Dad's Guide to Hospital Birth

Planning to Participate in the Birth

Man holding a laboring woman's hand in the hospital
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Childbirth is a word that can strike fear in the hearts of many dads and partners. This incredible experience is meant to be a meaningful one and yet there are many expectations of dad. Here are some tips on preparing for childbirth:

By studying and learning about childbirth before the big day, you and your partner can make the right decision about what participation level dad will have during childbirth. Sometimes dad wants to be really involved, sometimes dad is nervous. Have you discussed how you're feeling with your partner?

Dads and Childbirth Class

Childbirth Class
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Dads and childbirth class is something many people worry about. Will dad go? Will he be okay during class? Will it be a waste of his time?

The truth is that many dads really enjoy childbirth class. It is a time for them to go and prepare to help mom as she's giving birth. In childbirth class dad will learn about:

These are all confidence builders for dad. The trick is to remember to practice outside of your childbirth class, do the assignments and take it seriously.

How Dads Can Help While Laboring at Home

Man and pregnant woman relaxing in bed in early labor
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There are many ways that dad can help while laboring at home. Remember, these early hours of labor are fairly easily managed with some basic relaxation and distraction. Dad need not panic and worry about an emergency birth at home, just sit back and enjoy these last few hours before the baby comes. Here are somethings dad can do:

  • time a few contractions every hour
  • go for a walk
  • watch a movie
  • make a meal
  • nap with mom
  • remind mom to relax
  • give mom a back rub

Try to keep things light and easy. Sleep if it's possible, even if it's just a nap. Eat and drink to comfort and have fun!

Getting to the Hospital

Man Takes Pregnant Woman to the Hospital to Have a Baby by Car
Photo © Getty Images/Bernd Opitz

Deciding when to go to the hospital may actually take awhile. Mom might ask your opinion. Always try to reflect the question back to her. How does she feel? What did your midwife or doctor advise her? Is she still comfortable at home? Is she worried?

Call your doctor or midwife to see what they advise. You may want to call your doula before deciding whether to go to the hospital. She can help you remember all the things that your practitioner advised and help advise you on how to stay comfortable. You may even be ready for your doula to come help you before you leave for the hospital. Both of these people can provide you with advice on staying calm and comfortable so that you arrive at the hospital at just the right time.

Once you decide to go to the hospital, remember not to rush. Drive safely. This will help mom stay comfortable on the ride over and not worry her about the driving.

Once you are at the hospital, you will go to the entrance that they told you to go to at your hospital tour or childbirth class. You will likely be asked for your insurance card and birth plan. Depending on your hospital's set up, you may go to triage first. Here the nurse will monitor the baby and check your cervix during a vaginal exam, to see if you are really in labor. You may actually be sent home if you get to the hospital too early.

Pain Relief Help from Dad

Partner helping laboring mom in pool of water
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Dads often worry how they can help relieve pain for moms in labor. There are many things that dads can do that are very helpful. The first thing is to know what's on mom's birth plan. Is she planning a natural childbirth? What types of comfort measures is she wanting to use and in what ways can you help her? If she is opting for IV medications or an epidural, do you know when these medications are available and how to get them? What will your role be when these are used? These are all things to discuss before she is in labor and to write them on the birth plan, discussing them with the practitioner and doula or other helpers.

If mom is opting for a natural childbirth, or if it is simple not time for other medications, here are somethings that you can do to help ease the pain of labor:

If mom has decided to use and epidural or other medication, you are still needed, just in a different way:

Your doula will also be able to help guide you in the many options that you have for pain relief and how to care for mom in labor. Your practitioner and the nursing staff will check on you, but are rarely there for long periods of time until it is actually time to have your baby. This surprises many couples, but is the standard in most hospitals.

You may also find that there are added interventions. You may have learned about some of these in childbirth class, like fetal monitoring. There are others that may be a surprise to you, like breaking the water, IV fluids and others.

Dads and Pushing

Dad helping mom in labor
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Pushing is at the very end of labor. When mom has an urge to push the nurses, your doula, and/or her practitioner will help you in choosing positions for pushing. You may go through several positions during the course of pushing which can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours.

If mom has an epidural, she may need some help when pushing. It may also take a bit longer. This is when your medical care team might suggest that you simply wait for baby to move down a bit before you actually begin trying to push. The uterus will continue to contract and push the baby down without effort from mom.

As the baby is actually crowning, you may wish to encourage mom to watch in a mirror, or even to reach down and touch the baby's head. This usually also provides her with an incentive and a smile. Since mom is working very hard, try to offer her sips of water between pushes. Wipe her brow with cool cloths and encourage her. Let her know how proud you are of her. You might also talk to your practitioner about dad helping with the birth.

You may also see some interventions, including the use of vacuum extraction or forceps or episiotomy. Talk to your provider about these prior to labor and before they are used when possible.

Dads and C-Sections

Dad in th operating room with twins.
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In most cases, dad can stay with mom for a c-section birth. The one big exception is for emergencies births or when general anesthesia is used.

Mom will usually be taken to the operating room (OR), while dad waits in the pre-operative area or in the LDR room. A nurse will give him scrubs to change into to be with mom during the surgery. Once everyone is ready, the nurse will take dad into the OR and sit him next to mom's head.

Dad will not be able to see the surgery because of a large screen blocking the view. Mom or dad can ask for a mirror to watch the baby being pulled out. Once the baby is out, the doctor will usually show the baby over the screen quickly and then pass the baby to the nurse to clean off and ensure baby is well.

Once it is determined that the baby is stable, dad can hold the baby. Dad should show the baby to mom, placing the baby cheek to cheek. Dad may even have the doula or a nurse help assist him with getting the baby to nurse. To be able to breastfeed in the OR takes a few sets of hands, but it can be beneficial for the baby to be skin to skin. If mom can't be skin to skin with baby, dad can also try to hold the baby skin to skin.

Dads and Early Postpartum

New Family at Birth
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Once the baby is born, dad can help by ensuring mom is taken care of so that she can focus on the baby and breastfeeding. Dad can help by moderating the flow of visitors to the postpartum room or even the LDR in the early hours postpartum.

If the baby has to go to the hospital nursery, either for routine care or for a problem, dad should go with the baby. This ensures that someone is with the baby at all times. It also allows dad to report back to mom about how the baby is doing.

Be sure to take pictures of these early hours and days. Mom is so busy with baby and trying to get used to breastfeeding that this might not be on her mind.

Dad can also use the birth plan to help figure out what is important to mom in these early days when it comes to baby.