Fathers. If you believe the movies, on the big day, most of them either race off to the hospital in such confusion they leave you in the driveway with your suitcase or simply pass out from the excitement. While several physicians confide that new dads do faint on occasion – they swear it’s rare – the role of the father during labor and delivery involves more than serving as a source of foibles and flubs.
"Nowadays, I think more and more fathers like playing an active role in the delivery. Although many remain hesitant as to what they should do, most feel they should participate in the birth of their child, even if it means just standing there," said Susan Svientek, MD, chairman of the Obstetrics and Gynecology department of St. Clement Health System.
Contrary to the days when fathers paced around the waiting room, today’s dads run the gamut from silent supporters to videographers who tape every moment of the blessed event. The benefits extend beyond the comfort it provides to the mother. It may set the stage for a child’s future growth.
"The father’s increased involvement has far-reaching effects," said David Super, MD, assistant director of ambulatory obstetrics and gynecology for the residency program at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center. "Strong evidence exists to show early contact by both parents from the time of the baby’s birth truly impacts long-term development."
Before the big day, the most important role a father can play is that of student. Physicians agree that education – from attending prenatal classes and doctor visits to reading – will best prepare fathers to help during labor and delivery. Gaining a sense of what lies ahead minimizes the likelihood of surprises, putting the father more at ease, allowing him to participate.
Some uncertainty is bound to remain. "The fear of the unknown is certainly there. But the majority of fathers feel relieved once they go into the delivery room and see that everything will be OK," said Craig Boyd, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist with a practice at St. John’s Mercy Medical Center.
Even if dad seems reluctant right now, have no fear. The most apprehensive father can end up serving as a strong support. "The majority of the fathers are in awe. They are often surprised by their interest in the birth. Going in, I think most of them worry they won’t want to watch. But they get caught up in the moment," said Fred Durer, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at St. Luke’s Hospital.
Still, everyone has limits. Fathers shouldn’t do anything that truly makes them uncomfortable. Couples should work together in advance to determine what role he will play.
Then, helpful dads can do the following:
- Bring a little piece of home – The delivery room doesn’t have to look institutional. Bring in pictures of other family members, the dogs or whatever makes it homier.
- "Gopher" this and "gopher" that – During labor and delivery mothers need lots of things – juice, ice chips, washcloths, etc. Unless the physician says otherwise, fathers should plan on fetching them all.
- Distract mom – Dad should do what he can to take mom’s mind off the contractions. During light labor, that can include playing cards or Scrabble with her. Massage can help alleviate the pain.
- Provide focus – Although she can feel the contractions, fathers should coach mom through them, letting her know when they have peaked.
- Relax – Fathers who remain calm will help mothers do the same.
- Mind their manners – Out of tension or stress, some fathers forget life’s courtesies. So keep in mind all mom must go through. And be kind to the ancillary staff – they want to help.
- Take the abuse – A father shouldn’t take his significant other’s comments personally. Smile, nod, and know she will not appreciate a sarcastic response – no matter how witty.
- Shepherd the rest of the family – While excitement is understandable, the hospital staff needs to do its job. Keep other family members informed and out of the way.
- Know their limits – There’s no shame in taking a breather. If dad feels overwhelmed by the whole situation, he should step away from the room for a moment, for the benefit of everyone. Perhaps the most important thing a father can do is serve as a source of reassurance.
"The father’s role is very important. The pregnancy, labor and delivery take a huge psychological toll on the mother. With support, everything should turn out fine," said Kody Kunda, MD, an obstetrician/gynecologist at St. Anthony’s Medical Center.
Editorial provided by Jennifer Maxfield, Marketing, Unity Health, St. Louis, Missouri.