So, your partner is pregnant, congratulations dad-to-be! Once all the initial excitement has worn off after telling everyone, just how many people have checked in with you to see how you are feeling about fatherhood or if you are supporting mum during labour whether you know what might be needed or expected from you?
Antenatally, so much focus in on mum and rightly so as she is the 'star turn' in all of this, but you are not a spare-part and the arrival of a baby into the family is going to be a big life changing event for both of you.
Supporting someone you love go through childbirth is tough. You want to make sure your partner is ok and it is natural to perhaps wish you could speed things up a bit or take some of the discomfort away. It is very easy to feel like you are spare-part and not part of the birthing team, but nothing could be further from the truth.
LOOKING AFTER YOU
First up, you cannot look after someone else if you are feeling like crap. You need to be bringing your A-game to the birth room. Make sure that you reserve a little corner of the birth bag (or pack a man-bag) with things that you need to look after you. For example:
medication if you take it
change for a phone / vending machine
entertainment (some pain relief can make mum sleepy)
change of clothes
anything else you can think of.
As I write this, it is winter and for anyone having a winter baby, you are likely to turn up at the hospital or birth centre in your winter woolies. Labour rooms are ' hot hot hot' so perhaps pack a t-shirt or even shorts in the bag so that you can be comfortable.
I once had a dad tell me he approached birth like packing for a long-haul flight; make sure you have everything you need to hand because you can't pop out half-way across the Atlantic.
Once your own comfort needs are met, start to think about how you can support mum. Birth partners are often in charge of logistics but there is much more you can do like helping mum physically by supporting her to adopt comfortable labour positions and offering a massage. Both of these can really help increase oxytocin (the key labour hormone) and help with the progression of labour. You can also work with mum to make sure her breathing stays calm and rhythmical with a bit of mirrored breathing.
Massage and experimenting with labour positions that feel comfortable are skills that get better with practice so the more you do antenatally, the more natural it is when labour arrives.
Often birth partners are worried about what happens if mum needs a caesarean birth. What happens to mum and what happens to them! This is something that we cover in an antenatal class. During a caesarean, it is most-likely possible for you to be there so that you can support mum whilst looking very suave in your hospital gear.
Remember it is ok for you to use your voice and ask your midwife and other members of your care team questions. There may be times when mum is unable to converse as well as normal so knowing someone in the room 'has her back' and can advocate is a great idea. NHS Lothian is advocating using the B.R.A.I.N. decision making tool at the moment and you may see posters on labour ward and stickers on mum's maternity notes. This isn't just for mum, you can ask questions too.
Whatever road your birth takes, hospitals work to their protocols but your partner is a unique individual. Sometimes just being confident enough to discus options with your care team means that your care can be tailored more to your needs.
BECOMING A DAD
Then your baby is born and you are now a father! Just like mum, you may experience mixed emotions around this. Mum has had 9 months physical connection with your baby where as finally you can feel them too. Sometime the feelings of love hit you like proper 'thunderbolt city' where as for others the feelings of love and closeness develop over time. This is completely normal.
People want to come and visit to meet your newborn. They may ask how mum is after the birth, but what about you? You have just witnessed something incredible. You are now dad and your entire world has changed. Make sure people ask how you are too!
What about baby care? Before I had my son, I could count on 2 fingers the amount of interaction I had ever had with a baby and initially I was on a massive learning curve: how to change a nappy, bath a baby, comfort a baby, understand how babies sleep and feed. It was literally like starting a new job where I knew nobody's name, how they liked their coffee or where the photocopier was.
Cut yourself a bit of slack, you will get there! Your son or daughter won't remember if you put on a nappy that leaked or you dressed your baby and missed a couple of poppers. Save that guilt for when your toddler starts repeating your swear words or catches you trying to eat chocolate biscuits in secret in the kitchen.
So, how can you prepare for becoming a birth partner and new dad. Did you know that
antenatal classes are not just for mum-to-be. If you are going to be a birth partner and dad then it is only right that you are offered the same preparation opportunities as mum. Becoming a dad is a big deal.
If you are lucky, you might be offered a place on a Dads2B course, similar to ones I used to co-facilitate with the midwife at St Johns Hospital. These are safe-spaces where you can ask questions and voice any concerns that you specifically have and can learn practical baby-care skills too. If you don't have a dad's antenatal course near you then why not check out my website and see if I can help you.
My antenatal courses are designed with both parents in mind and because you have continuous support from me after the course has finished, if there is anything you wish to discuss privately, then get in touch. I want to make sure everything I do is as relevant for you as it is for mum.
If you know that you cannot make all the session (I know life gets in the way sometimes) then I can offer 1:1 support if you have questions about what you missed and you will have access to handouts and resources to supplement everything we cover.
Here is what S had to say about one of my courses. He was birth partner to H who went on to have a wonderful birth at the Birth Centre in Edinburgh:
"Brilliant working with Joy! Absolutely top. Felt at ease throughout the training and all questions answered. Definitely recommend for any preparation prior to giving birth, or supporting someone giving birth."
Guys, you have got this!
If you would like to talk to / email / WhatsApp in confidence someone to discuss your mental health surrounding anything in this blog then please check out: PANDAS
IN PERSON ANTENATAL COURSES
LIVINGSTON, WEST LOTHIAN
ONLINE ANTENATAL WORKSHOPS