One of the best ways to prepare for childbirth is to accompany your wife or partner to a childbirth education class. Our birthing classes are the best way for expectant dads to to get the knowledge necessary to empower you and your partner in preparation for our natural child birthing experience.
Here are some key points for fathers-to-be:
- Recognize the onset of true labor
Late in their pregnancy, most women will experience false labor — Braxton Hicks contractions that may start out strong but taper off and then stop after a while. Here are some signs to look for, among others, that your wife is experiencing the real deal:
- Her water may break, resulting in a trickle or a gush of fluid. When the amniotic sac (also called the water bag) breaks, 80% of women will spontaneously go into labor within 12 hours. Keep in mind, though, that contractions usually start before her water breaks.
- Persistent lower back pain, especially if your partner also complains about a crampy, premenstrual feeling.
- Contractions that occur at regular and increasingly shorter intervals and become longer and stronger in intensity.
- She passes the mucus plug, which blocks the cervix. This isn’t necessarily a sign that labor is imminent — it could still be several days away — but, at the very least, it indicates that things are moving.
- Know how to time the contractions
Make sure your watch has a readable second hand, and time your wife’s contractions from the beginning of one contraction to the beginning of the next. If they’re eight to 10 minutes apart and last 30 to 45 seconds each, your partner is likely in early labor. This is the time to call your midwife or caregiver. As a general rule-of-thumb, if the contractions are less than five minutes apart, last a minute or more, and continue in that pattern for an hour, you should get to your birthing space.
- Know what to expect during labor
Forget those TV sitcom images where a woman goes into labor and a baby pops out by the second commercial. It sometimes happens that fast, but only rarely. For most, especially first-time mothers, labor is a journey, not an event. Bottom line: Don’t expect this will be over in just a few hours. Every woman’s experience is different, but it’s helpful to understand that there are three distinct stages of labor:
- First stage
The first stage really consists of three phases:
- Early phase. This phase typically lasts up to 14 hours or longer, although it’s usually considerably shorter for second and subsequent babies. As labor progresses, the contractions get longer and stronger.
- Active phase. Often this phase lasts up to six or more hours, although it can be a lot shorter. You should be in the hospital or birth center by now or en route. Contractions are much more intense, last about 40 to 60 seconds, and are spaced 3 to 5 minutes apart. Breathing exercises, relaxation techniques, and coaching are all important now. If your partner is having trouble coping or she’s not interested in a drug-free labor, this is when she might opt for an epidural or other pain relief.
- Transition phase. This phase can last anywhere from a few minutes to a several hours. It’s here that your partner is most likely to swear at you like a truck driver. (Don’t take it personally; even women who have coped well up to this point often “lose it” during the transition phase.) Contractions last 60 to 90 seconds and come two or three minutes apart.
- Second stage
Pushing and birth. The second stage can last from minutes to hours — the average is about an hour for a first-time pregnancy (longer if she’s had an epidural) — and ends with a moment that’s made up in equal parts of relief and breathtaking beauty: the birth of your baby. There’s a lot to think about during this phase: Do you want to record the birth on video? Will you want to cut the cord? (Be sure to remind your doctor or midwife if you do.) Does your partner want to try to breastfeed immediately after birth? If the doctor or midwife or labor and delivery nurse doesn’t make sure that happens, you’ll need to be ready to advocate for her.
- Third stage
Delivery of the placenta. It’s not over yet! This stage, which begins immediately after the birth of your baby and ends with the delivery of the placenta anywhere from one to 30 minutes later, is usually anticlimactic but necessary. Be aware, too, that your partner may get a case of the chills during this phase or feel very shaky. If that’s the case, be ready to offer a warm blanket and to hold your newborn while she’s regaining her strength.
- First stage
- Be an active participant
In the days and weeks before your baby’s due date, make sure both you and your wife are ready with everything and anything that you might need. For a homebirth, we will provide you with a checklist of items and materials to have on hand for the delivery. In the case of a hospital birth, whether pre-planned, or last minute decision, you should have a “go bag” already packed, including a change of clothes for you and your partner, toiletries, cell phones and chargers, a camera or camcorder, and other essentials. If you have a specific birth plan, you may need to let the labor and delivery nurses know about it (you should have already discussed it with your doctor or midwife).During early labor, remind your partner to drink plenty of liquids. Pour her a glass of nonacidic juice such as apple juice or pineapple juice, honey and water, an herbal tea, or just plain water to ward off dehydration. Offer her a bagel, yogurt, or something bland — she might not get anything solid to eat at the hospital for many hours after the baby’s birth. You should have already double and triple checked to make sure that everything you may need is ready to go. Check again now.
If your plan is to head to the hospital, drive carefully. Drive carefully. Drive carefully! This isn’t the time for taking unnecessary chances by trying to make it there a few seconds sooner. When you get to the labor room, stick around to provide comfort and support. Feel free to bring fruit or other snacks along if it’s in the middle of the night. Remember, this is not the time to check out, it’s the time to step up.
- Be an advocate for your partner
The doctor or midwife and nurses are there to make sure your partner and baby do well during labor and birth. But you have a big role in helping your partner get comfortable and in communicating her wishes. You and she also have a big say in personalizing your room. When it’s time to rest, soften the lighting. Freshen the smell by taking along aromatherapy balls or scented oils. Bring pictures and your own music.
- Know how to play coach
Take your cues from your partner. Some women love having a massage or having their hair stroked during labor. Others don’t. And it may be hard to predict ahead of time what your partner will prefer. In any case, try to reassure her that she’s doing fine and be ready to help in any way she asks. Our birth classes are full of great hands-on tips on how to be a great labor coach.
- Be prepared
Watch videos of vaginal births and c-sections. A quick search for “birthing videos” on YouTube should give you plenty of good results. Childbirth can be messy and unglamorous. Don’t be surprised if your baby’s skin looks wrinkled or his head is molded into a cone shape, and, in truth, he doesn’t even look like a baby.
- Cut the cord if you want
Today, most dads choose to cut the baby’s umbilical cord after birth. Even for squeamish fathers, if you can handle it, do it. This is one of those memories that will stay with you for a lifetime and it provides a great bonding experience for the father.