A father’s number one mission in the delivery room is to support his partner. But that doesn’t mean dads-to-be should ignore their own needs. As is the case with so many things in life — and, crucially, parenting — one often needs to put the oxygen mask on themselves first. In other words, an eye toward self-care can help men be as present as possible for their partners. This doesn’t just impact you two on the Big Day, either. How dads experience the birth of their child can also affect their mental health in the first months of their baby’s life, research shows. Stress on delivery day can carry through, which can keep dads from being at their best for their child’s first few weeks of life.
Granted, there’s a limit to how much you can control stress when it comes to labor and delivery. Kecia Gaither, M.D., director of perinatal services in the Bronx’s NYC Health + Hospitals/Lincoln, has been present at hundreds of births, and she’s seen just how different they can be from person to person. “You never know when it will occur. It can begin innocuously and end up in an emergent situation. Or vice versa,” she says. That unpredictability is a pressure cooker for anxiety.
But having been through so many childbirths, Gaither also has a good idea of what works for dads in the delivery room. These are her tips.
Get a Feel for the Delivery Room Ahead of Time
Hospitals are a lot to take in. Luckily, it’s usually possible to get inside a labor and delivery suite before the big day. “Visit as a couple, such that the sights, sounds, and equipment don’t seem foreign or frightening,” Gaither says.
It can be particularly helpful to scope out the sleeping situation for support people, how far the suite is from public restrooms and places to buy food, and how well your cell service holds up inside the hospital. While there’s very little you’ll be able to change, creating a baseline comfort level can lower stress and anxiety on the day of delivery. Just make sure to arrange the visit in advance so you have time to reschedule if all the suites are in use during your original visit time.
Prepare for Labor to Take a Looooong While
“Labor and delivery can ebb and flow,” Gaither says. “There are certain stages from latent, to active, to delivery. It’s helpful to familiarize yourself to give you a realistic view of how long labor can be.”
Active labor can last four to eight hours or more, and some push for anywhere from a few minutes to a few hours. Childbirth classes, books, videos, and conversations with friends can help you prep for how long labor and delivery takes, and how long it feels like it takes.
Get Comfortable With Hospital Check-In
Getting in and out of the hospital should be the easiest part of the whole birth process, but if you end up rushing in after your partner’s water breaks, it can be anything but. Make sure you’re prepared ahead of time. Ask about the registration and discharge procedures. Know who and how to ask for help when you arrive. And find out the best area for labor and delivery patients to park so you’re not stuck circling the parking garage or making an unnecessarily long trek from a far-off lot when you could be in the hospital supporting your partner.
Pay Attention to Your Basic Needs
Everything a person needs to make it through a normal day is important on delivery day too. It’s easy to get caught up in the emotion of the moment and try to be a hero by depriving yourself of necessities that draw you away from your partner. But this makes the entire experience more stressful than it needs to be.
“Labor can be long. Support people get hungry and tired. So try to get a catnap when labor isn’t progressing quickly, as long as your partner doesn’t need you fully present,” Gaither says. “And don’t let dehydration sneak up on you.” Bring food you can eat quickly and easily. The cafeteria is always an option if you run out of snacks.
Although most parents make packing their overnight bag a top priority, you’ll probably leave behind something essential. Don’t worry. Hospitals can supply toothbrushes, toothpaste, and many other necessities to keep you fresh and comfy. And if you start cramping up, there’s no shame in asking for ice and heat packs.
Being a supportive partner during pregnancy and delivery boils down to mindfulness and good listening. First, to their partner’s needs and expectations, asking specific questions and running through scenarios as the due date approaches. And then to what their own body and mind are telling them they need to do so they can be there for their partner while they give birth.
This article was originally published on