Expectant dads used to pace the halls outside the delivery room while the women gave birth. Now they're expected to be right there, guiding their partners through childbirth.
What if you're not sure you want to take on that responsibility? You're not alone. Studies show that most men want to comfort their partner during childbirth, but they don't really want to be her labor coach. Relax. You don't have to do it all. There are many roles dads can take.
Deciding on Your Role
Most likely, your wife or partner will want you with her for support. Then you should decide together how active you will be. Consider both of your personalities, how you relate to each other, and your expectations for labor and delivery as a couple. Ideally, she should receive the support she needs and you should help out at a level that's comfortable for you.
Here are five roles for dads these days. Any one of them is okay, as long as it works for you both.
1. Be a Coach
This is the most hands-on role. You'll help your partner relax and push, cheer her on, and be her advocate with the hospital staff. In some cases, you may get to lift the baby out and put it on her tummy.
At childbirth classes, you'll learn about each stage of labor, how your partner may feel or act during them, and how to guide her through breathing and relaxation exercises. No matter how involved you decide to be, childbirth classes can help you know what to expect and ease your mind about childbirth.
2. Share the Coaching
Labor can be a long, hard haul – for both of you. You may want to have a friend or family member there to assist. This person can help with the coaching and stay with your partner when you need to eat or take breaks. An extra person can provide emotional and physical support for both of you.
3. Be a Teammate
If you want to be in the game but don't want to quarterback, you may like this role. You provide encouragement and help out when your partner asks, but you're content to let her or the nurses tell you what and how much to do.
In this case, you may want to hire a doula, an experienced labor "caregiver." Doulas usually act as patient advocates and hands-on coaches. A doula stays with you when the nurse needs to disappear for long periods of time. Having a doula can free you up to focus on your partner and the birth.
4. Cheer From the Sidelines
Many couples choose this option. You're there to hold your partner's hand and rub her back. You may snap pictures or take videos of your baby's birth. You may even cut the umbilical cord. But you're happy to let others do the hands-on work.
Jeffrey Kuller, MD, professor of obstetrics and gynecology at Duke University Medical Center, says that providing support is actually the most important thing dads can bring to the labor and delivery. "Dads don't really need to be the coach," Kuller says. "That's what we're supposed to do."
5. Leave It to the Pros (and Wait Outside)
In some cases, a woman doesn't want her baby's father there. If you haven't been involved in the pregnancy or are estranged from her, there's a good chance she won't. Whatever the reason, if your presence in the room makes it stressful for her, it can make labor and delivery more difficult. Then it's better for you to be elsewhere.
For most dads, though, being with their partner is a good choice. In one study of how new fathers viewed the experience, 81% said it was rewarding and enjoyable. Regardless of how involved you choose to be, witnessing that final push that sends your child into the world can be an experience like no other.