This month, we're going to spend some time focusing on dads. Not just because Father's Day is coming up or because it's Men's Health Month, but because dads often report feeling left out and lost in the mix of pregnancy and birth.
Many couples will learn about and hire a doula for their birth. Many other couples will not. If you're on the fence about hiring a doula, you may want to consider how doulas also help and work with dads during labor and birth. In full disclosure of my personal bias, I have worked as a doula and have had a doula for one of my own births -- I think they are awesome and invaluable for dads and moms/birthing people!
Some people believe that a doula's role is to take place of dad, which can be a very off-putting idea to couples. In reality, a good doula works as a liaison or assistant between the couple during labor and birth, not as a "replacement." Let's talk specifics.
1. Figuring out dad's desired role - Not every dad wants to get in the birthing tub and help deliver baby; not every dad wants to sit on the couch and surf Instagram. The role that a dad sees himself in during labor and birth will be unique to his comfort level with birth and his relationship with his partner. A doula works with a couple during pregnancy to begin this discussion. As a doula, I asked dads, "How do you see yourself participating in your birth? What's your comfort level? What kinds of things do you see yourself doing on the big day?" I remind dad that there's no wrong answer, and each person's and couple's situation is individual. Of course, what a dad imagines doing during birth and what actually happens may change -- many dads are surprised at how comfortable and involved they are even if they predicted otherwise.
2. Respecting dad's wishes and checking in - During labor and birth, a doula keeps in mind the very important discussions they had during pregnancy, and provides support to the couple accordingly. At the same time, a doula also frequently checks in with dad to find out how he's doing, feeling, if he has questions/concerns, and if he would like assistance in supporting his partner. A doula is good at assessing and checking in with empathy and without judgement. If a dad who previously said he doesn't see himself being very "hands on" begins to take more interest, a doula will appropriately encourage and foster that desire. A doula works to ensure that the mother/birthing person has positive memories of her partner's role during labor and birth.
3. Providing reassurance on the process of birth - Even if a couple takes a good childbirth class, there may be times of concern, uncertainty, or fear about what's normal/not during birth. A doula can help reassure dads and birthing partners about what's happening (is it normal that she's vomiting? why is it taking so long? what does that procedure/instrument/word mean?) in order to help reduce fear and anxiety. A nurse and doctor or midwife also can help answer these questions, but the reality is that nurses and care providers are not with a couple throughout labor and birth, while a doula provides continuous support. Additionally, a doula's role is to provide emotional and informational support, whereas a nurse's and doctor or midwife's role is medical (although many nurses, doctors, and midwifes also can provide good emotional support, too).
4. Catching a break - Research shows us that people in labor and giving birth do better when they have continuous support -- that means the encouraging support of another person throughout labor and birth. Even the most hands-on and physically involved dads in labor need a break to go to the bathroom or refuel with some food. A doula helps provide a welcome and needed break for dads, which is especially helpful in cases of long labors.
5. Boosting confidence - Doulas aren't just cheerleaders for the person in labor, they also help dads feel more at ease and help them believe they know just how to support their partner. A good doula will encourage dads, and provide tips and suggestions gently, only when it looks like it's needed. Sometimes, a doula is like the "magic" feather in Dumbo's trunk -- just her presence alone can increase confidence. Beyond that, her knowledge and insight often feels both critical and reassuring to dads and partners.
Dads and doulas make a great team. If you've ever felt hesitant about hiring a doula because of perceptions about "interference," I encourage you to investigate further. Schedule a few interviews, talk to friends who've had good doula experiences -- learn for yourself how dads and mom/birthing person can both benefit from the presence and support of a doula.