Dads And Doulas

Certified Birth Doula & Educator, Melissa Boudiette, discusses the role of dads and doulas in childbirth


Many well-documented studies support the benefits of having continuous support from a doula during childbirth. The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) and the Society for Maternal-Fetal Medicine (SMFM) stated, “One of the most effective tools to improve labor and delivery outcomes is the continuous presence of support personnel, such as a doula… continuous one-on-one support during labor and delivery was associated with improved patient satisfaction and a statistically significant reduction in the rate of cesarean delivery.”

With this recommendation, you’d think that every family would rush to hire a professional doula for their upcoming birth. Interestingly though, the Listening to Mothers III Survey revealed that only 6% of all women actually utilized doula care, but “three out of four women (75%) who did not receive care from a doula had heard about this type of caregiver and care and more than one in four (27%) of those who hadn’t used one and understood this type of care indicated she would have liked to have had doula care.”

Reasons for this shortage of doula support may have to do with misunderstandings of what doulas actually do and how doulas interact with dads or other family members. Many worry that the presence of a non-family member may undermine the intimate relationship between mother and partner.


Common myths about dads and doulas

Some of the most commonly believed myths about doulas’ interactions with fathers during childbirth include:

  1. Doulas replace the father’s role during labor and delivery. The truth is, since the doula is not the father, it’s nearly impossible for the doula to replace father’s role. Even if the doula is a close friend, he or she does not have the same intimate relationship with the birthing parent as the partner.
  2. If the dad is there to support the mother, a doula is redundant. This myth suggests a doula’s support is exactly the same as the dad’s, when it’s not. The very nature of doula support is that it is impartial and unbiased (or should be), whereas the dad is understandably biased, since he is personally invested. Dads are emotionally tied to the outcome of mother and baby, and are often deeply affected by the physical and emotional experience of the mother. While doulas do and should feel an emotional connection with the birthing family, they are detached enough to offer clear-headed support and advocacy as needed.
  3. Doulas have their own agendas. Some worry that labor or birth doulas will bring their personal opinions into the birth space, attempting to influence the family to make certain choices that are in line with her own beliefs or create conflict with medical staff. While this concern is valid, any professional doula with training and backing from a credible institution should adhere to a standard of ethics and scope of practice discouraging this kind of behavior. Interviewing doulas ahead of time and requesting recommendations from clients and care providers should help you in choosing the right doula who will support you and your wishes.

Dads in the delivery room

The concept of the father acting as the “coach” for the birthing mother came about in the 1960s and 1970s in the United States. However, as noted in the publication The Role of the Father in Childbirth. Midwifery Today, “experienced birth observers commented that few men seemed to be comfortably, confidently, and competently able to meet either the physical or the emotional needs of the woman in labor.”

In reality, many men find it difficult to support a process about which they know very little and have no personal experience. They may undergo disequilibrium, feel overwhelmed, stressed and incompetent, and tend to prefer epidurals whether the mother wants one or not because it is difficult for them to see their partner in pain and they are frightened by medical procedures. In comparison with doulas, one study revealed that male partners spent far less time and were more physically removed from the mothers than the professional doulas were.


What’s a dad to do?

The real question is what does the dad want to do? One study of twenty couples recruited from five hospitals in the San Francisco Bay area in 1992 identified three roles expectant fathers adopted during childbirth:

  1. Coach: The primary support person, with or without a doula.
  2. Teammate: A shared support alongside a doula or other support person.
  3. Witness: Being present and witnessing or documenting the birth without the pressure of providing any hands-on physical or verbal support.

Regardless of the level of support – engaged (coach), less than fully engaged (teammate), or disengaged (witness) – both mothers and their partners tend to be perfectly happy as long as there is discussion, understanding and agreement about the expectations ahead of time. In my personal doula practice, the vast majority of my clients are couples who request coaching to complement and enhance the partner’s role, whatever it may be.

Doulas can be your best friend, they can help you achieve your personal goals for birth and parenting, and can alleviate the stress from fathers during childbirth, as well as the mother’s stress since she’ll no doubt be worried about her partner.

If you’re considering having a doula for your child’s birth, just be sure to do your research in order to find someone who is skilled and professional. It’s also important to have an open and honest dialogue between partners and professionals about each person’s role during the birth experience so that everyone is on the same page from the beginning.

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