Dads in the Birthing Room - we support you! by Chanelle Thornton
Approximately 86% of fathers in the UK attend their child’s birth. The emotional bond between couples, and the opportunity for the father to bond with his newborn child is now at the heart of most forms of antenatal preparation. In this blog, Chanelle explores the import role dads can have in the birth room and why antenatal preparation and support are really important for fathers.
Releasing Fears and Feeling Confident
It was my privilege to recently teach a wonderful couple, very much in love and excited for the birth of their baby. Towards the end of their course, the father told me he had been in a previous relationship and his partner had suffered a very distressing miscarriage. He described how this event ultimately led to the breakdown of the relationship. He also told me he was surprised how the hypnobirthing course had helped him face this experience and changed a lot of his attitudes towards the impending birth of his child. He had been afraid, but at the same time not able to acknowledge this, leading to a period of high anxiety.
This father’s new confidence meant he felt ready to support his partner fully during the birth, without relying on other family members.The couple got in touch after the birth of their baby to tell me things had gone well and both had bonded beautifully with baby. They believed that their positive start to family life may not have been as easy a transition if the father had been holding on to his fear of birth and consequently less involved.
The power of the hypnobirthing classes that I teach is the opportunity to dispel fears of birth. Men are equally vulnerable to scary images or ideas of birth; perhaps even more so, as men do not get to experience the positive and empowering physical aspects of being pregnant and giving birth. Indeed, whenever I show hypnobirth videos in my classes, at least one dad will comment how different these films are to the ones shown in secondary school biology classes. They often leave the course in wonder of their partner’s natural ability to birth, free of fear, full of confidence and truly excited.
Dad's Mental Health Matters
A recent study published by Father’s Reaching Out highlighted that the father's mental health was as much a priority as mother’s during pregnancy and postnatally. In fact, postnatal depression rates appear to be at similar levels between men and women (approximately 10% of all new parents). The father (or the mother's partner) is an important person during pregnancy and birth preparation, not only as a vital source of support for baby and mother, but also as an individual also preparing to become a parent.
Approximately 86% of fathers in UK attend their child’s birth. This is a huge cultural shift. From as recently as the 1950s, when births within NHS hospital were on the rise, fathers were not expected to be in the delivery room for their baby's birth. This was a hangover from the Victorian era, with its outmoded ideas of privacy or 'decency' in marriage.
Birth Preparation for Dads/Birth Parnters
The emotional bond between a couple, and the opportunity for the father or partner to bond with the newborn baby, is now at the heart of most forms of antenatal education and birth preparation, including the courses we provide here at ZenBirth . Whilst this is a welcome and positive change, we can’t ignore the fact that today’s fathers/ partners may be coming to this important event with very real fears and anxieties. Often these are based on previous experience, or those of family and friends. They may feel as fearful, or even more so, than the the mother-to-be.
A recent collaborative piece from The Royal College of Midwives, The Royal College of Obstetricians & Gynecologists and the Fatherhood Institute acknowledges that 'there is substantial evidence of the health and wellbeing benefits that result from fathers being involved in their partner’s maternity care'. This is something our courses offers parents, along with support from a qualified teacher. And a major focus of the hypnobirthing we offer is to reframe birth as a normal, natural process whilst also working to neutralise any fears through the use of hypnosis and fear-release techniques.
On a practical level, fathers and birth partners are also prepared for the vital role they can play. They can become a great source of emotional and physical support. Birth partners can help to remind the birthing mother of her relaxation practises, to trigger the production of oxytocin (a key driver of calm and comfortable labour) by using massage and other techniques, as wel as acting as an advocate for mum and baby when speaking with care providers and medical staff.
Ongoing Bond and Support
There is no clinical evidence to link father’s preparation for birth with improved postnatal mental health outcomes, and I would certainly not assume that preparation is simply the answer. However, anecdotally, I hear from many men, after their course, who felt they were better prepared to support their partners and to bond with their child as a consequence of antenatal preparation, and hypnobirthing in particular. This goes well beyond the birth and first few days afterwards.
During the 4th trimester (which the baby's birth three months after birth), mum and baby are very much a unit, particularly when breastfeeding. If the father/partner has established their role as supporter and advocate, and knows first-hand about the birth experience, then this well-defined role as supporter tends to help the father/partner not feel “pushed out” or isolated. They are the one able to give emotional and physical support, advocating for mum and baby to external caregivers, and also able to confidently care for and bond with baby when he can. This feeling of belonging and having a defined purpose in the new family unit, as well as during birth seems to have a real impact on the way fathers I have worked with transitioned into family life.
Dads and other birth partners are truly amazing, and it is a joy to support them as much a we support mothers-to-be during our courses.
Chanelle Thornton is a guest blogger for ZenBirth. She is a qualified psychotherapist and counsellor who specialises in supporting parents who have experienced birth-related trauma. She is mama of three and has experience using hypnobirthing.