When it comes to childbirth, popular media often love to portray fathers as helpless and incompetent during labor and birth. When labor starts, the mother-to-be calmly manages her contractions as the dad sets into a panic, leaving behind the pre-packed bag, taking a wrong turn to the hospital, or running the halls searching for a nurse.
In reality, dads often play a critical role in supporting mothers during pregnancy and birth and advocating for safe care. As Father's Day approaches, Lamaze International wants expectant dads to know that childbirth education goes a long way when it comes to learning how to be the most helpful, from the moment they find out they're expecting through the first contraction and beyond.
Cherington Shucker and Darin Gehrke of New York welcomed their first child earlier this year and talked about their experience in Lamaze's Push for Your Baby video, "Parents Push": www.Lamaze.org/pushforyourbaby-video. Both agreed that Darin's participation in childbirth education classes enabled him to take an active, positive role in the delivery of their child.
"To help ease the pain of childbirth, I was able to support Cherington in using various types of pain-relief techniques," said Gehrke. "We knew in advance that there were many natural options to find greater comfort, and it was especially important for us to avoid any unneeded medical interventions that could lead us down the road to a cesarean birth."
The importance of fathers advocating for the best care is underscored by persistent and growing gaps in the quality of care women and babies often receive. A recent report by Consumer Reports says, too often, unnecessary medical interventions are used in birth, increasing risks to mothers and babies.i For example, unnecessary cesarean births can come with unintended health consequences for mom and baby, including breathing problems for baby or complications in future pregnancies for mom. One recent study published in the Archives of Disease in Childhood even suggests that babies born by cesarean may have about twice the risk of becoming obese as infants delivered vaginally.ii
Other interventions pose challenges to the health of moms and babies too, including early induction (performed before 39 weeks of pregnancy), epidurals and electronic fetal monitoring.
"Dads can play a key role early on in pregnancy to help mom and baby get the care that's safest and healthiest," said Lamaze President-elect Tara Owens Shuler, MEd, CD(DONA), LCCE, FACCE, Director of Continuing Education, Special Projects, and Lamaze Childbirth Educator Program for the Duke AHEC Program. "He's a very important advocate, and can provide emotional support for mom throughout labor and birth."
Here are five tips to help dads prepare for and provide support through pregnancy, labor and birth:
1) Take a childbirth education class with your partner. The benefits of a good childbirth education class can often be overlooked. A class can help dads, and other support people, learn about the different options and interventions, and get the tools and knowledge to push for the best care during pregnancy, labor and birth. It can also spark the conversation between and among couples, so you can learn from one another and interact with other expectant parents in your shoes.
2) Work with mom to plan. Talk things through with one another and with your care provider. Chances are greater for a positive birth outcome if support begins early on in pregnancy. Discuss the different options for a safe and healthy birth, and map a pathway to get there. Labor and birth can be a dynamic process so it's vital to work with mom to create Plan A, Plan B and Plan C.
3) Learn how to be an advocate for mom. Birth is an intense process, emotionally and physically. It's important for dads to be informed and know how to advocate for her wishes. She may come under pressure from family members or healthcare providers and the father's voice is important in pushing for the safest, healthiest care.
4) Find out about techniques to help minimize the pain. There are many natural ways, such as relaxation, to find greater comfort in childbirth and help labor progress. Every woman is unique and has her own ways of feeling safe, comfortable and relaxed. Whether she uses a hot shower or bath, hip squeezes and pressure points, or birth ball exercises, dads can help mom identify the pain-relief tools that are best suited for her individual needs.
5) Be prepared to welcome baby into the world (and help mom recover). Birth can be exhausting for both mom and baby, and dad can help to support both after birth. He can help mom by managing visitor times, rocking baby to sleep after feeding, and making sure mom is fed and gets enough rest.
Expectant dads can find out even more at www.PushForYourBaby.com.