Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Childbirth is Hard on Dads, Too

Mum might be doing the pushing but giving birth can be tough for dad too. Grant Woodward reports.

A NEW dad's duties used to involve little more than handing out cigars in the hospital waiting room and planning a booze-up to wet the baby's head.

But these days things are very different and a bloke is expected to be there in the delivery room for every push and holler.

To guide men through this strange and frightening world, a Yorkshire midwife is running residential courses to get them ready for the big day.

"I think there is a lot of pressure on expectant father these days," says Jacky Robson, who runs the courses.

"There is an expectation that they will want to be part of the experience.

"Of course, a lot of men do want to be there but others may be a bit more reluctant... even though they would never be foolish enough to admit it."

Jacky, who has been delivering babies for 25 years, admits her own husband was not much help when she gave birth to their two children.

"He was actually total rubbish. His view was that it would all be ok because I was a midwife and knew what I was doing. Luckily for him I did.

"But it can be a difficult time for men and it's important that they take time to think about what they expect out of the experience.

"A lot of them get very nervous before a birth and that's perfectly understandable.

"They're scared of seeing their wife in so much pain, they're afraid they'll be useless and really have no idea what to expect.

"Doing some preparation will help them feel more confident that they will be able to deal with what to them will be a whole new world and one that is very female-dominated."

Jacky's B4Baby pre-birth courses for both partners include sessions where men get together to discuss their feelings with each other.

Whether they realise it or not, Jacky says men play a crucial role in the birth.

"If dad is confident and calm then mum will be too and that will make things a lot easier.

"As well as being organised in the run-up to the birth, men also need to be able to learn not to panic if things don't go entirely smoothly on the day itself.

"You are the mum-to-be's advocate in the delivery room when she has been given drugs or can't think properly.

"That means doing some preparation in advance so you know what to expect...

"And most of all, being prepared to just be amazed by the whole experience."

Jacky's top ten tips for dads-to-be

1. Think about your feelings well in advance. How do you feel about being present, do you want to 'experience it' or is it expected of you?

2. Don't panic. Make sure your partner will be calmed and reassured by your presence. On a practical level. Learn how to massage to ease pain.

3. Go with the flow. You may be keen to practice all the techniques you learnt at ante-natal classes but once your partner is in the throes of labour she may not like to be touched, she may become downright hostile!

That's ok, just talk her through a contraction, she still loves you.

4. Talk to your partner about what you BOTH want included in the birth plan. It may be a nice idea for dad to cut the umbilical cord but do you feel squeamish about it?

5. Your words of encouragement will help her through the birth, but don't be shocked if she shouts at you, this can be quite common in the later stages of labour.

The simplest of things, such as a cool drink or cool cloth on her brow can be real morale boosters.

6. Be prepared to kill time. Your partner will have several hours of increasingly painful contractions until it's time to push, help her to mobilise she may need your help walkin
g the halls.

Don't forget to wear comfy casual clothes, including comfy shoes, take distractions like playing cards or her favourite music.

7. Take a list of telephone numbers and change for the phone (mobiles are not allowed on the ward) so you can tell the world what a marvellous experience it has been.

8. Don't freak out. If you are asked to leave the room, this may be because your partner is getting an epidural, it doesn't mean anything is wrong it's just standard procedure in many hospitals.

9. Hold up your end. During the pushing stage, the reality is you will probably be standing to one side of your partner, she may make noises you have never heard before, your job, no matter how unsettled you may feel is to say 'you're doing great!'

10. Get ready to be amazed. The first sight of your very own baby makes all the other stuff worth it; you might even do it again!