As your due date approaches, it is a good idea for dads-to-be to know about the first, second and third stages of labour, as well as being aware of any potential complications.
As the baby's due date approaches, you might find yourself feeling excited and anxious at the same time. The baby could be early although statistically it is more likely to arrive after the ‘due’ date. Be available and prepared from about week 36 of the pregnancy, but also be prepared for a long wait. The days can pass incredibly slowly when you are waiting in anticipation.
Make sure that your partner has her bag packed if you are having your baby at a hospital or mid-wife led unit, that you have yours and that you are familiar with the birth plan. Try not to waste energy fretting and instead enjoy the time before you meet your baby. You could also spend it productively ensuring the house is stocked with food, and freezing some meals for instance.
There may be false alarms, so familiarise yourself with the signs of labour.
For first-time parents especially, it can be tempting to head for the hospital or birth centre as soon as possible. However, staying at home in the early stages of labour can be very beneficial for both of you, and could mean that there is a less likelihood of a medical intervention. Being at home is more relaxing, even through it may not seem like it at the time.
If you are going to hospital or a birth centre, you may be told to wait at home until contractions are regular, about five minutes apart and lasting for about one minute. Although this is only a rule of thumb, as some women have contractions closer together from an early stage of labour.
You may have several hours where you are your partner’s main supporter. During this time you could:
- Run a bath for your partner if she wants one, and start timing the contractions.
- Remember to have something to eat and drink as you both need to keep your energy levels up.
- From time to time, note down how frequent the contractions are and how long they last.
- If you have planned a hospital birth, when the time comes to take your partner to the hospital, you should have planned the route and be aware of where you can park if driving. Make sure you have plenty of change for parking and vending machines.
- Since 2009, hospitals allow the use of mobile phones, except in areas where they may interfere with sensitive equipment. Make sure your phone is charged and you have stored all the important numbers you might need.
- As the first stage of labour progresses and you have midwifery care and support, dad’s role is still central. Your partner is doing a lot of physical work and your role is to keep encouraging and reassuring her.
- A massage may help her to relax. Make sure that you are in a comfortable position too while doing this.
- The best way for your partner to deal with contractions and encourage the baby through the birth canal is to remain mobile. This means walking, swaying from side to side, going up and downstairs, or bouncing on a birthing ball. Dads can be a great help here assisting with balance.
- Help her to find positions that are comfortable and to change her position when necessary.
- Don’t talk or distract her during contractions but between contractions try and lighten the mood to keep her spirits up.
- As labour progresses, some women just want to focus and not be distracted with talking. This is a positive sign. A quiet and calm atmosphere will help labour move on – noise, tension and disturbances slow things down.
- Labour is physically and emotionally demanding – like climbing a mountain, it can feel like it is never-ending. Remember to look after yourself as well by eating and drinking. The labour could be very long. If there is another birth partner you can allow each other to have breaks.
- Remind your partner to go to the toilet about every hour.
Take your cue from your partner. She may need even more reassurance and physical support, or she may say she doesn’t want you near her. Be prepared to be called all sorts, but remember that she still needs your support.
The second stage of labour (also called ‘the pushing stage’) starts when your partner’s cervix is ‘fully dilated’ at 10cm, the baby enters the birth canal in order to be born. The contractions will be close together now and your partner may feel a strong urge to work with them by pushing. The midwife will help her get the technique right for this.
You are getting near to the end now. The baby is nearly there.
- Keep calm and tell her how well she is doing. Help by supporting her in the most comfortable position until the baby is born.
- Another thing to bear in mind is where you want to be when the baby is born. Do you want to see him being born, or would you rather support your partner at this point and greet the baby later?
The third stage of labour is the time after you have given birth to your baby and during which you deliver the placenta. There is no need for the umbilical cord to be cut immediately. Early skin-to-skin contact with mum, and offering baby the breast is important at this stage. You’ll also want to hold your baby yourself. If mum can’t do skin-to-skin contact for any reason, you can do it. Some dads have been known to take their tops off to achieve this. You will treasure the photographs of your baby’s first minutes in the world.
- Don’t forget to tell your partner how well she has done.
Things don’t always go to plan and medical procedures may be suggested. Induction of labour will become an issue to discuss if the waters break more than 24 hours before labour starts or pregnancy lasts over 41 weeks. The baby may become distressed during labour or it may be suggested that you partner needs some assistance to give birth. Before any suggested intervention can take place, your partner will need to give her consent so it is useful to make sure you both understand the options when speaking to medical staff.
In some cases, a caesarean (c-section) may be recommended before or after your partner has gone into labour. These can usually be performed under epidural, so you will be able to be present and support your partner. If the c-section is an emergency, it may need to be performed under general anaesthetic. You will probably want to hold the baby, and have skin-to-skin contact first as your partner might be covering from the epidural and unable to herself.
A caesarean delivery is undoubtedly more medical, but it is still special, and you can make it more personal by identifying the sex of your baby yourself or having your choice of music playing, for example.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support with all aspects of being pregnant, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700. We also offer antenatal courses which are a great way to find out more about birth, labour and life with a new baby.