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Labor and Delivery Tips for Expectant Dads
Childbirth Hints for Dads-to-be
In the lead up to the birth of my first child, I have sometimes been left thinking "It's my baby too!" The mother is rightly the centre of attention throughout the pregnancy, and most of the maternity appointments, family visits or even strangers in the street revolve around the mum-to-be. In the last few weeks of pregnancy this can become even more pronounced.
Nobody has yet asked me if I am ready for the birth of my first child. No-one has given me tips and advice on how to support my wife during the upcoming labor. There were no dad-specific parent education classes: all I have found out I have specifically asked, researched, or steered the conversation to discover.
Below are the top tips that healthworkers, recent dads (and mums), family and friends have given me. Here is a list of what you can do during your most life-changing day so far.
What is it like being a Birth Partner?
What are the Stages of Labour?
Did you know there were stages of labor? Nope...me neither. Based entirely on medical dramas I thought labor was a short (about an hour) activity filled with extreme pain, swearing, sweat and blood, at the end of which a pink, clean screaming child will be handed to me
There are three stages of labor:
- Latent phase of labor - This is the longest phase of labor, although many midwives do not even count it! This lasts from the start of regular contractions until the cervix is fully dilated at 10cm. You do not need to be at hospital during this phase - it can last 36 hours!
- Active labor - the second phase of labor and the one that is properly counted by midwives. This lasts from full dilation until the birth of your child. This is associated with much more swearing than stage 1.
- Expulsion of the placenta - you probably won't even notice this stage. You will be too interested in your new baby. This stage can last up to an hour (if not actively managed with an injection) and is over when the placenta has been delivered.
Labor: When should I go to Hospital?
Labor Tips: Before the Birth
There is plenty you can do to feel prepared for the 'big day.' You will want to rehearse as much of this as possible - you can do some strange things when in a slight panic!
- In the last three weeks before the due date make sure your car is fully fueled, you know the route to the hospital, and you have the hospital bags packed.
- Leave your phone and camera on charge, next to your car keys. Then you won't forget them if you need to dash out.
- Leave some change in your car to pay for parking - you don't want to get towed!
- Take the car seat with you. Some hospitals will check to see you have fitted it properly before they will let you leave. Install it in your car around a month before the baby is due. Practice putting teddy bears in and out of it
- Phone the labor ward before you leave - they may tell you to call back again in two or three hours. You don't want to turn up only to be told to go home. The ward need to be expecting your arrival.
- Labor usually takes a long time, particularly for your first child. Whilst your wife calls the labor ward and discusses mucus and the contents of pads (....I know...) make up some sandwiches to take with you. Your appetite will return.
- You may want to grab a thermos of coffee, or a red bull or two. This may take a while. An energy drink (without caffeine) would be good to take for your partner.
- Take it easy driving to the hospital. You will have plenty of time. Whilst it would take the most dedicated and soul-less of all police officers to give you a ticket when your partner is in labor in the car, it could still happen.
Pain Relief in Labor
Labor Tips: During Labour
Repeat after me: "My partner cannot be held responsible for anything said during labour." My wife and I turned it into a game - we have a chart of stereotypical phrases and we ticked off which ones she said.
- Take your car seat into the ward with you.
- You are a vital support for your partner - she may not think or act rationally at times. You may hear language that would make a sailor blush. It is your job to act as spokesperson. You are there to make sure her wishes are respected and that your partner is kept informed of everything that is happening to her
- Do not panic. Labor progresses faster and more smoothly when your partner is relaxed.
- If you feel unwell, sit down (or lie down) out of the way. Tell the midwife if you need to leave. Do not act macho - the last thing you want is for the midwives to have to deal with you, passed out on the floor, instead of administering to your partner.
- Do not panic. This is important.
- Ask your partner if she wants a backrub, or a drink, or ice chips, or some chocolate or if she wants to lean on you. Don't wait for her to ask: Offer.
- Do not panic.
- Don't argue with your partner - this is the height of bad form. Your partner may have been set on a natural birth with no drugs and is suddenly demanding the whole pharmacy. This is her choice - by all means make sure she definitely wants it, but - and this is very important so pay attention - DO NOT TRY to TALK HER OUT OF IT. Only your partner will know how much pain relief she needs.
- Do not panic...I may have mentioned this before. If you can remain calm, so will your partner.
Have you done any research on what to expect for your partners birth?
Labor Tips: After the Birth
So now you have your little bundle of joy! What next? You probably will be too elated and distracted to pay much attention to the afterbirth (delivery of the placenta). Whilst you are probably feeling overwhelmed and thousands of other emotions, let the midwife team finish their job. They will need to observe mum and baby for a little while before leaving you in private.
- Don't panic. Newborns don't look anything like they do on tele. It will be tiny, any colour other than baby pink, wrinkled and out of proportion. This is all normal
- Ask your partner if she wants anything (deodorant, toothbrush, hairbrush) before inviting anyone into the room. Your partner may be a bit self-conscious about receiving visitors just moments after she has pushed a person out of her.
- Do not phone family and friends until you have the weight of the baby - that is what everyone is going to ask you!
- (It may sound stupid but..) Don't take your baby out of the room. It needs to stay with mum for a little while, and under the supervision of the nurses and midwives.
How do I Calm my Crying Baby?
Tips for Dads: Helping at Home with a Newborn
So. The baby is home. It slept like an angel for two days. Maybe you won't have endless sleepless nights! Maybe your child will be different! It could happen, right?
You baby will take a few days to recover from the birth. Baby does not actually need to feed for the first couple of days, although it is actively encouraged to enhance bonding, tap into post-birth reflexes and identify any issues. You will soon be woken every few hours by your darling newborn. Congratulations!
With you back at work, or back in your normal routine, it can be hard for a new dad to feel involved in day-to-day care of your new baby. After all, much of your day has not changed. It is important that Dad also bonds with baby, and supports Mum and gives her plenty of breaks. Here's how:
- Bath your baby - this can be lots of fun and is a great way to unwind at the end of the day
- Schedule 'Dad-time' where your partner leaves baby to you. They should try and get some rest during this time
- Take your baby out for a walk
- Try helping out with night feeds, particularly at weekends when you don't need to be at work in the morning - your partner can express breast milk.
- Make the early morning nappy change your time together (you have to learn!)
- Spend some time reading to your baby - the will love the sound of your voice, even if you are just reading the newspaper.
- Babies will usually settle better for Dad than for Mum because there is no milk for them to smell. If Mum can't get baby to settle, take over - baby will probably settle in no time. Sit back. Feel smug. Say nothing.
(NB: Mums - your partner will not know everything immediately. They are not with the baby as much as you. They will likely take longer to learn how to change a diaper, or to swaddle the baby or to rock it to sleep. DO NOT HOVER OVER DAD. It will give him the feeling that you don't trust him with his own child. Give him chance to learn)