As the dad of two beautiful girls, I write for the men who are embarking on this adventure for the first time. An expectant father may not be the star of the show when it comes to pushing a baby into the world, but his role as supporting actor is equally important. Consider this your CliffsNotes for labor day.
1. Don’t stay up too late as the due date nears.
For good reason, you are excited and nervous. You’re a dad who will soon meet his child for the first time—it’s kind of a big deal!
In the days leading up to her due date, my wife and I stayed up fretting about everything from whether we chose the right name to what route to the hospital would be fastest. Then my wife went into labor around midnight, and we were up the rest of the night for an intense 10-hour delivery marathon.
You’ll need all the energy you can muster, so sleep while you can.
2. Don’t assume all births go down the same way.
Natural. C-section. Epidural. There are options when it comes to giving birth, and it wasn’t as straightforward as I expected.
I thought my wife would have an epidural, but she wanted to do the Bradley Method (aka husband-coached childbirth). Now, coaching a soccer team I can do, but coaching something I have absolutely zero experience in did not seem like a good idea. Initially, I thought, Nice try, we’re definitely getting an epidural. But after taking classes, I was convinced and ready (as much as one can be) to give the Bradley Method a shot.
Whatever you (and your wife, of course) choose, know why you’re doing it. It will make the whole experience better.
3. Don’t rush to the hospital when contractions start (but don’t wait too long, either).
When my wife started having regular contractions, we sped to the hospital. Lo and behold, the nurse announced that my wife was not in labor but merely experiencing Braxton Hicks contractions (a fancy term for “false alarm”).
You’re generally advised to head to the hospital when contractions are five to seven minutes apart and last for a minute at a time. But it doesn’t have to be exactly that. My wife woke up with contractions three minutes apart, insisting she had to wait because they weren’t five minutes apart. Obviously that wasn’t necessary. (Note: Labor can also make people a little irrational.)
4. Don’t stress too much about your hospital bags.
If your bags aren’t ready, you can leave home without them. The only thing truly necessary to bring your baby home is a car seat. You can even come home in the same clothes you wore to the hospital if need be. You shouldn’t run around worrying about boxers and toothbrushes on your way out.
Packing a few weeks prior is a good plan, but it can be hard with things like shampoo, which you need every day. Consider picking up a few travel toiletries, so you’re sure to have the essentials. And if you find yourself in a pinch, remember that the overpriced hospital gift shop will likely have what you need.
5. Don’t wait until labor starts to become acquainted with the hospital.
When buying a home, my wife and I took many house tours. It made sense considering it was such a life-changing event. We needed as much information as we could get our hands on to make a good choice. Likewise, it should have been a no-brainer to take a prelabor hospital tour, but I thought we could just show up at the hospital on the big day and be directed where to go.
Fortunately, my wife was wiser and knew that a tour of the labor and delivery unit at our hospital was an important part of preparation. (It turned out that we had to walk down a long hallway, take a few odd turns to arrive at a hidden elevator, and then do a bit of a walk-around to find the nurses’ station on the correct floor.) I know most guys don’t like to ask for directions, but in this case, it’s a good idea. Plus, you might even get a parking pass that allows you to park right by the front door when labor strikes. (We did!)
6. Don’t show up without a game plan.
Most coaches have playbooks. Most companies have strategic or business plans. Bringing a human being into the world is no different. Your mission is to not just push through labor (pun intended) but to have a few tricks up your sleeve to make it smooth sailing.
I thought birth plans were silly initially, but my wife made one for the birth of our first child, and I was glad she did. It helped me know that she preferred pain relief—but no epidural—and time with the baby after delivery before the nurses started taking measurements. And, most importantly, it allowed me to communicate that to the hospital staff.
Between contractions is not a good time to discuss birth preferences with your partner. Figure them out beforehand. It helps to be able to hand a plan to the nurses when you walk in the door, so they know your expectations. (Although you might still have to do some reminding.)
One more tip: Keep it simple, stupid. Nobody’s got time to read a 40-page treatise. Fit it on one page, and make it readable in under 30 seconds, like a resume.
7. Don’t bring aromatic foods into the delivery room.
“That smell is horrendous!” It was the look of death only a husband could know. My wife, bless her heart, brought snacks for me in anticipation of a long labor period, including one of my favorites: beef jerky.
Never again. She couldn’t stand it.
Stay away from anything with a strong scent. If you’re lucky enough that it doesn’t bother her, good for you. But if it does, you might as well go skydiving without a parachute. Some wagers are just not worth making.
8. Don’t take things personally.
All I did was hold her hand. She sneered and told me in no uncertain terms to go away. At first, I was offended and hurt, but then I remembered a friend’s warning: She’s dealing with a lot, so don’t take it personally.
If the things you usually do to comfort her aren’t successful in these circumstances, take a cue from Disney’s Frozen and “let it go.”
9. Don’t always insist on staying in the delivery room.
Sometimes a bit of pain is required to move things along. The doctor will ask you to leave the room during an epidural, breaking the bag of waters and other such unpleasantries. Don’t try to be the hero. It is for your own good. Nobody needs you punching out the doctor for causing your spouse pain.
Also, if you’re feeling faint or overwhelmed, it’s OK to step out for some fresh air. The last thing the doctor or your partner wants is you passed out on the floor. Take care of yourself, so you can better take care of the one who’s in labor.
10. Don’t allow visitors without the mother’s permission.
After delivery, hordes of friends and family will likely come to pay homage. My job switched from being my wife’s companion to being her diplomat and guard. If she’s up for socializing, fine, but when you need some time to yourselves, don’t be afraid to own it. The nurses will be your allies in this.
Once you’ve successfully made your foray into fatherhood, go get some wings and beer. You deserve it. Childbirth is obviously a battle for the mother, but it’s a battle for you, too. There was a day when men weren’t allowed in the delivery room, but now we get to be in on the action. And if you’re anything like me, you wouldn’t have it any other way.