Labor & Delivery
The Best Advice For Dads During Labor
Nurses share tips for how dads can support their partner on the big day.
Starting a family is an incredibly exciting time — and it can also be incredibly anxiety-inducing. First time parents are figuring out the pregnancy process, trying to prepare their home for the baby’s arrival — not to mention getting nervous about the actual labor and delivery part. The pregnant person in the relationship already has a lot on their plate, but it’s normal and expected for a partner to be nervous about childbirth, too. It can be nerve-wracking for dads to feel helpless as delivery day approaches. However, there’s plenty of ways that Dad can play a supporting role on the big day. Experts offer up tried and true advice for dads during labor.
What are the best tips for dads during labor?
Rest assured that when delivery day arrives, you’ll be surrounded by people who know what they’re doing. Even if you haven’t prepared all that much, as long as Dad is listening to the experts who are guiding you through your delivery process, everything will be OK.
That said, a little preparation during the many months of pregnancy can go a long way in making everyone feel a little more confident going into delivery. “Having a child can elicit feelings of excitement, anticipation, anxiety, and nervousness for both the expectant mother and her partner,” says Jacqueline King, nurse practitioner and former labor and delivery nurse with more than 14 years of experience. “The impact that a birth partner can have on a pregnant woman's birth experience is commonly underestimated. Preparing your partner for labor and childbirth can result in a positive birth experience,” she says.
It’s important to involve your partner or husband in your labor and delivery plans, says Bridget Leslie, a registered nurse and certified childbirth educator. Encourage your partner to be included in making your birth plan, get them comfortable with not knowing everything, and making sure they take care of themselves so they can be there for you.
Preparation is key
Attending prenatal visits together is a great start to developing a sense of involvement for Dads, says King. “This allows for the partner to be involved and ask any questions that may be concerning to them. I've had some of the best prenatal questions come from the partner,” King explains.
If you can, King also recommends investing in quality childbirth education and taking these classes with your partner. “There are online, on demand platforms that allow you to learn from the comfort of your own home, on your own time, and at your own pace,” King says.
Share your expectations with each other, as well as your fears, needs, and joys. “Knowing you both prepared as best you can builds your confidence,” Leslie says.
Even something as simple and fun as preparing the baby’s nursery together can help Dad feel involved and engaged, according to King. Picking out the decor and theme, and shopping for the items on a registry will build up the anticipation and excitement of what’s to come.
Let them know they’re not alone
Help your partner remember they’re part of a whole team of people dedicated to a smooth, happy, healthy, and comfortable labor and delivery, Leslie says. “Your professional caregivers understand that, whether this is your first birthing experience or your tenth, every birth is sacred and personal, and that this is a life milestone for the entire family: the birthing parent, you and your baby.” Everyone is working together for the same common goal — delivering a healthy, happy, baby. Neither you nor your partner are alone in this — there will be others there during labor to help you both who have done this many times before.
Keeping lines of communication open is always important in a healthy relationship, and it doesn’t have to be complicated. Start by making a birth plan together so you’re on the same page, suggests Leslie. “By completing a birth plan together, you’ll more fully understand what your partner wants and will feel more comfortable making decisions when needed. When fathers-to-be have the assurance of an overall ‘game plan’ going into childbirth, they’re more likely to be able to comfortably focus on what matters most at any given time,” she says.
It’s important that the pregnant person feels they can talk about anything and everything with their partner. “Whether it's baby names, what the baby will look like, or how it will feel to be a parent, it's important that you have an open dialogue to discuss your thoughts and feelings surrounding this life changing time,” King adds.
Make sure Dad feels invited to be involved
Make sure you tell your partner how involved you need them to be — whether that’s ensuring they’re your voice during the process or simply being there to hold your hand and your leg while you push — or be right by your side if you’re having a c-section.
“Family-centered care is the norm. Your nurses and your OB-GYN or midwife will consider you— rightly — a vital part of the childbirth experience,” Leslie says. “You know your partner best and will be able to provide insight into making sure that they receive adequate support.”
While the health care team knows the science and art of what they do, you know your partner best. “You know how to affirm and reinforce their strengths, you know how to help their best-self shine through during the trials of labor, and you know how to express your love, appreciation and admiration for what they are doing. As providers, we can only guess at that,” Leslie explains.
Dads need self-care, too
“Remember the flight attendants’ safety speech prior to takeoff? They tell you to take care of yourself first — get the oxygen mask on yourself before you help anyone else,” Leslie says. This also applies to being helpful and present during labor and delivery.
Dad needs to be sure his basic needs are met in order to be strong and ready to be a supportive birth partner, Leslie says. As a general checklist for a dad-to-be or birthing partner, she suggests that dads or birthing partners make sure to:
- Have plenty of healthy snacks packed
- Pack essential toiletries
- Stay hydrated
- Dress in comfy layers
- Never pass up a chance to use the restroom
- Get up and stretch, or go for a short walk if you can
- Nap when the birthing partner naps
- Don’t forget to pack their own medications — doctors and nurses cannot administer those to you because you’re not the patient.
As far as the mental or psychological preparation for labor and delivery? That’s the harder work, according to Leslie. You’re preparing yourself for a life-changing milestone. Her best advice for dads during labor? “Reconcile yourself to the fact that this a lifelong process; so do your best, be open to enjoying the steps along the way, and tell yourself you’re enough, because most of success is showing up and being present,” she says.
When it comes to being the partner during labor and delivery, fear of the unknown — parenthood — and feeling sometimes like a helpless bystander is the hardest part. But that doesn’t mean that you can’t prepare to be helpful, if you and your partner want that. Prepare as much as you can together as a team by creating a birth plan together, taking childbirth classes and prenatal classes, and communicating with each other about what your needs and wants will be on the big day and make plans to ensure those needs are met and fears are taken care of. Both of you can do this.
Jacqueline King, APRN, FNP-BC, and founder of Perfectly Pregnant, a new online childbirth education series.
Bridget Leslie, RN, MSN, at University of Maryland St. Joseph Medical Center.