Becoming a Dad: Birth Partner Tips

We know the scene well. Everyone is excited, the pre-birth hustle and bustle are in full swing and you’ve timed your route to the hospital to perfection (with at least two alternatives in case of traffic!). In some cases there is even an Excel spreadsheet floating around, covering actions, timings and contingencies. That’s it, Dad mode engaged. You are ready. Then that moment hits – usually in the quiet of early morning. The bead of sweat on your forehead hints at the question, “but am I really ready?”

Get Ready For Your Biggest Role Yet

Doubt is a big part of the fatherhood journey, but far from being a negative it is a sign that the impending arrival is at the front of your mind, along with the dogged desire to do the best you can. But there’s no time for doubts and worries, mum to be is about to undertake the biggest emotional and physical feat of her life and you, as number 1 birth partner, have work to do! Drawn from my own exhausting, thrilling and most wonderful birthing experience, these are my top birth partner tips.

dad supporting labouring mum as birth partner

Preparing for Labour: Baby is Coming

It all suddenly gets real when the waters break! Every single emotion that you have ever felt (and some you haven’t) will jumble up together and throw you off guard. Take a breath. This is it.

OK, so the hospital bag is ready, contractions are being timed and the waiting game starts in earnest – all those hours of research and discussions with friends have completely vanished from your mind. As early labour progresses prepare yourself to recite “the birth plan” and remember everything you learnt at your antenatal classes. If you think you are scared, spare a thought for your loved one who is about to put her body through the wringer emotionally and physically! Now we wait, we wait for everything to align and for your new arrival to start their journey into the world. Put the kettle on, check the hospital bag again and breathe!

Birth Partner Role Activated

Fast forward several hours through the early stages of labour (it really does take that long!) and contractions get stronger – things are now hotting up in the delivery suite / birthing pool / kitchen floor. Your role now is simple – be there, listen, be a calming influence, provide emotional and physical support and, it goes without saying, hold your partner’s hand!

When you both come to look back on giving birth everything will become a blur, unless you’ve said or done the wrong thing – that moment will be remembered in full HD clarity. For ever. The birth of my daughter was quite a drawn-out affair, ups and downs, midwives in and out, emotions high and low. Ten years on, if we discuss that day, the first thing that pops into my wife’s head is a Mars bar – it was her Mars bar and I ate it! Ten years and that is still the number one memory of that day!

mum, dad and newborn baby in hospital theatre

Be Prepared For Anything

This is also the point that you realise that all of the tales of giving birth you have heard in the last nine months have been sanitized. It is absolutely normal for you both to be terrified, but this is where a good birth partner never gives away their own fears or worries. I suppose serene births can happen, ones which follow their birth plan perfectly but, more commonly, they are a maelstrom of emotions, bodily fluids and being prepared to adapt. The love of your life may calmly deliver in a candlelit room with soft music and nothing more than breathing techniques for pain relief, or it may be more reminiscent of a scene from the exorcist (complete with expletives!) Both ends of the spectrum are normal (and equally beautiful).

Keep Communicating

As labour progresses there will be decisions (mainly for mum to be!) Gas and air? Epidural? Laying or kneeling? Again, it is absolutely normal to be overwhelmed, especially as you may feel like a bystander while the hubbub surrounds mum but don’t forget, in your role as birth partner it is very important to support and advocate for your partner. Whether it is the midwife or doctor asking questions or giving advice, listen carefully to them and your partner – their pre labour wishes may well change once they are contracting. Keep talking, keep asking – this is such a very important job as it will keep you communicating with your partner and, hopefully, help her relax into labour as much as possible.

newborn baby feet with hospital tag

Baby is Here!

There will be a point when everything goes silent in the delivery room, early labour is well and truly over, suddenly the baby’s head is visible and now the baby is born – swept away by the midwife. There may be a delay before baby’s first cry. Those few seconds will be a wait unlike no other and will feel like hours, is there a problem? What is happening? Then that first scream, the alarm to start the next phase of parenting, brings another rush of fear compounded by a wave of relief that everything has gone well. If I can give you one birth partner tip here – it would be to relish the first minutes and encourage your partner to do so as well. A moment that will be indelibly etched into your very soul – that first cry and the moment you first hold your child. Think ahead well before labour and birth as whether you want to cut the umbilical cord. There’s no right or wrong but for some birth partners, this is a key moment for them to feel involved with the labour and birth.

Mum may need checking over by the midwife and there will be a moment when this little bundle is put into your arms and the two of you become a little island of peace in a busy room, just you and this tiny creature that is going to change and enrich your life in so many ways, this is it, the journey begins.

And Now You’re a Dad, What’s Next?

The next key milestone will be bringing your baby home, but before that there will be a period ranging from a few hours to a few days where Mum and baby will be in hospital, being observed to make sure that everything is OK and that baby is feeding and Mum is doing well. As Dad, you will feel like you are on the periphery of all this activity, don’t overthink it and don’t feel like you are not a part of these first hours. Ask questions, support mum, undertake all those practical things like making phone calls and keeping everyone updated.

dad cuddling newborn baby

Two Becomes Three (or more!)

In those heady first days of sleep deprivation and exhaustion don’t forget to share your excitement with your partner. Take a moment here to think of her, this woman has just been through several hours of what we men can only begin to imagine. You have ceased to be a couple and are now a family and that in itself is pretty amazing. As you sit there, the three of you, take a moment to reflect – you’re all there, you’re all safe and (despite what people will tell you) you played a big part in that.

Giving birth is the end of the first part of the journey and the first step onto a road that will be winding and difficult at times but ultimately incredibly rewarding. You made it this far – well done, and welcome to the world of fatherhood!   

Just remember – don’t eat her Mars bar!

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