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Dads and Doulas: How They Work Together

As a childbirth educator, I began my journey of educating couples with a desire to prepare all the dads or partners in my classes to be the doula for mom. My couples seemed to want this same thing. So, I taught dad lots of comfort measures, birthing positions, and filled their minds with information.

I think I did a pretty good job and they all felt confident and they usually had great birth experiences. But as time went by, I realized that the birthing woman, while greatly benefiting from a well prepared partner, could also benefit from the presence of a doula- and so could her partner.

The purposes of a doula are many. A doula can hold space for the birthing woman. She can provide support. She can help connect you with local resources. She can be a literal “best friend” for your birth- a gentle guide along a path new to you but loved and familiar to her.

But what about the partner? Could he benefit from the presence of a doula?

Many of the couples I taught wanted as few people as possible present in their birth space. Why have a doula when dad knows everything after a great birth class?!

Looking back, I regret not encouraging the presence of a doula in my early years as a childbirth educator.

I realize now that the partner and the mother are better served when the partner can simply be that- the partner. Expecting dad to remember when a Captain Morgan is necessary as opposed to a squat, or the difference between AROM and PROM while checking into the hospital, applying a fierce double hip squeeze and signing intake forms, all at the same time, is a LOT of pressure for anyone, especially someone who wants to have positive birth memories along with the mother.

In fact, I finally realize that encouraging my couples to hire a doula is one of the greatest gifts I can give them- greater than making dad a coach.

I want and expect the dads who come through my birth classes to be well prepared and knowledgeable. We do practice labor, we learn facts, and we demo lots of comfort techniques. We also practice relaxation and communication. Mom and dad are incredible and confident when those first labor sensations begin.

That’s a beautiful thing.

But it is also a beautiful thing when the dad doesn’t feel an immense pressure to be everything, remember everything, and do everything for the birth. I want him to have a great experience too! I want him to feel supported and grounded and calm, not nervous about how he will perform and what he will forget.

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How does the presence of a doula benefit the dad?

  • He can focus on loving the birthing mom and being her partner. Their relationship matters and his presence (even if he is just holding her hand) is a huge comfort to a birthing mother.
  • He can take breaks! Birth takes time and mom isn’t the only person who needs food and bathroom breaks. Birthing women, however, often don’t want to be left alone. A trusted doula and a dad, working together, are able to rest, eat, and fill their own needs while at the same time always have someone there for mom.
  • He doesn’t have to remember everything! Yes, an involved partner is often incredibly knowledgeable. But when labor gets going and is fast and furious, do you want dad to have to search his memory banks for the right technique? Do you want him stressed out about that? The doula is trained and can remember. She may even be able to call on a supportive network of fellow doulas if she has a question.
  • A doula allows dad to feel less pressure. He doesn’t have to protect, “coach” or otherwise guide the birth. He can do what he does best- love his partner and he can do so stress-free, knowing the doula is there to fill in the gaps.

My eyes were finally opened to the benefits of the doula for dad when I had a previous couple come to birth class to share their birth story. This couple was birthing at an awesome birth center where they felt supported and had good care providers. They hired a doula anyway. (I mention that because many couples feel like they don’t need a doula if they have a great provider.)

Dad RAVED about their doula. He pointed out that he and the doula communicated more with each other during the birth than anyone else. Of course! A birthing woman, if she is encouraged to birth intuitively, won’t be communicating with her words very much. Her support people will be communicating with one another.

He told everyone that the partner should be part of choosing the doula because they would be helping each other out as they supported the birthing woman. He pointed out that even though they had a great provider and birth place, their doula joined them at home before they went to their birthplace. He pointed out that they were able to both eat because the other person was there to support mom when they needed some self care. He pointed out that the doula stayed with them when they went to the birth center too early and were sent home! She was an important part of handling the emotions of that transition and disappointment.

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That dad taught me that even if a couple had all their ducks in a row with a great provider, a perfect birth place, and an incredible partner (he was awesome), they could still greatly benefit from a doula. Truly dads and doulas work together.

A birthing woman can’t have too much incredible support- but she isn’t the only person who needs support- her partner does too!

Are you planning an amazing birth? Don’t forget about your doula. Doulas are for dads too! Check out our doula directory to find a doula near you!

Sarah Clark has been a childbirth educator since 2008, has lost count of the number of couples she has taught, and is an instructor trainer for Birth Boot Camp and has helped train over 100 childbirth educators. She loves birth and loves watching couples grow closer together through the process of pregnancy and childbirth.