This article and linked video is a candid discussion “Q&A” about how a husband can support an expectant mom. We share our insights on how first time dads could help expecting moms prepare for labor and delivery, get through, and support recovery. A dad’s support of an expecting mom during labor and delivery is key to get through the experience with success. The remainder of the article will be written as a question and answer where the questions are the headers.
Why Discuss This?
As a first time dad, I wasn’t sure what to do. I think I tried too much, and then ended up not being as effective. I’m also approached by many other men who are first-time dads and some of them also do too much or default to do too little, while deciding what to do. These are the steps I would take a second time around before we even get into labor.
How to Prepare Early in Pregnancy
Preparing for labor and delivery really starts much earlier in the pregnancy, maybe halfway through. This is the time you are going to be going to birth classes, guided relaxation, or the Gottman Institute. By participating in the birth classes, it helps to bring you both together and gives you insights into what she’s seeing, so you can better understand her needs when the time comes to help during labor.
If she is interested in getting a doula or other labor support, is to attend the sessions with her. We didn’t get a doula the first time around and we have both come to understand the profound importance this person can bring. Being both capable people, problem solving and stable, but the doula gives you the extra brain cycles to address pertinent issues. While in labor there will be constant forms, signatures, and questions that need you attention. During these annoying moments the doula steps in to either help answer the questions or to comfort your wife while you can attend to the items.
How to Prepare Later in Pregnancy
She is going to need a hospital bag and as the dad you are going to want to know what is inside of it. It is a good opportunity for you to watch her pack it so you can find item “x” when needed. We all know how hard it is to find something in her purse, so keep that in mind.
Reading her birth plan is immensely important, prior to labor, so you can understand the intention. The birth plan is a sort of “will to action,” but it can’t be too long due to the need for brevity for those to which it is intended. By reading it you have the opportunity to ask questions and interpret, now becoming a strong advocate for her unique wishes. These wishes may be comfort, labor positions, removal of certain annoyances, etc.
Early Labor is actually really straightforward. Make sure she has food, water, and whatever preferred birthing equipment, like a ball. You are there to remind her to eat, drink, and use the bathroom. She is possibly in pain at this point and needs reminders because her body is giving her all sorts of signals and these might get overshadowed.
You know what comes after Early Labor? Active Labor! So, it is time to get the car loaded and prepped. This is the time to enact the plan that you have set in place for your house, kids, pets, communication strategy. Early labor can happen mostly at home if you wish, so pay attention to the signs and get things ready to move. To know the progress, make sure you are timing her contractions. She can do this by herself if she wants, but sometimes you taking on this responsibility takes it off her mind and she can focus on breathing through the contractions and relaxing.
When the contracts reach the point where she transitions to active labor, it is time to amp up your focus. Up to this point things could have been happening slowly. Active labor goes faster and some critical actions are needed. She still needs water, but food should be limited to snacks or nothing, due to the intensity of the labor. If you haven’t moved towards the hospital or birthing center, go there now.
When you get there and moved up to a room there will be beeping machines, apparatus hanging off of her, and tons of questions. Your job will first be comfort for her, but mostly this is about running interference on all of the intrusions of her labor calmness. This is where knowing the birth plan is so important. She cannot answer questions and you need to make decisions on her behalf. The doula helps a bunch at this point as you can’t be 3 places at once.
There isn’t a bunch of directives in this phase for dads, but important emotional control you can bring. I know many men don’t think of themselves as emotional beings, but with tensions high it is good to be aware of yourself. Remain relaxed and try to stay as calm as possible. You will see your wife in incredible effort and pain, struggling against the physicality of the situation.
If you have taken birth classes or learned relaxation techniques together, you can bring forth another superpower, awareness. If she’s tensing her jaw, gently remind to loosen it. Potentially the delivery is slowed and the position of the birth is less than ideal, and you can recommend a change of position. Encouragement also takes the form of listening. As she tells you, and probably the whole delivery floor, of here agony, it is a great time to take in the words and encourage to keep going, it’s progressing excellently.
Immediately Post Delivery
Most people on their first birth focus primarily on the pre-delivery and forget how much happens immediately afterwards. This is the golden hour, where the skin-to-skin can take place between mother and child. Mom might be shaking from the marathon type effort, so support her in holding the baby safely in this important position.
Breastfeed can also be attempted now. With your help and probably the nurses or doula the baby can be manipulated into the best position and attempt a latch. Whether this happens or not, it is an ideal time to keep driving her focus back to the baby. Sounds weird right, wouldn’t that be her only focus. Not necessarily. She may have repair work required from her delivery that they will be attending to. There is the placenta and the contraction of the uterus, which can both be painful. There are always some questions from the nurses, especially if everything wasn’t perfect, which often happens. Distract her with focus on the baby and of her accomplishment.
After the golden hour, or two, you will be moved up to recovery. Back to the basics. She needs food, water, and bathroom reminders. Maybe she wants a shower, or to sleep. Whatever the need, try to be her attendant. As an added perk, you can be the diaper warrior, being the best diaper changer and swaddle’r ever!
Back at Home with Baby – Emotions
This time for mom can be a critical one. The hype and anticipation are now gone, the baby is needy, she is uncomfortable and recovering, and this situation isn’t changing anytime soon. If you have the chance at your job dads, take some time off with her and bring that support and love. Many mothers have expressed to me the amazing first week after the baby was born, with gifts, meals, and visits. Then, things start to trail off, with only sporadic contact for the next months. Being cloistered with a newborn, especially the first, is very oppressing and possibly depressing. Your presence dads, and constant help during these weeks or months, brings a huge element of love and comfort.
It may seem to first-time dads like breastfeeding should really be a point-and-shoot action, but this isn’t the case. The feeding process, the latch, the baby’s struggle to figure out “how to do it,” is a process. If mom is having trouble with this, consider a lactation consultant, either by going to the hospital or in-house.
Back at Home with Baby – Sleep
Finally, sleep, oh blessed sleep. We have all heard the stories of the baby’s interruption of sleep, but what can we do. If this is your first, and you didn’t have twins, there is an easy option. You can be the bringer of the baby, jumping out of bed or off the couch at any hour the baby needs feeding. You change the diaper, replace clothing, and hand said baby to mom. She remains seated up in bed, relaxing against pillows. You can nap for the 10-15 minutes this takes, then when directed, replace the baby to the crib for her. These apparently minor actions you take are a welcome respite of effort that a super tired mom doesn’t have to take, and you get to sleep most of the night with only this minimal effort.