Dads and Doulas

A DONA International Birth Doula Topic Sheet

Dads and Doulas: Key Players on Mother's Labor Support Team

There was a time when expectant fathers were portrayed as anxious, floor-pacing, cigar smoking men who were tolerated in hospital corridors until the long-awaited moment when a nurse or doctor would announce they were the proud father of a daughter or a son.

Today's expectant fathers are different.

When it comes to pregnancy, birth, and parenting, today's father wants to share everything with his partner. He wants to be actively involved; ease his partner's labor pain, welcome his baby at the moment of birth and help care for his newborn at home.

A labor doula can help a father experience this special time with confidence.

The word "doula" which comes from ancient Greek, today refers to a woman trained and experienced in childbirth. A doula provides continuous physical, emotional, and informational support to the expectant mother and her partner during labor, delivery and in the immediate postpartum period. The wisdom and emotional support of experienced women at birth is an ancient tradition.

Studies show that when doulas are present at birth, women have shorter labors, fewer medical interventions, fewer cesareans and healthier babies.

Recent evidence also suggests that when a doula provides labor support, women are more satisfied with their experience and the mother-infant interaction is enhanced as long as two months after the birth. With doula support, fathers tend to stay more involved with their partner rather than pull away in times of stress. Today, a father's participation in birth preparation classes or his presence at prenatal visits and in the delivery suite is a familiar occurrence. Yet, we sometimes forget that the expectations of his role as a "labor coach" may be difficult to fulfill. Sometimes it is also culturally inappropriate for an expectant father to be so intimately involved in the process of labor and birth.

The father-to-be is expected among other things to become familiar with the process and language of birth, to understand medical procedures and hospital protocols and advocate for his partner in an environment and culture he is usually unfamiliar with. A doula can provide the information to help parents make appropriate decisions and facilitate communication between the laboring woman, her partner and medical care providers.

At times a father may not understand a woman's instinctive behavior during childbirth and may react anxiously to what a doula knows to be the normal process of birth. He may witness his partner in pain and understandably become distressed. The doula can be reassuring and skillfully help the mother to cope with labor pain in her unique way. The father-to-be may need to accompany his partner during surgery should a cesarean becomes necessary. Not all fathers can realistically be expected to "coach" at this intense level. Many fathers are eager to be involved during labor and birth. Others, no less loving or committed to their partner's well being find it difficult to navigate in uncharted waters. With a doula, a father can share in the birth at a level he feels most comfortable with.

The doula's skills and knowledge can help him to feel more relaxed.

If the father wants to provide physical comfort such as back massage, change of positions, and help his partner to stay focused during contractions, the doula can provide that guidance and make suggestions for what may work best.

Physicians, midwives and nurses are responsible for monitoring labor, assessing the medical condition of the mother and baby, and treating complications when they arise. But childbirth is also an emotional and spiritual experience with long-term impact on a woman's personal well being. A doula is constantly aware that the mother and her partner will remember this experience throughout their lives.

By "mothering the mother" during childbirth the doula supports the parents in having a positive and memorable birth experience. The benefits of doula care have been recognized worldwide. The Medical Leadership Council of Washington, D.C, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynecologists of Canada and the World Health Organization are among the many healthcare organizations that value the benefits that doulas provide to women in labor.

The father's presence and loving support in childbirth is comforting and reassuring.

The love he shares with the mother and his child, his needs to nurture and protect his family are priceless gifts that only he can provide. With her partner and a doula at birth a mother can have the best of both worlds: her partner's loving care and attention and the doula's expertise and guidance in childbirth.

A DONA International Birth Doula Topic Sheet

Support During the Postpartum Period

The birth of each baby has a long-lasting impact on the physical and mental health of the mother, baby and family. The way in which the woman, baby, partner and family transition into a new unit have a long-lasting impact on their physical and emotional health.

In traditional societies, women and men grow up around birth, breastfeeding, infants and children. After giving birth, women are surrounded by caring family members who have a great deal of experience and wisdom to offer. This kind of help is rarely available to new parents in many societies today. The doula's support is intended to fill the gaps left by our postpartum traditions, which usually include only medical procedures, occasional checkups and the purchase of baby-related paraphernalia. The doula's education, quiet support and guidance are a manifestation of traditional postpartum support that many cultures are missing.

There are many ways in which the doula's support benefits fathers. Research has proven that mothers and babies have an easier transition with support. However, fathers experience great life transitions of their own at this time and may not be able to be the primary provider of the transitional support their families need. Fathers are redefining their roles; they may also be adjusting to sleep deprivation, financial pressures and other stressors, as well.

The doula's support is for the father as much as the mother or children. A sympathetic ear, source of encouragement, gentle educator and friend is something from which we could all benefit throughout our lives. The postpartum doula provides all of these during this defining life experience.

The doula can also help the father to learn the art of mothering the mother, increasing chances for success in areas such as breastfeeding and reduction of postpartum depression. Rather than being told to help out, partners and other family members benefit from concrete instruction and role-modeling on how to support a woman during the weeks after birth.

The importance of the father's involvement and support during the weeks following birth cannot be overstated. During this time he truly becomes a parent, getting to know this tiny, yet complete, person who has entered his family. The doula can ease this introduction, helping the father to discover all he can about his baby, as well as develop his own concept of himself as a parent. In addition, the doula's support can help parents to adjust their own relationship, moving forward to enhance their previous life together as a couple who are now parents.

The role of the doula is to help the family experience success. She does this with quiet, reassuring support for all family members. By dedicating herself to the family in this way, the doula validates and enhances the parents' intuitive ability to nurture and encourages them to become confident to develop and implement their own parenting style.