List of reminders for use during labor
• If labor begins at night, and is light, help her back to sleep with a massage.
• If labor begins during the day, take her to a place you both love, where you can get used to labor together.
• Share a meal if she wishes to eat. She will need the extra energy later.
• Keep in close, relaxed physical contact with her.
• As labor progresses, help her to relax with any method that suits you both. For example, by encouraging her to let her body go limp between surges.
• Breathe softly and slowly with her if she starts to panic.
• Don’t be embarrassed to use common endearments with the midwives around; your partner may need to hear them.
• You can act as intermediary between your partner and interested family and friends who call or come over or in some other way disturb the labor.
• As labor intensifies she may find it helpful to use her voice. Encourage her to make noise if she needs to. Notice the pitch of her voice and help her sounds be deep and guttural. High-pitched screaming sounds are indicative of resistance and fear. They build up more tension in everyone’s bodies, and more pain in hers. Encourage her to continue making sounds, but to lower the pitch and to make sounds that are as deep as possible. In labor she’ll only really ‘get it’ if you show her by making the sounds yourself. It can help if you both practice beforehand.
When I was born, fathers were barred from attending births. Mothers were the primary caregivers and my mother told me that my father hardly knew what to do with me in the first year. Only once I began toddling did he become a playmate. The presumption was that fathers didn’t really know how to handle babies properly and it wasn’t their job to do so. Gradually fathers were granted admission to birthing rooms and slowly they became more involved in baby rearing. Today of course, parenting a baby is usually a task shared by both parents.
In this age of high Caesarean rates partners sometimes request that they hold their babies while the mother is in post-operative care. Often these parents report that the partner has a closer rapport with their child than the mother does. I encourage fathers, no matter the type of delivery or birth method chosen, to place their infant skin to skin against their chests for at least fifteen minutes within the first two to three hours of birth. The feedback is remarkable. Partners who have had previous children often report a much closer relationship with their latest offspring and usually they ascribe this to those early moments of bonding. Maybe it’s the birth smell of our babies or the feel of their vernix and wet birth fluids against our skin that causes this initial attachment to occur – it defies rational explanation and has the feeling of instinctual and primary memories being stirred. It seems to occur not only in mothers, which we kind of expect, but in fathers too.
Babies very clearly recognize both their parents at birth. I am trained to care for babies and because I really like them, I expect them to respond positively to me. It is delightful to observe that babies far prefer their parents to me in the first hours after birth. When I pass a newborn from mother to her partner, they often tense slightly at my strange newness and then wriggle into the comfort of this familiar person, who may never have touched them before.
In The Secret Life of the Unborn Child, Dr. Thomas Verney refers to studies proving that babies recognize both parents’ voices after birth.90 Other studies he mentions demonstrate how important it is for babies’ and children’s emotional well-being that they were exposed to a supportive relationship between their parents while in utero. Often the origins of childhood anxiety can be traced back to their mother’s feelings of anxiety and insecurity – if there were consistent, deep levels of tension in her life during the pregnancy. The single biggest factor creating this type of tension was found to be her relationship to her partner.91
He refers to a trial of over 1 300 babies wherein those whose parents were undergoing relationship stress during the pregnancy were “five times more fearful and jumpy than the offspring of happy relationships”.92 However, thankfully, these effects are strongly ameliorated in babies who experience a strong sense of being loved by their mother.
Maternal hormones cross the placental barrier. A child whose life in utero was exposed to maternal hormones which signify happiness is far more content and self assured than a child who was exposed to long term production of stress hormones. Content babies have higher birth weights on average than anxious babies. Partners may think that they have a minor role to play in the healthy growing of their baby in the womb, but as these studies show, being a support person for their baby’s mother is crucial for his or her well-being.
The Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami reports on a study demonstrating that fathers who gave their infants daily massages fifteen minutes prior to bedtime for one month showed more optimal interaction behavior with their infant.93 Fathers are sometimes a little afraid of hands-on interaction with their newborns. Even today some fathers feel that their partners have better parenting instincts than them. This can mean missing out on a really wonderful period of love and intimacy with their babies that is very different from the more social interactive relationship which develops later.