It’s here. The main event. The culmination of the last nine months – the final hurdle that you and your partner must overcome before you officially begin your tenure as parents. Labour.
But what part do you, the dad, play in all of this?
The truth is that many dads I’ve spoken to confess how useless they felt during their partner’s labour – like they were nothing more than a spare part.
With that in mind, the first thing you should know is that, while your partner will ultimately play the main character in this life-changing episode, you are destined for a lot more than a mere cameo role, consigned to the back of the set to sit there without making a sound.
You have a lot to do. Let’s take a look.
In the UK, approximately seven per cent of babies are born prematurely. So, ensure the following bags are packed way ahead of your partner’s due date:
- Dad’s bag
- Baby’s bag
- Mum’s bag
Your partner will probably want to pack her bag and possibly the baby’s bag. I advise you are present for this. You want to familiarise yourself with what’s in both bags so that you can retrieve items on request. Remember that labour can be long and exhausting – for everyone involved. Any task requiring you to expend mental energy is tougher than you realise when you’re in the room, so try to do some of the hard work up front before contractions begin.
Also, ensure you have everything you need to ride out a potentially long labour. You want comfy, loose-fitting clothes, a pillow and toiletries. Bring a hoodie or something to keep you warm if you’re there at night. Oh, and you want snacks – lots of ‘em!
No one wants to think about what can go wrong during labour. But things can go wrong, and thinking about them prior to labour in a space that permits calm reflection ensures that you won’t get caught out when you’re in the labour ward surrounded by doctors and nurses, listening to your partner vocalising whatever she needs to vocalise to help her work through the contractions.
Read up on pain relief and assisted-birth delivery methods, such as C-section or ventouse delivery, ahead of time – before labour begins. Discuss with your partner what you are both comfortable with should you find your labour experience going down any unexpected avenues.
I had to read a long list of complications that could occur with an epidural, and I also had to read this out to my partner while she was midway through a contraction. Can you imagine the scene? She had endured an entire night of induced contractions, but progress had been minimal. And so an epidural was unexpectedly offered. Not once had we discussed this beforehand.
Everything turned out OK, but that didn’t reduce the dramatic emotional battering we both took from the experience.
You can learn from my mistakes.
Some other points to consider before labour begins:
- Download an offline playlist. Flow State by Above & Beyond worked wonders for my partner. Make sure you have a power bank to keep your speaker charged if you don’t have access to a plug.
- Set up a WhatsApp group with immediate family members so you can let them all know at once when the baby is here. You can also use it to keep them updated on how labour is progressing – that is, of course, if you have agreed with your partner to do that; you might not want to, and that’s fine.
- Decide what will happen when your baby arrives. For example:
- Do you want to cut the umbilical cord?
- How will the sex of the baby be revealed (if you don’t already know)?
- Do you want to have skin-to-skin cuddles?
Signs of early labour include your partner becoming even more emotional than she has been during the rest of the pregnancy. She might experience mild contractions, or her mucus plug might come away – this is called the ‘show’.
If labour begins early, don’t panic. Call your midwife and listen to the advice they give you. They might tell you to remain at home and relax, in which case maybe go for a walk, watch a film or cook a meal for the two of you. And don’t be afraid to eat more than you usually would – you never know when that next opportunity to eat will come.
Call the midwife immediately If there is any change in your partner's condition.
The biggest piece of advice I can give you is to read the room. Let me explain. There are a ton of online guides that will tell you what to do and what not to do. But while many offer useful advice, only you (hopefully) will know your partner better than anyone else. Use that knowledge to guide your understanding of what you should and shouldn’t do during labour.
A typical example might be that you’re encouraged to sit by your partner’s side and hold her hand, allowing her to squeeze it so tightly that the bones turn to dust. I was all geared up to live out that clichéd labour scene. But when the time came, I instinctively knew I needed to keep away from my partner. How did I know this? Simple: I know my partner, and I was able to read her body language in order to inform how I behaved.
On that last point, sitting in the room doing nothing can leave you as a dad feeling inadequate. However, you are anything but that. You are in your partner’s corner, ready to respond to her needs at any moment. That is the opposite of doing nothing, and you should take comfort in that.
My partner’s labour was long. She went in on Saturday, and our son wasn’t born until late afternoon on Tuesday, meaning I had to go home each night. I hated this. But the midwife pointed out that I did my partner and my baby no favours by worrying. So, I went home, rested, and returned the next day, ready to be everything my partner needed.
I encourage you to do the same.
Words alone do little justice to the experience of holding your newborn son or daughter in your arms for the first time. It’s beyond beautiful. But that sublime moment immediately follows many stressful, high-tension ones, and the emotional transition between the two states happens very quickly. And if you’re not careful, you won’t fully enjoy the experience and live in the moment.
My son was born by emergency C-section. A team of people were in the room, seeing to my partner and going about the necessary tasks that follow major surgery. It would have been easy to get distracted and overwhelmed.
Fortunately, I focused my attention on meeting my son for the first time. Try and do the same. Remember: you might only get a handful of moments, so cherish every one of them.
Skin to skin
Skin-to-skin contact involves cuddling your baby without wearing a T-shirt. It’s a wonderful way to bond with your newborn baby, and you should cash in on this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity if you can.
If you’re body conscious, don’t worry; you can still partake in the experience. Ensure you’ve got a zip-up hoodie and nothing else underneath. When the time comes, unzip your hoodie and cuddle your baby with nothing else on show.
Your new job
‘Would Dad like to dress the baby?’ was not a question I expected to hear a few minutes after my son was born. But it was nonetheless one I was asked. And I was not prepared. I thought the midwife was joking. How could they possibly let me operate a newborn baby after what I’d gone through with my partner – who, by the way, was getting stitched up on the table next to me?
But she wasn’t joking.
Be prepared to take the parenthood reins as soon as your baby arrives. You’re now a dad, and you have a job to do. And yes, it’s not a bad idea to practise applying a nappy to a teddy beforehand.
Before you go
I’ve written much more in-depth guide about labour and other matters relating to pregnancy and the newborn-baby stage. Here’s where you can grab them (for free):
And finally, congratulations on becoming a parent. It will test you in ways you cannot fathom, but it will reward you in a similar fashion. Enjoy it!
Tom Kreffer is the author of Dear Dory: Journal of a Soon-to-be First-time Dad, Dear Arlo: Adventures in Dadding, Toddler Inc., and he is the creator of the Adventures in Dadding Newsletter.
He loves Star Wars and Marvel movies, and he has a degree in film and television that he firmly believes to be worth less than a second-hand toothbrush.
My website www.tomkreffer.com
Email at email@example.com