Coaching the (Childbirth) Coach

Dear Mr. Dad: My wife is pregnant and wants me to be her “labor coach” for the delivery. This is my first baby and I’m really nervous. What can I do to prepare?

A: Congratulations on your impending fatherhood! The very first thing to do is banish the word “coach” from your childbirth vocabulary. When things don’t go perfectly with an NBA or NFL team, the coach is the one who gets fired–sometimes right in the middle of a season. And someone else comes in to finish the job. Thinking of yourself as a coach puts way too much pressure on you. You’re the dad. You can’t be fired.

Next, learn about labor and delivery by attending childbirth classes with your wife, reading books like my The Expectant Father and The New Father: A Dad’s Guide to the First Year, and taking a tour of your hospital or birthing center. Then talk with your wife about what the ideal delivery scenario would look like. But resist the urge to create a written birth plan. Labor and delivery rarely go as planned, so lots of flexibility is essential. Here are a few discussion starters.

  • Many hospitals require constant monitoring (via a big belt and an IV), which could limit your wife’s mobility. Sometimes hospitals don’t let laboring women eat anything but ice. How does she feel about these policies?
  • In what circumstances would your wife want a C-Section, an episiotomy (an incision in the vagina to enlarge the opening), or assisted birth (forceps or vacuum extraction)?
  • Does your wife want an epidural (for pain) immediately or does she want an unmedicated delivery? If she wants to avoid medication, what other pain management techniques will she consider? How will you help her deal with the pain?
  • Who’s in the delivery room? Unless your wife specifically requests someone else, you should be the only non-medical professional there.
  • Atmosphere. Does she have a favorite song? Does she want loud, thumping music or a quiet setting with soft lighting?
  • Does she want to capture every minute of labor and delivery or wait until she’s had a chance to brush her hair before you start shooting?
  • Does she want to see the baby crown (when the head appears) using a mirror? Do you want to cut the cord?
  • After the birth, who gets to hold the baby first? Does your wife want to try breastfeeding right away? Do you want to bank your baby’s cord blood (check out cordblood.org)?
  • Pack a hospital bag for yourself, including a change of clothes, basic toiletries, a snack (for you, not her), and a swimsuit (she may end up laboring in a shower or tub and there’s no reason why you can’t be in there with her).
  • Unless there’s a clear medical emergency, don’t hesitate to ask what the nurse or doctor is doing and why. If something isn’t going the way you and your wife planned, speak up (she’ll probably be too exhausted).
  • Tell her how amazing she is. Labor and delivery are tough, and your support and encouragement will make a huge difference in her ability to cope.

Finally—and perhaps most importantly—trust your team. Stories about doctors pushing drugs and C-Sections may have been true a while ago, but not now. Unless you’re an MD or Labor & Delivery nurse, you’re probably not qualified to make medical decisions. If you can’t trust your OB to do (or suggest) what’s best for your wife, you really need to find someone else.

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