the relatives. Think it's time for a nap? Not yet. "Mom has been through a lot both physically and emotionally," says Claire Lerner, L.C.S.W., a child-development specialist with the nonprofit group Zero To Three, in Washington, D.C. "It's a good time to show her how much you love her." Bring flowers, splurge on chocolates, or write her a love note. Whatever you do, find a special way to mark the occasion. "My husband showed up with roses and a Scrabble game -- something we had played endlessly while we were dating," says Aimee Ellis, of Agawam, Massachusetts. "I was so touched that I couldn't stop crying."

Copyright © 2001 Kristin Lord. Reprinted with permission from the June 2001 issue of Parents magazine.