Dads in the Delivery Room: Delightful or Disastrous?

Today the BBC brings to light French obstetrician Michel Ordent’s view that dads should NOT be in the delivery room during the birth of their children as they are likely to be more of a hindrance than a help in the birthing process. The French doc shuns the notion championed by US doctor Robert Bradley that a husband’s presence during labor provides his wife with much needed support and solidarity. He even suggests that an anxious male partner will make a women tenser and increase her likelihood of ending up with an emergency Caesarean section!

Oh ye of little faith Dr Ordent! While not all men want to be present at the birth of junior (celeb chef Gordon Ramsay for example) there are loads out there who want to actively participate in the life changing experience that is birth to the extent that they can. And although the c-section rate has risen over the last several decades, this is more likely a side effect of our increasingly litigious and medicalized society that features older moms and women who struggle with obesity.

On Babyworld, midwife Catharine Parker-Little suggests that women talk openly with their partners during pregnancy to gauge their true opinions about attending the birth – and not to lay on a guilt trip if they decline. I couldn’t agree more. Rather than make sweeping generalizations about whether men should be in delivery rooms, we need to talk it out with our guys. Do they want to be there? If so, do they want to be down “the business end?” If not, who can better offer moms support?

Chris can’t wait to be there for the birth of our daughter – look at him with Rico – he’s a natural! But since I’m one to lay things on the table, we’ve had the birthing “talk” to different degrees over the course of my pregnancy. I’ve tried to condition him to the idea that he’ll see me in pain, that we’ll both ride an emotional rollercoaster, that he may be subjected to some grim and gore like blood, poop, placenta and stitches.

Yesterday we went to our NHS Labor and Birth ante-natal class that featured a short film showing a labouring woman taking gas and air on a birthing ball. Afterwards one of the husbands admitted that the image made him feel nauseous, and that he was “going to take some quiet times to come to terms with all that labor may entail.” We shared a laugh about this, but props to that guy and his wife for preparing for birth as a unit. He might decide to attend his child’s birth, he might not, but they were in the learning together.

From our chats, Chris is on board and prepared to be my labor partner, coach, advocate and rock. He hopes to cut the cord and be as active a participant as possible, partly why we’ve opted to attempt a home birth.

Tonight we had our first couples NCT class, which also featured the first stage of labor, including the need for a woman to relax and let her oxytocin (hormone of “love” that causes uterine contractions) flow while in labor. As a birth partner, the man is instrumental to this process; if he gets in a flap, it’s likely to kick off his wife’s adrenaline, which counteracts oxytocin production and slows labor. I hope Chris is by my side throughout labor, but learning like this helps us both recognize that it depends how he feels in the moment and if he’s able to give off positive energy in the face of his own apprehensions. If it all gets too much and he needs a breather, we accept that.

So Dr Ordent, you can take your study and shove it! Whether a dad is a birth partner should be an individual choice – not a given but not ruled out either. It’s up to couples to do their research and make the best decision for them.

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3 Responses to Dads in the Delivery Room: Delightful or Disastrous?

  1. Cherylyn says:

    Usually I agree with Dr. Odent, but not on this. You make some very good points. I would not want to give birth without my husband. He has been with me for the births of each of our 5 children, and even his presence is a huge comfort to me – just having him in the room. We've learned together through experience how to work as a team through labor and birth. What really helped both of us was when we hired a birth doula for the birth of our 3rd child. She showed my husband what he could do to be directly involved with my labor and how to support me in the ways I needed him. He is very hands-on and really likes being actively involved like that, and I love that he is that way.

    Not all men want to be involved in that way, and for some it's enough to simply witness the birth but not have to offer the physical and emotional support the woman needs. It's important to gauge where the mother and father are at and what they are comfortable with, and go from there. Education is definitely key in this area, and I feel that if more men were properly educated about birth they would make for much more effective birth partners and coaches. For me, it's important to have my husband's support along with my doula and/or midwife.

  2. Tanya says:

    Thank you for these insights Cherylyn. While we are not using a doula for this birth I have heard many positive things about their role in preparing both mother and father for childbirth. I am interested to read more of your website to learn further about this arena.

    Also, an aside, I have just posted my opinion on a recent swipe at doulas in Pregnancy Courts Debate.

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