Dads have needs, too.
There, I said it...because it’s true! Sure, they may not be as great as the mother’s need to push out a human. But Dads truly have a need to be supportive of their partners in labor.
All Dads feel a need to protect their partners; to create safety. But when Dads try to control situations in birth that are out of their control or aren’t their decision to make in the first place, they can get into trouble. That isn’t to say he can’t still protect, because he can. Dads need to focus on protecting their laboring partner’s comfort and loving feelings. In nurturing the mother, he protects her heart instead of her physical comfort. And because the female body is amazing, the woman’s loving feelings produce oxytocin, the natural pain-relieving hormone. She will be safe in this way, not by escaping the pain but by feeling safe to experience it alongside her partner.
Dads have a need to be viewed as strong. This comes in handy during labor when the partner is exhausted or scared. She can look to him to hold her and emotionally carry her through difficult moments. Dads also have a need to contribute effectively. They want to be helpful and useful. As a doula, I give the Dad jobs during labor so that he is a part of the team and feeling needed. Dads have the need to feel competent. However, birth is not a normal, everyday event for most men. Feeling competent in an unknown environment is nearly impossible. A dad will often ask himself “Am I helping?” because his partner isn’t giving him positive feedback (she’s preoccupied) like he’s used to. A doula will praise his efforts and reassure him that he is, in fact, being helpful.
As birth professionals, doulas are fully competent regarding birth. A doula can guide Dad during labor in understanding the mechanics and normalities of birth so that he is a more effective supporter. With my clients, I get the Dad to understand as much as possible about birth. I discuss what is normal and how he and I can work together to support his laboring partner.
Want to know what I know?
Here are 5 tips to get you started on supporting your partner well:
Birth is noisy, bloody, smelly, sweaty, and raw. It is extremely helpful if the Dad watches at least a couple birth videos during the pregnancy to see and hear examples of how women behave in labor. You will see your partner in new ways and you need to understand that it is normal. Don’t judge her behavior. Let your partner think, feel, and act however she needs to.
Birth doesn’t follow time. Don’t focus on how long birth will take. And don’t ask the nurses or doctor, either. Your partner needs you to be calm, not impatient. If you talk about time, it will tell her that you think she’s not doing a good enough job. Your message to her needs to be that she’s doing a great job and that you are so proud of her.
You can’t fix or take away her pain. Even though you may feel that she wants you to, don’t try. Your laboring partner needs you to simply be present with her and sit with her in it. Be okay with not fixing much. You will be of better service to her if you make sure she feels safe in her environment.
During the birth, it’s mainly up to you to talk to the care providers and gather information about procedures. Your laboring partner will not be in the right frame of mind for reasoning and dialogue. She will depend on you to ask questions and find out everything you can. Then you can relay that information to her calmly in a way that she will receive.
Believe that you can give her the support she needs because her needs will be great. Know that you are enough because she needs you to be fully supportive. If you get too uncomfortable about what is happening, you may begin to check out. Checking your phone, sleeping, or watching tv is most often the last thing your partner wants you to do. If you’re ever unsure, ask her “What can I do for you?”
When the Dad’s needs to protect, to be viewed as strong, and to contribute effectively are met, he is more likely to offer worthwhile support to his partner. Essentially, the Dad needs confidence. He needs to BELIEVE that he can do this. He can be there for his partner. A doula has the confidence (belief) and competence (knowledge) of birth that the Dad is looking for. By bringing a doula to birth, the Dad can “borrow the doula’s confidence”** until he is able to build his own. Even though it’s not talked about much the truth is that the Dad needs to hear “You’re so strong; you’re doing beautifully” just as much as the Mom does.
* This article is written as a result from learning valuable information about the Dad’s experience of birth from Joe Valley, MA. I could probably source 75% of this directly to him. And I hope that you will visit his website for more information about Dads and birth.
** This is a direct quote from Joe Valley of www.empoweredpapa.com.