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Passing out cigars, or just passing out – that’s how Hollywood suggests dads spend the day their baby arrives. And, in fact, many men really do feel at a loss during the birth, wishing they could help their partner but unsure of what to do, and even feeling unwelcome. Today, nearly all birthing rooms are open to fathers. Some hospitals only let Dad in at the very last minute, while others allow him to take part throughout the journey. Others have so many restrictions that even if the poor man makes it through the door, he is going to have an extremely challenging time ahead. I believe it’s vital that the birthing room is more than a place where dad is allowed to be; rather, it is a place for a family event in which both partners are equally involved.
Here are a few tips to help dads feel more at home in the labour room:
• Join antenatal classes and learn the facts: Which body part is which, and how do they all work? What’s likely to happen, and what’s not – there are many myths out there. How long can you expect the process to take? What parts of the process are within your control and which aren’t?
• Try to feel “at home”. You don’t have to ask staff for permission to be with your wife. Avoid touching the equipment or pressing any strange buttons, but be where you are needed by your wife.
• Learn how to work the bed, and use it to make your partner as comfortable as possible.
• Find out how to play music in the room, and then set it up to get the atmosphere right from the start.
• Make sure your partner has enough food and drinks – she will need to have small and regular snacks and drinks throughout the labour to keep her stamina up. You also need to stay strong, so make sure you eat regularly, too.
• Be yourself. Talk to your wife between the contractions and ask her what she would like you to do – or not to do.
• Try to find out where she is physically feeling the discomfort of the contractions. If it’s in her back, offer a massage – which you will have learned to do in your antenatal classes – a hot pack, or TENS machine, and help her to stand up or get on her knees to relieve the pain. If it’s in the front, help her into the bathtub (if this is an option) or walk around with her. Help with her breathing, which you’ll have also learned about in your classes.
• Help her to change positions if the one she is using does not seem to be good for her.
• Don’t talk to her while she pushes; just hold her hand, or stay behind her if you are supporting her from her back.
• When the baby is coming, you may or may not want to look. If your partner is on her knees, you won’t see anything, but you may want to be ready to be handed the baby and then able to pass it to her. It is amazing to feel the warmth of the newborn, but it’s not for everyone!
• After the birth, try to ensure that there’s not too much noise or light. Try to get 15 to 30 minutes in complete peace and quiet with the baby on the mother’s chest. Hold off on the phone calls and pictures and embrace these moments. The baby will be opening its eyes, sticking out its tongue and getting to know its surroundings, and you will want to be a part of what he or she sees, smells and feels for the first time, before doctors or midwives start to do their checks.
Annerley offers special one-hour, one-on-one sessions for dads to prepare them for the birth, designed to give very practical, hands-on and tailor-made tips that work.