I was asked to write a piece on this subject by a fellow birth professional and midwife. Why I haven’t written it before I dont know, it is something I feel very passionately about.
Michel Odent was famously reported as saying men shouldn’t be at the birth, he even went as far as to blame them for the increase in caesarean rates. At the time I was incensed by his comments. It was at the time when I was coming to the end of my training. I used the reflective practice I had learnt to really look at his comments and my reaction.
In truth I actually found that in a lot of respects I agreed with him. The difference is that I don’t want to take dads out of the birth. I just want to see them properly supported and informed; the benefits will be far ranging and crucial for the whole family.
Men need to understand though that in general their partner wants them there, their is nobody they would rather have with them. But with this comes responsibility, responsibility to understand what is going on and prepare them to be the best support they can be. Preparation for the birth is not just the domain of the woman.
So why should men be there if they can?
The biggest enemy at any birth is fear; fear causes the production of adrenalin. This can slow the production of oxytocin and in turn this can slow or even stop the contractions. Which is often referred to as failure to progress. So logically there can be no better support for a woman giving birth than having the person she loves and created the baby with to support her. There is nobody she would rather have there, nobody that knows her better or she feels safer with. The man generally is the natural protector and as such the woman will feel safe in his presence.
Another reason for the man’s presence is as an advocate. They should be there to make sure their partner’s wishes and desires are listened to. Ideally the couple will have discussed what they want and don’t want during the birth. Sometimes in heat of moment the woman can lose sight of these, the man’s role is to then ensure these are listened to and respected.
By being present at the birth, a man will almost always feel an immediate bond with the baby. Bonding with the unborn child is quite difficult for men, often it doesn’t occur until after the birth. This bond can be much harder to achieve if they are not there to witness the birth. The sheer emotions of the birth will normally ensure bonding occurs. This bond is crucial to the family in the first weeks and months following the birth. Please read my piece on antenatal bonding.
Are there any risks to the man being at the birth?
Unfortunately yes, the support that can be so important and desired can be undermined by the woman’s natural instinct to worry about the man. This is partially what Odent was referring to when he made his claims. An anxious father who is fretting and worrying will cause the woman to be fearful for him. This will start the chain of events that potentially will lead to a stalled labour. Unfortunately stalled labour is the most common reason for the cascade of interventions to begin, as soon as interventions start the likelihood of them escalating increases.
There is also the risk from the man’s “fix it” instinct. If the man is not understanding of the birth process he is in danger of overriding his partner’s wishes. If a man believes his partner is in pain, he will want to stop her being in pain; at this point he may suggest and even promote interventions. He needs to control his natural instinct. Only through controlling it will he be able to advocate for his partner and make sure her wishes regarding what interventions she is happy to accept are respected.
So dads listen up, your partner wants you to be there. Your baby needs you to be there. So if you want to be at the birth put in some effort and be the best birth partner you can be. You have the potential to truly affect the whole experience and outcome, with understanding and support you can reduce the need for interventions. Your presence can increase the chances of having a positive birth experience. Please read Do’s and Don’ts of labour as a start.
Finally if as a man you can be honest and discuss as a couple you role. You may decide you are not best person to support your partner there are other choices. You mustn’t feel pressured into it as then there is the risk of you having detrimental effect on the birth. You can look at maybe a family member also being there or ideally use the services of a Doula. Doulas are professionally trained as support for expectant parents. Always though interview a couple of doulas and make sure you are both comfortable with them. The Doula can have the same positive and negative effects that the man can so it is imperative that you are comfortable with them and they are also comfortable with you.