Catching Your Newborn: Not for Everyone

Dear Mr. Dad: I’m in the US Air Force, stationed in Italy. My wife is 5.5 months pregnant with our first and I’ve asked our on-base obstetricians to allow me to catch the baby when it’s born. I feel I should be the first person to hold my child, not some doctor we’ll never see again. They don’t seem too happy with this and I fear I won’t get the chance. Since we’re overseas, we don’t have the option of choosing a different OB. Am I being petty?

A: It wasn’t all that long ago that dads weren’t allowed in the delivery room at all, let alone to get involved in the actual delivery. In fact there was a case back in the 70s of an expectant dad being arrested for trying to attend the birth of his child. That idiotic attitude changed after a while, and cutting the cord became the standard. Today, things have progressed even further, and lots of dads do exactly what you want to do: catch the baby. So no, you’re not being petty. Hopefully, other expectant dads will read this and be inspired by you.

Now, just because you CAN catch your baby, you shouldn’t plan on doing it alone. Having a trained medical professional by your side during the process is pretty important. The OBs you have on base will do nicely. But keep in mind that all sorts of unexpected things can (and often do) happen during labor and delivery, and you may need someone with expert skills to step in. So you don’t want to alienate them.

Okay, let’s talk about why the docs may be skittish about letting you catch the baby—even though you’re well within your rights to ask. The problem is that even though it’s getting more common, it’s still not the norm, which means they may not have a huge amount of experience with dads doing what you want to do. Throw in some worries about potential complications to your wife and soon-to-be-born little one, and you can see where they’re coming from.

Another reasons the OBs might be less-than enthusiastic to let you catch your baby is that they’re worried you might inadvertently do something wrong or pass out. I caught my youngest when she was born (it wasn’t an option with the older two) and I can tell you that just-born babies are slippery You can minimize everyone’s worries by asking the docs to demonstrate exactly what you should do and when. Then practice. A lot. Keep in mind that the medical team’s first priority will be your wife and baby. That means that no matter how much you’ve practiced, someone will have to be standing right next to you, just in case.

One more thing to keep in mind.  A lot more dads plan to catch their newborn than actually do. Some get squeamish and change their minds last minute. Others have the decision made for them. No matter how well-prepared a laboring mom is, she really needs your support, which means she may want you up by her head, helping her focus, instead of down south. So talk to her well in advance and ask what she’d prefer (keeping in mind that this could change in the delivery room).

Catching your baby is a very special thing. But he or she couldn’t care less who does the job. Your wife, on the other hand, will. As with the medical team, your first priority should be to her. If she says she needs you to be someplace in particular, be there.

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