Until the early 1960s Australian men were typically excluded from the labour room. However, during this decade there was an increasing pressure on hospitals to allow men into the labour room to provide support for their partners. It was only by the 1980s that it became common and expected that men would be present when their partners gave birth. The contemporary Australian experience is that men are expected to be present and support their partners.
I respectfully acknowledge that some partners are women, but the majority are male partners or husbands, so that’s how I’ll refer to them in this article. Despite the many books and even DVDs aimed at expectant dads, most birth preparation seems to remain the domain of the mother. My clients, women who attend pregnancy yoga classes, agree that they’d like their partners read the active birth books and come to their antenatal appointments and help them decide on which pram to buy, but that mostly it’s left up to them. When it comes to antenatal classes, some of the dads eagerly attend but many wish that they could be anywhere but sitting on an uncomfortable chair in a hospital meeting room learning about the stages of labour and what an episiotomy is. And dreading the approaching birth video!
So how do we help dads to prepare to be the number-one supporter of the birthing mother in a way that they understand and even enjoy? With couple-focussed, independent birth education classes which focus as much on the partner’s role as that of the mother. My two-day classes leave the dads who attend with the following things:
1. Understanding that he’s a vital part of the birth team. This helps him to feel included and important rather than extraneous.
2. Knowledge about how normal birth works physically, so that he has an idea of what contractions are and what they’re for, what the uterus and cervix are doing and what’s happening to the baby inside.
3. Clarity about the emotional process of labour. Most men are mystified by womens’ moods at the best of times, but many are terrified of their partner turning into a screaming, freaked out mess during labour. When they understand how the woman might behave during different stages of labour they’re prepared to use the skills they learn to help her to stay calm, to breathe through the contractions, to provide touch and love and encouragement rather than being afraid to go near her.
4. Confidence in his ability to support and love his partner while she experiences the challenges of labour and birth of their baby. Guys don’t want to be told “I just want you to support me”, they want a list of practical skills they can do, like soft stroking on her back and firm massage over her sacrum, helping her move to more comfortable positions which we practice, offering her water and helping her walk to the toilet, jiggling her thighs and slow dancing with her.
5. A relaxed mind and a comfortable body, thanks to the guided relaxations, the fun discussions, the comfy reclining chairs and the invitation to lie on a yoga mat if they’re tired, the massage they receive from their partner, and the cake at afternoon tea.
Every birthing woman wants a partner who understands how birth works, feels clear about how she might behave and what he can do to help, and feel confident in his role as her number one supporter. Every father- to-be will greatly benefit from the focus that an independent birth education class places on him. His birthing partner will love him for it, and who knows, he might even enjoy the class and the birth!
Written by Karen Shlegeris of Birth & Baby Village in Noosa on Queensland’s Sunshine Coast. Karen is a Childbirth and Calmbirth® Educator, Prenatal and Postnatal Yoga Instructor, Birth Doula and mother of two grown boys.