Help him expect the unexpected
There are many ways a partner can support you—massaging your back, placing cold compresses on your forehead, even channel surfing for a distracting TV show. “But it’s important for him to know that your reactions to these measures may change during labor,” Simkin says. “For example, a massage may feel heavenly for a while, then become really unpleasant. He needs to know that’s normal, and he shouldn’t take your reaction personally.”
Likewise, your partner should know that what entertains you in everyday life may infuriate you in the delivery room. Jokes are a prime example. “A lot of men use humor to alleviate the stress, and it’s not always appreciated,” Abrahams says.
Understand where he’s coming from
“It’s in the nature of men to need something tangible and task-oriented to do during a crisis,” says Jeanne Faulkner, R.N., a labor-and-delivery nurse in Portland, Ore. “But labor tends to involve a lot of sitting and just ‘being,’ and that’s hard for a lot of guys.”
You may expect your partner to be your rock during delivery, but don’t be surprised if he starts to crumble a bit. “It’s an emotional time for the father as well, and it can be hard to watch a loved one in pain,” says Erin E. Tracy, M.D., an OB-GYN at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston.
Consider his comfort level
Some partners are happy to be in the delivery room but have no interest in having a front-row seat. If yours is more of a head-of-the-bed guy, it will be better for both of you if you don’t order him to hang out with the doctor at the foot of the bed. “He doesn’t have to see every last detail,” Abrahams says. He doesn’t have to cut the umbilical cord, either.
Respect his traditions
In some cultures, the idea of a man witnessing childbirth is horrifying. Try not to take it personally. “Some men show up in the delivery room because they want to be an ‘American’ dad, but it’s incredibly uncomfortable for them,” Faulkner says. “They try, but then realize they just can’t be there.”
Resist the urge to force him
If the thought of being in the delivery room makes your partner break out in hives, demanding his presence may backfire. “If the man is there grudgingly or neglecting the mother, it contributes to her stress levels, and stress interferes with labor,” Simkin says. “The day you give birth is a day you’re never going to forget. You want it to be a good memory.”
Are you better off without him?
If you think your guy won’t make a good birth partner, you have two options.
First, you can have him with you in the delivery room, but don’t expect more from him than what he is comfortable doing. If you go this route, consider working with a midwife or doula who can give you what he can’t, advises doula Penny Simkin.
Or, you can station him in the waiting room, and invite someone else, such as your mother, to be your birth partner. Warning: This won’t work if your relationship with your mother is strained. “The delivery room is not the place to be working out family dynamics,” says labor
nurse Jeanne Faulkner, R.N. If you ask someone else to be your birth partner, do so early in your pregnancy, so she has time to attend childbirth classes and take other steps to prepare.
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