Should Your Husband be in the Delivery Room?
It seems these days that even questioning whether the husband should be in the delivery room is sacrilege.
When did this change in people's worldview regarding birth occur? In the United States, it would seem to be in the early 1970s, the time when I myself was born. When I was born my father was not in the delivery room. A couple years later when my sister was born, he was.
For many the idea that a couple may not want the husband in the delivery room is unthinkable. These people are only too happy to make the husband feel like a sociopath for not having a burning desire to be in the delivery room or the wife feel like she is denying her husband of an unalienable right if she doesn't want her husband present during birth. Yet, given the fact that for much of history the husband was expected to not be present in the delivery room, I can't believe that I'm the only person who has thought about this. Unfortunately, this is not even a bullet point for discussion in most pregnancy books or videos.
I hope that this lens helps reopen this important decision for discussion and, hopefully, prompts writers of pregnancy guides to address this decision as well.
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When the Father is Not a "Husband"
I struggled with selecting the title for this lens. I realize that my use of "husband" may alienate some mothers. I decided to use "husband" instead of "father" in part because of the ubiquitousness of the word in articles and posts discussing the issue, in part because the question arose in my mind in reaction to "Husband-Coached Childbirth" materials, and in part because of the lack of a satisfying alternative.
"Husband" and "spouse" may alienate unwed mothers and fathers, "father" may alienate the non-biological mother in a lesbian relationship, and "partner" didn't seem to capture the particular issue that this lens was dealing with.
Arguments FOR - A list of the most commonly argued reasons for allowing/coercing the husband into the delivery room.
See my list of links at the end of this lens for articles discussing, promoting, or objecting to these points.
- Provide comfort and support for the mother.
For me, this is the most compelling reason. If the husband's presence will ease the nervousness, fear, and pain of the mother, then, by all means, she should have the right to have him by her side.
- You were there for conception (the fun part); you better be there for the delivery.
The various permutations of this argument seem to assume that any husband that is considering not being in the delivery room is trying to shirk his responsibilities, because he is too squeamish or some other selfish reason.
This reason is related to the first, if the wife wants him present. If she doesn't, than this argument just doesn't apply.
My gut reaction is "right on!" But it does seem a bit unsympathetic to the small minority of husbands who have serious phobias to blood or surgery. Then again, he needn't look "down there." Not needing to look also applies to those who argue that witnessing the birth can lead to sexual dysfunction.
- But you CAN'T miss the birth of your child! / You May Regret it Later.
Comments like this are usually based upon strong feelings about the momentousness of the occasion. The birth of your child is a milestone event in your life. Even if you don't feel this way, you may later regret it, at which time its too late.
While I feel that this is good advice, how applicable it is to an individual husband depends a great deal on his personality. Only he can determine what witnessing the birth means to him and his potential for regretting not witnessing it.
- It is a life-changing (or spiritual, or transformative, et. al.) event and you'll never be the same.
For many fathers, witnessing their child's birth was a life-changing event. It can be an incredibly moving event; for some it is a religious experience.
For others, it is simply an awkward, uncomfortable, and gross experience and they'll bond with the child after he is cleaned up, thank you very much. And then there are those fathers for whom the experience is harmful, leading to fainting, sexual dysfunction, and difficulty bonding with the child BECAUSE they witnessed the birth.
Again, how applicable this argument is depends on the personality of the husband you are directing it at.
- It is important for the husband to bond with the child.
Few would argue that developing a strong bond is good for both the child and the husband. Personally, I'm not convinced that witnessing the birth creates a stronger bond than interactions with the baby after an unwitnessed birth. I'd be interested in reading any research on this, if it exists. Please contact me if you know of any.
I think witnessing the birth is more important to strengthening the husband-wife bond; although this is obviously not the case for those men who report sexual dysfunction resulting from witnessing the birth.
- The husband can ensure that the wife's preferences are followed and help ensure that her needs are being met.
I think that this may be true with some husbands, but other husbands might only make a nuisance of themselves. Also, a wife may change her preference for, say, pain killers during labor only to have her husband pressure her to "stick to the plan."
If a couple is truly concerned about ensuring the wife and baby receive the proper and preferred treatment from the hospital staff, they should consider hiring a doula.
Books Promoting Husbands in the Delivery Room
This is the book that started it all. The "Bradley Method" is often cited as sparking the movement of bringing husbands and boyfriends into the delivery room to act as birthing coaches. It is interesting to me that none of the comments for this book on Amazon mention the husband. Many credit this book with easing the pains of labor and allowing a "natural" childbirth, but they say nothing of how their husband helped in this process. The very title of the book assumes that the husband is the obvious choice for "coaching" the mother, as opposed to a mother, sister, or doula.
While not really promoting husbands in the delivery room, this book contains chapters written by husbands about their delivery room experiences.
Arguments AGAINST - A list of the most commonly argued reasons for letting/keeping the husband out of the delivery room.
See my list of links at the end of this lens for articles discussing, promoting, or objecting to these points.
- Compromises the safety of the mother and child.
While this argument is discredited in the United States and Canada, I've heard stories of hospitals in Taiwan using it to prevent the husband from entering the delivery room.
Certainly, the husband's presence in the delivery room affects safety. He may get in the way of the doctors and nurses. He is one more person that the hospital staff has to worry about. If he faints, it is a distraction that will necessitate one or more staff members to attend to him rather than the mother and baby. His presence may make it more difficult to ensure a sterile environment.
In many countries it is seen as the mother's right to have the support of her husband. Many people also consider it the father's right to witness his child's birth. These parental prerogatives trump the fairly insignificant extra risks posed by the husband's presence.
- The mother doesn't want her husband present.
Many people hold the view that it is the mother's sole right to decide who will and will not be allowed in the delivery room. This "right" includes keeping her husband out of the delivery room if that's the mother's choice.
There are many reasons that a mother might not want her husband present, including: inability to abide any "coaching", tips, or problem-solving from a man; worries that his nervousness will make her more nervous; concerns about how she will react to the pain and what she might say to him; concerns about the impact it would have on their sex life; and unresolved marital problems.
- Witnessing their wives give birth leads to sexual dysfunction in many men.
Perhaps I'm unsympathetic, but if you are concerned about this, don't look "down there." A husband can stay up by his wife's head with his back turned to all the action and still provide comfort and encouragement.
If the couple is concerned about this, they should let the hospital staff know their wishes so they do not invite the husband to look, hold his wife's legs, or cut the umbilical cord.
- This is just another attempt by men to assert yet more control over "their" women.
There are those who argue that husband coaching during childbirth is of questionable utility. The purpose, critics argue, is not to benefit the mother so much as to give the father more control. Some see the increasing role of husbands in childbirth as part of the continuing domination of men over child birth and the move away from traditional midwifery.
Of course most modern midwifes and doulas encourage the husband's participation. Moreover, there are many ways for a husband to participate in the birth that don't involve "coaching" if the mother finds that objectionable.
Quick Poll: What Did You Do?
For you mothers and fathers reading this, please take a moment to let me know whether both parents were present during delivery.
Was the father (if you are the father, were you) present at the birth of (one or all) of your child(ren)?
This section is for listing resources that are not specifically focused on promoting or challenging husband-coaching. My purpose is not to judge the materials on their entire content, but rather note depth and quality of their treatment of decisions relating to the husband's role during childbirth.
This has been our pregnancy "bible" and I recommend it highly. But, again, there is not much information regarding the husbands role in delivery. The book does, however, include a small three-page section on "What You Can Do as the Labor Coach" at pages 180-182 in the first edition (2004). The book is neutral on who the labor coach is (husband, friend, father, partner, sibling, etc.) and does not offer any guidence on deciding who will be your "coach." The book does encourage the mother to invite her partner to an ultrasound exam to "strengthen his emotional involvement in [the] pregnancy and foster his attachment to [the] baby." See page 99. The books discussion of creating a "birth plan" offers a checklist that recognizes the need to decide "your support person(s) during labor and delivery" but does not offer any guidence on how to make that decision.
We purchased the Pregnancy for Dummies videos through iTunes and watched them together. Overall these are very good videos that I recommend to all expecting parents. But I do not recall any discussion about the husband's role in delivery or any advice about making such a decision. I do not have the book that the DVDs are based upon, so I don't know if the book covers this topic.
My wife and I have been reading this excellent book throughout her pregnancy. This book does not address husbands in the delivery room. Rather it assumes that he will be present and only discuss "whether you would like to have anyone other than your partner present in the delivery room."
An Exception for C-sections?
While it is generally accepted that husbands should be present during their child's birth, for some doctors and hospitals that only applies to "natural" deliveries. Although delivery by cesarean section is now very safe, it is still a surgical procedure and it raises a host of additional concerns and potential complications.
Most U.S. hospitals allow the husband to be present during a c-section. Regional anesthesia (spinal or epidural) is used so that the mother is conscious during the operation. A curtain is typically used to block the surgery from the mother's and husband's view.
Sometimes, however, general anesthesia is used. This is not preferred as there is an increased risk to the mother and the drugs used can cross the placenta and into the baby, making him groggy. Knocking out both the mother and baby during birth complicates breast feeding. Therefore, general anesthesia is only advised for emergency (unscheduled) c-sections.
The mother, however, is often given a choice. Many women are horrified at the thought of being awake while they are cut open and opt for general anesthesia.
When general anesthesia is used, the husband is usually not allowed in the delivery/operating room. The reason? His wife is unconscious, so the husband can't comfort or encourage her, so he has no purpose to be in the room. The husband's desire to witness the child's entry into the world, even if via an incision rather then the vagina, does not seem to be a consideration. The infant will instead be cleaned up and brought out to the waiting room for the husband to hold.
Even if you are planning a natural delivery, make sure you talk to your doctor about his and the hospital's policy regarding the husband's presence during the procedure, including when general anesthesia is used. Check with other doctors/hospitals if you don't like his answer.
Everything was going well with my wife's pregnancy until her water broke and my son managed to move into a transverse position. General anesthesia was used and I wasn't allowed in the delivery/operating room. I was more concerned with my wife's well-being than not being in the room, but it all came as an unwelcome departure from our vision for the delivery. This was one situation we hadn't thought to ask our doctor about.
Links to Useful or Just Interesting Resources - for, against, or just about having the husband in the delivery room
- AskMoses.com saying husband can't be present during birth
I found this very interesting as I didn't know that the Jewish restrictions against coming into contact with a menstruating women applied to birth. One "practical" justification for this religious law is that seeing the birth could harm the husband's
- Husband in the Delivery Room - Nishmat Women's Online Information Center
This article includes a more liberal perspective on Jewish law relating to the husband's presence during childbirth. Some Rabbis, it seems, allow the husband to be present with various restrictions, including that he not touch his wife, view the birt
- Scotsman.com News - Pregnancy and birth - Men should avoid the delivery room
One columnist and mother's argument on why men should not be allowed in the delivery room. Although it cites various statistics, it is also meant to be entertaining. It is not a serious argument against men being in the delivery room. The columnist h
- 'Men should be banned from the delivery room' | the Daily Mail
A columnist and mother's argument against having husbands in the delivery room. It draws upon recent polls and her own experiences. As interesting as the column are the many reader comments, which for the most part take issue with the columnist's con
- Ezra Klein: The Times Tells All
Blogosphere buzz about in response to a New York Time's article about men suffering from impotence or finding intimacy with their wives' difficult after witnessing the birth of their child.
- Pregnancy Dillema: My husband doesn't want to watch the birth
BabyCenter.com readers' advice for the mom-to-be whose husband would rather skip the delivery. Overall the advice is mature, thoughtful, and useful.
- BBC News | TALKING POINT | Should fathers be barred from the delivery room?
BBC News asks its audience to weigh in on the following question: "Are men more trouble than they're worth when it comes to holding their partner's hand during childbirth?"
- Apgar Scores for Dads, BMJ VOLUME 317 19Â26 DECEMBER 1998
The Apgar Scores for Dads (APG) is a scoring systems developed to help clinicians assess an expactant father's well-being. Whether or not your doctor uses this score, if you don't want to get kicked out of the delivery room, it doesn't hurt to read t
- A Perilous Journey From Delivery Room to Bedroom - New York Times
"For some men, the intensely beautiful process of the birth of a child can also lead to difficulties in their sex lives." I would hate for women to worry about having their husbands in the delivery room just because a few have problems getting turne
- babyworld - Dads in the delivery room - help or hindrance?
One of the better on-line articles I've read on this issue. It goes into the history of fathers' roles during delivery and the early controversy surrounding the Bradley Method.
- BBC News | HEALTH | 'Keep men out of delivery room'
Expectant fathers often cause more problems than they solve if they attend the birth of their child, an expert says.
- "Dads in the Delivery Room; Broadsheet - Salon.com
A Salon.com article about dads in the delivery room.
- Forumosa : Foreign Fathers (and family members) in the delivery room
This is a discussion thread that I started on Forumosa about fathers being in the delivery room in Taiwan.
This section is both for my random thoughts, which may be a bit off topic or simply don't fit into the man body of this lens, and visitor feedback. Please add your thoughts about the subject in general, or your suggestions for improving this lens.