I’ve always loved watching dads during labor. There are so many different ways they show up, and there are definitely different fears, anxieties, or worries that often seem present. Let me just say right off the bat that I think that most dads want to show up so well. I’ve seen some posts that kind of bash all dads, like they’re bumbling fools who don’t know how to do anything. I don’t agree with that, okay? Not at all. I think the vast majority of dads want to do a “good job,” but that most just don’t know what that even means or looks like.
Let’s be honest. The reality is that for most men, this birth is going to be the first they’ve ever seen. And it’s also probably the first they’ve been expected to actively participate in! That’s a big deal!
So… what might this mean? I think it means that many dads don’t have a ton of great ideas about what to do, what’s going on, or what they shouldn’t do. It can also mean that there are feelings of cluelessness, overwhelm, maybe even boredom or detaching because it’s easier than figuring it out.
Overall, I think that what this “I’m a rookie, what am I doing here?” feeling can lead to some dads not really showing up in great ways or helpful ways, and sometimes, it even translates to dads who just are bringing nothing to the table. And honestly, no one wants that. Dad, if you’re reading this, you don’t want that.
Who is The Labor Mama and Why Am I Here?
Hey friend! I’m Lo – also known around here and social media as The Labor Mama. I’ve spent my nursing career in labor, delivery, and postpartum, have birthed 3 of my own babies, have labored thousands of mamas at the bedside, have taught hundreds of students online, and have even delivered a few speedy little babies with my bare hands (oops).
Here at TLM, I offer online birth classes to empower you the way everyone should be. The education + support I offer gives you experience, evidence, and empathy; you’re getting all of my years of “clinical” RN knowledge, beautifully combined with my real experiences as a mama and a nurse. These are not your hospital birth classes (those won’t do it, I promise), and honestly, birth doesn’t follow a textbook or protocol anyway – you need to know so much more than that.
If you want to connect with me further, head to Instagram. There are hundreds of thousands of us over there learning together daily.
How dads can best support mom in labor
Listen Dad, I don’t think you have to be some sort of L&D “Superman.” I don’t think you have to want to catch the baby or crawl in the birth tub too (if you want to, great!). So, let’s take all of that pressure off of you. But, I do think that knowing a few things not to do can instantly mean you’re just going to show up in a better way.
👉🏼👉🏼👉🏼 If you want to dig deep, really learn all the support tools, ways you can help prep and plan, physically support, advocate in the moment, I AM HERE FOR THAT and hope that you are too. That is where the best birth partners are born (see what I did there 😉?)! You can do that by learning via any of my birth courses with mama. Those courses deep dive all parts of this process and give you tons of places to show up in really helpful ways! Learn more, and join me, right here.
13 Tips for Dads During Labor
Ok, these “not to dos” are not in an order. One is not worse or better than another; these are just things I’ve see dads do pretty often, but that really aren’t helpful to mama, the labor space, or both. As a note, I’m still writing directly to you, Dad!
01. Don’t be concerned about the passage of time.
Labor can (and often does) take a loooong time. And there may be hours where it seems like nothing is happening! This is all really normal, and honestly it should be expected! The best way to have right expectations of the labor process is definitely to learn about it. This blog post can definitely help set you up with some realistic ideas.
Interestingly, a lot of women go into a sort of labor “la la land” as things progress. This means that they may not really recognize the passage of time the way dad does. So you don’t want to be the one to “bring them back down to Earth” by telling them it’s been hours or forever or whatever vocabulary feels (or is) right. We want them distracted, calm, collected, and totally free to be in, and stay in, that labor land. So, if you do have Q’s about the time and the process? Snag the RN in the hallway and ask them! There’s nothing wrong with that!
02. Don’t sleep.
I promise, I’m not literally saying “you may not rest or close your eyes.” But I am saying that if she’s laboring, especially without an epidural, then, yes I think you should be awake, alert, and available (even if she’s in that la-la land). There is a lot of power simply in your presence and that awareness he has that you’re near, you’re with her, and that she and baby are not alone. Once you sleep, there is essentially one less person available to fill a need, help her feel safe, affirm her, physically touch or massage, etc.
It’s definitely possible that you may feel like you aren’t doing anything and that there’s nothing wrong with you sneaking a nap while she does her thing. But the thing about labor is that her needs often change quickly! You may think she doesn’t need you, and all of the sudden she needs counterpressure with every contraction – and I want you to be there!
A note: If mama has looked you in the eye and said “I want you to rest,” she’s napping after her epidural, or you have a doula who is stepping in with that intention of giving you rest – take that opportunity with no shame if you want to! But in most other scenarios, stay available and awake.
03. Don’t be on your phone or watching TV.
Unless there is important and labor specific things to do on your phone (or laptop), stay off of them! Updating family and friends, communicating with doulas or photographers, etc. – those things have to happen and hopefully you’ve clarified prior to birth who should be notified, how, and when.
But in general, I cannot tell you the number of dads who would be totally zoned out on their cell or watching sports (I know that sounds stereotypical, but it really was sports the most) while mom was just doing work! Even if she doesn’t need you, like we talked about with no. 02, your active presence is still a game changer!
Random story, but I will never forget the birth I attended where both dad and the male doc were watching the World Cup between pushes. The OB would literally look over his shoulder between the mamas contractions. I was dying inside, but I’m still hoping the mom was zoned in and not noticing that distraction for both her husband and the OB! And if you’re wondering, yes, I have straight up just turned the TVs off sometimes. But I do feel like that’s really about those in the birth space doing what they want or need, so I really think it should be up to you.
In my opinion, a mama shouldn’t have to ask for her birth people to pay attention – there should not be a “would you mind” mentality. To make sure she doesn’t feel this way, then you’ve got to be undistracted. And one of the ways to signify that “I’m here and I’m available” is by eliminating the screen.
I do want to say, I have had moms who want the TV because it’s their distraction too! This is a different scenario. But more often than not, the TV isn’t going to be her choice, and I would really encourage you to make sure all screens are off and put away during the pushing and delivery phase too!
04. Don’t be scared to ask questions.
No one, literally no one, expects you to have all the answers and know what is going on. What I’ve always found so neat is those dads who are willing to ask questions and admit that they aren’t entirely sure about XYZ, but that they think it’s important and dig in more. It is an absolute joy to educate anyone in the birthing room, so please ask questions! This is your baby, your wife or partner, and your birth too! I would never want you to feel dumb, out of control, or incapable simply because you didn’t feel the freedom to ask what was going on, why, or what something does or doesn’t mean.
My one caveat, though – Don’t ask how much longer it’s going to be or why it’s taking so long 🤪 See no. 1.
05. Don’t be afraid to get hands on.
I already mentioned that you don’t have to want to catch the baby. You really don’t! But, I do think you need to get ready to actively participate. Even if you have a doula supporting too, your presence, your touch, they matter. So use them!
I see a lot of dads fall into the trap of thinking that they don’t really know what to do, so it’s better to just stay out of the way. Don’t do this! And hopefully the RN doesn’t let you do this either. But if you’re feeling a little lost about “jobs,” just stand next to the RN if they’re repositioning her, grabbing something, etc. and simply say “how can I help?” or “how can I use my hands.” That nurse should be more than willing to include you.
And if you don’t love blood, or know you need to stay away from certain things? That’s okay. Be honest and upfront with mom about those (ie “Needles freak me out, so I’m going to sit over here while they start the IV” or whatever that convo may sound like), and if you need to, honest with RN too. Honestly, no one wants you fainting because you’re trying to hang tough during something that really just isn’t your cup of tea.
But, I think most dads have sweet spots and ways they can show up; here’s a few possibilities for you to consider.
- Stay present and physically near
- Hold her hand, apply gentle touch
- Stay in control of lights and atmosphere
- Breathe with her (and help her slow down when they get fast)
- Consider massage; gentle or deeper depending on preference
- Try tools like a massager or tennis ball on the back
- Do counter pressure on the hips and sacrum
- Suggest a position change every 30 minutes or so
- Encourage her to empty her bladder ever 45 mins of so
- Check in about her temperature (offer fans if hot and cool washcloths if cold)
- With an epidural, help her position change every 30 mins, from left to right side and/or sitting up (RN can and should help with this too)!
- Offer water, liquids and ice chips
- Make food available as has been decided by she, provider, and care team
- Walk with her through the hallways
- Be in charge of any music or playlists
- Affirm, affirm, affirm; see the affirmation suggestions in the Love Your Labor Guide
06. Don’t panic or freak out.
I think education comes into play here, a lot. It is OKAY to be worried about her or baby. And it can be really hard to see her work through the pain of contractions. But really good education, like that in my Your Body, Your Birth, really helps you understand how normal most of what is happening is! While this doesn’t always make it easier to watch her go through hard things, it can help you feel less scared of it.
There are a few times I think that the “don’t freak out” advice is really valuable. First, when or if you’re laboring at home. At lot of people really want to rush to the hospital, especially dad. Most of the time, you don’t need to. Like we’ve said, labor takes time, and it’s really great to labor at home if you’re free to! Pay attention to her. How is she feeling? How are her emotions? What does she want. Follow her lead…let her guide you, too!.
Another time it’s easy to panic is if baby is being monitored and you’re noticing things that seem off. I want you to trust that RN to be watching the monitor (that’s the job, promise). You don’t have to narrate contractions. If baby’s heart rate drops down, there are certain things the RN will do, sometimes quickly, to correct it. Read the room. Watch the RN. Focus on mama staying calm, breathing well, oxygenate herself and baby!
Another time panic sets in is if or when mom’s contractions really start hurting. Remember, this is normal. This pain has purpose and intention. Remind her, and yourself, of that, while you utilize the tools y’all have decided on together. Do you need to advocate because the epidural seems not to be working? Definitely, do that! Can you help her breathe while she’s working through those peaks? Please do! Can you quietly affirm how well she’s doing, how each one brings her closer, how the goal is only one at a time? You don’t have to be okay with her hurting, but you can have tool to show up when or if she is.
Again, good birth education is basically a panic-eliminator. Your Body, Your Birth gets into details like all of these because it’s going to help you show up even better in moments where otherwise panic might try to take over.
07. Don’t complain about the space.
Can I tell you something? Hospitals rooms aren’t comfy. The bed for you may be crap. The rocking chair might be hard. It might be super hot because the room is warmed up for baby. It might be freezing and mom is stripping down and sweating like a fool. The food might be pretty nasty or the space might feel small. It’s just true. I wish every birth space made everyone, including dads, feel totally amazing and meet all their needs, but they just don’t.
The thing is though, you just can’t complain. Maybe, later on, you and she can laugh about how awful your bed was. But right now, her needs come first. They have to. The room, the space, it’s all about her. And anything that is bothering you, that isn’t your preference kind of needs to be tabled or addressed with outside of her presence. (Again, you can def snag the RN on the side and ask about your pillow being rock hard or your food undercooked…but just keep mama out of those bits).
Ultimately, what she’s going through right now is asking so much more of her and her body. Her level of comfort – that’s the only thing we should be talking about or accomodating! You matter; don’t hear me wrong. But right now, you just gotta deal with a hot room, bad food, or an uncomfortable bed without complaining to her.
08. Don’t compare to others.
I probably should have had this follow the note about time, because I feel that’s when it most often came up. It’s not uncommon to hear comments from dads like “Wow, my mom pushed me out in 3 pushes” or “Katherine’s baby was born in less than 4 hours, isn’t that crazy?” A reminder again that every labor is different, lengths of labor and its stage are all over the place, and there is a massive range of normal here! Even if you know story after story that seemed to go faster, easier, etc…forget them. Those aren’t relevant in this time and in this place. Right now, the two of you are fashioning your own good, unique, individual story – and that’s the only one that matters and the only reminder she needs.
I’d also encourage you to let go of basically everything you’ve ever seen related to birth on television or in films. I’ve seen one show (The Handmaid’s Tale) do a pretty great job of showing the true length and arc of labor…otherwise most scenes or clips I’ve seen are usually laughably inaccurate. I can’t even tell you just get ready for the opposite of what you’ve seen, because those portrayals are just all over the place! I do feel okay saying labor always takes longer than what you’ve probably seen, mama (and baby) will probably will look so different than how TV makes them appear, and no, sitting high fowlers in bed with a sheet draped over your knees is not really the way everyone delivers (why this is still they way they always show it is beyond me).
This was a cool and quick listen from NPR. You can read it too → This Father’s Day, Remembering A Time When Dads Weren’t Welcome In Delivery Rooms
09. Don’t eat food in front of her, especially if it smells.
Should you be able to eat during labor is its own whole topic, and one I discuss here and deeply in my birth course as well. More or less, the answer is actually yes, most low risk labors should be allowed to eat and drink freely. So you’ll want to make sure mama (and you) discuss this with your provider ahead of time.
However, I have found that a lot of patients hit points where they do not want to eat, and the smell of food is actually pretty darn awful (🙋🏻♀️🙋🏾♀️🙋🏼♀️). Just be mindful of this, okay? If you’re eating with her? Great. Bon appetit. But if you’re the only one eating, or your eating your own thing, please pay attention to how it smells and how she feels. Sometimes, the best choice is to eat in a patient waiting room. Other times, best choice is to go with something mild and non-stinky to be safe. I don’t want you to not eat; you need to, even if she can’t or doesn’t want to. I just want you to pay attention to what’s going on with her and have that guide what you eat, and where.
10. Don’t tell her to be quiet.
If you’re sitting there thinking that screaming can’t possibly be right for labor, I’d actually say I agree with you. There are constructive sounds in labor and there are less constructive noises. But in general, I want you to get rid of the idea of asking her to stop making a noise, or a sound, or yelling.
I do want you to know that it can be noisy. Some of the “good” sounds mama makes may be guttural, loud, visceral and honestly? They may sound a little strange to you. And if you find that you are ever thinking, “hey, I wonder if this screaming is helpful” I’d encourage you to consider reorienting her instead of telling her to stop. Try breathing with her. Encouraging her to moan or breathe the baby out. Look into J breathing (do it together) and see if you can get her back to that. If this is during pushing or crowning, know about the value of crowning breathing, what that looks or sounds like, and try to bring her there. You can try affirmations or offer suggestions of new things or tools to try that might help get her from the place of screaming or non-productive noice back to a place of control.
Again, screaming or panicking during labor isn’t constructive – I absolutely agree. But if you see it or notice it, telling her to stop is not going to be a valuable practice. Instead, focus on redirecting what’s going on.
11. Don’t watch the monitor and track contractions.
Unless she has specifically asked you to tell her when a contraction is coming, peaking, and falling, stop staring at the monitor. I’ve seen so many dads and partners doing some sort of “ok, here comes another one. It’s almost here. There it is, its coming, this is a big one, you’re almost at the top, hang on, it’s still going, okay, it’s coming down now, you’re almost done, okay it’s over.” It drives me mad – and if Kelvin had done this I would’ve stopped that, real quick!
I have 2 issues with this. 1) You can’t actually tell how strong a contraction is unless there is something that has been placed inside called an intrauterine pressure catheter. If this IUPC isn’t in place (they aren’t used too often) than that monitor does NOT show how strong the contraction is. Ok, and 2) When you’re focused on the monitor you’re less focused on her. Let her intuitively respond to how she’s feeling. Meet her in that, applying counter pressure or affirming over those peaks, even if you aren’t actively speaking out loud where’s she’s at. Your most important job is to show up how she needs you to during contractions. Unless she’s specifically said, ‘this is what I want you to do,’ I think other jobs are more important!
12. Don’t forget to document this story.
I would definitely chat through this before the moment! But talk through if you want pictures or videos, what she feels comfortable with being documented, who will be documenting, or how she wants you to document. Does she want in labor moments? Only after birth? Does she want video of anything specific? Any interesting in journaling or writing anything down? Would it be better to just be in the moment and go with the flow? You may not have all the answers, but I think it’s a great idea for you to chat through some of this before labor begins.
I also think it’s SUPER important to chat through who gets to have any pictures, and when. I’ve seen a lot of families upset, even right in the moment, because someone shot off a picture or video to someone before that had been ok’d or agreed to by both parents. Like we talked about in no. 3, get clear about who is being notified, how, and when – pictures or videos included!
13. Don’t get offended.
One of the most interesting things to me about laboring mamas is that you just don’t always know what they’ll want – and neither do they! I highly recommend you go through a birth plan together, so you know options, possibilities, and ways to show up. But, I’d also tell you to remember that women in labor change their minds, a lot.
For example, maybe she’s all about laboring in the shower. So, you go get that shower set up, perfect temp, all the things, and then you tell her it’s ready and she’s says “I don’t want that.” Or maybe, she tells you she wants you to breathe with her – and then when you are, she tells you to “stop breathing on her” (this may or may not have been me and Kelvin 🤭).
This isn’t a blank check for her to be awful to you, or anyone. I don’t love when mamas say awful things to people during labor, even if they do laugh about it later. But I do want you to understand that more often than not, her disregard or distaste for your help are not about what you are doing wrong or personal attacks at you. All of this is just her responding to what her body wants and needs, and that is constantly changing!
Honestly, I’ve been there! 3 times and expecting a 4th now – and I can tell you one thing I vividly remember is that I would go from hot to cold, nauseous to hungry, peaceful to hurting – in seconds. It’s not that I couldn’t be supported (or any other mom for that matter), it’s just that you do have to be ready to respond to those changes (or recognize them) and simply adjust, without feeling personally offended because you’re standing there with a fan that they no longer want or need.
The takeaway on dads during labor
You’ve got this. You really do. Your presence is needed, it is valuable, this is your story too. You matter. Hopefully, this list gives you a good idea of things not to do, all with the hope of you showing up feeling even more confident, more empowered, and more ready to roll with all the highs and lows. Remember, there is no way to be a perfect dad or a perfect mom – there really are so many ways to do this whole thing.
What do you think? How was your birth? How’d they do? Pass this along to the dad in your life who may need it!! xx – Lo
More resources (and freebies!) for you to take a peek at:
- Comprehensive Birth Plan and Birth Priorities templates
- A complete Third Trimester Checklist
- The RN + mama of 3 Ultimate Packing List
- The Labor Mama online birthing classes for every family
A note: This post may include affiliate links. This means if you make a purchase after clicking a link, I will earn a small commission (thank you)! Rest assured, this comes at no additional cost to you. You can read TLM’s full disclosure here.