Many women approach pregnancy with a “we’re in this together” mindset. After attending Lamaze or Bradley method courses as a couple, they feel confident that the husband/partner will be a good labor support person. A “doula” seems like an unnecessary expense, then. An extravagance, if you will.
I’m always a bit concerned about these mothers-to-be. The little voice in my head objects—no first-time dad has any idea what he’s in for, and no first-time mom can know if their husband/partner will be able to be supportive during childbirth. But if they find out he can’t provide what they need then, they’ll be missing out on a kind of support they really do need.
Now, I think it’s great that modern fathers are involved and present for their babies’ arrival into the world. I’m not suggesting that men be relegated to hospital waiting rooms, as they were in the 1960s. A baby’s birth is an important moment for both parents.
However, I’ve worked in labor/delivery enough to know that even the most devoted, compassionate husbands can: get sleepy at 2:30 AM … feel helpless watching a beloved wife suffer through painful contractions … turn his head away when she pukes … and become frightened when the situation seems unfamiliar or dangerous. It’s easy to lose sight of what kinds of support the mother needs at this time.
Most men are not well-prepared for the real experience of childbirth. Even if he has seen a film of a baby being born, the man hasn’t seen his partner sweat through labor, gobble ice chips, or vocalize the pain of childbirth. Even during a healthy, uncomplicated delivery, a dad is likely to experience the fear that something dreadful will happen to the woman he loves or the baby he’s never met.
The doula is an expert at labor support. She has both extensive training and experience. She becomes neither nonchalant nor panicked if the planned labor/birth experience starts to go awry. She is objective, and she stays awake from the start until the end. She can—and will—be present with the mother if the father needs to get a cup of coffee, a rest for his hand the mother has squeezed until it’s numb, or a nap.
Studies show that the presence of a doula during childbirth improves outcomes for both mothers and babies (e.g., lower risk of low birth weight babies, lower risk of birth complication for mothers and babies, greater likelihood of breastfeeding initiation, lower risk of cesarean delivery, lower risk of epidurals, and more! As doula Teresa Bailey and I discussed on my radio show, doulas make a big difference in birth and breastfeeding outcomes! The bottom line: I encourage every mother and father to have a doula at their baby’s birth.