Your birth partner, in my opinion, is the most important element in your labor, birth and postpartum. I am a firm believer that the birth partner be able to have his/her own birth experience. By that I mean, it is important to explore what his experience can and will be during labor, birth and postpartum. After all, this is their baby too.
Most men are comfortable following their partners direction when it comes to pregnancy and birth choices. She will typically be the person to bring home the literature and initiate discussions and will likely be the one in the relationship with the strongest opinions about what they want and don’t want.
But once the birthing woman is in labor, the birth partner is left to self direct and navigate the labor and birth on his/her own as the birthing mother will be heavily focused on her labor. As we all know, it is prudent for the birth partner to understand the labor and birth process to know what to expect. But rarely does the care provider or their partner spend time learning what they want to experience during the birth of their baby.
As you may have read in our section Your Labor & Birth, I am not a big supporter of having the birth partner in the pool with the birthing mother. My main reason is that the woman tends to move less AND the father’s experience can be limited. I have seen over and over again, the father being ‘trapped’ behind the laboring woman and being limited to assisting with her comfort measures and the delivery of he baby.
However, this may be perfect for some couples but I see dads being way more hands on when outside of the birth pool. My goal as a midwife was to have the labor and birth experience be the couples, an intimate and private time with deep and lasting memories. I felt that one of the main reasons that the couples I served were choosing homebirth and midwifery care was in this very hope of having their birth be theirs. For it to unfold their way and for them to feel that they worked through it together and their care providers were there for support, encouragement and additional care if needed.
There is very little a midwife does that the father can not do. Typically most birth partners do not wish to do the clinical stuff. Heart tones, dilation checks, timing contractions. But they do seem to, without direction, become very tuned to her discomforts and labor rhythms. Midwives are highly tuned to birthing women and we notice that they are hot, back hurts, need a drink of water. It is easy for us to simply apply a cool town to her forehead and then let him take over this task.
Talk to your care provider about what role you would like to play in the delivery of the baby. For many women who are choosing water labor and birth, they also want a more hands off experience from their care provider. The birthing father can assist in this with the aid of a mirror and underwater flashlight. Since most women will labor on their hands and knees in water, the use of a mirror and underwater light will allow both the care providers and the birth partner to see the progress of the baby crowning once the women starts pushing. As you can see in the photo to the right, the mirror allows those in attendance to monitor the baby without having the mother move.
You can also assist with moving the baby to the mother’s front when it delivers. If the baby is lifted to the surface and out of the water behind the mother, you now have to carefully move the mother to a sitting position, lifter her leg to move the umbilical cord from behind her to in front of her so she can hold her baby. Instead of doing this, when the baby is delivery, the birth partner can gently push the baby’s body between her mother’s legs to then be in front of her. Now the mother or birth partner can pick up the baby and place it in the mother’s arms. Much easier.
Once your baby had delivered, I feel it is critical to let the birth partner keep his focus on the mother and the baby. Care providers need to meet the father’s needs as much as they need to meet the mother’s needs. Food and hydration are just as important for the birth partner. And after the birth they need to do nothing but be with their new family. The midwife and her assistance should take care of the cleanup and birth pool break down. It isn’t uncommon for the cleanup to be left for the birthing family to take care of. Talk to your care provider to find out what they will be and won’t be doing. If they don’t do cleanup then you should consider having a family member or close friend help.
The birth of a child together gives the couple a very important opportunity to bond to a deeper level. After a birth I felt like I had done my job when the father and the mother beamed with pride over a task well done together and that she talked more about her birth partner then she did about me. Your care provider should not steal the glory. After all, the two of you created the baby and should birth the baby. Your care provider can be a wonderful guide and priceless assistant with challenges. As a team, discuss the possibilities during pregnancy and fathers / birth partners… claim your place in your birth. It is part of the process of becoming a parent.