All posts by matt

Hey y’all,

Those of you that are moving toward being a birth partner might have questions.  Some of you may have read the Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner book.  Maybe you’ve looked at other resources.

When you haven’t gone through something before, even with the best of resources, you might still have questions.  Concerns.  Fears, even.

Post a comment with your questions, concerns, or fears.  Or email me.  I’d be really excited to help you out.


After going through one birth experience, you might think that you’ve got it down.  Well, you might think that if things went swimmingly.

You very well might.  It’s entirely possible you nailed this birth partner thing, and have nothing to learn.  If so, that’s great!  Also, please let the rest of us know your secrets.  We certainly would benefit.

Having experienced one birth will at least help you know what to expect at different stages, and that by itself is a vital piece of information.  (If you don’t have experience and you want that vital information, along with a lot of other very useful information on how to be an awesome birth partner, download my book.)

But–and this may be surprising to some of you–no two births are the same.  Some are a lot alike.  Some are very different.  My first child kept my wife in labor the longest, including the longest time spent pushing.  We joke, though, that when my second child was born, the doctor needed a catcher’s mitt because he popped out so fast.  With my second child, most of the time between our arrival at the hospital and his birth was spent suppressing pushing and waiting for the doctor.

If I’d been locked into the road map from the first birth, I’d have messed up the second.

Use any previous experience you have as lessons about being physically and emotionally supportive,  Don’t try to apply the specifics.

And good luck!  I hope each time you’re a birth partner, things go even better!

I’m going to keep this one shorter than usual.  Now, I only bring this up because I’ve heard this mentioned by multiple women.  I am not making this up.

Guys, just because you grew up on a farm and have helped deliver cows, pigs, goats, dogs, cats, llamas, and bison doesn’t mean you know anything about helping a woman give birth.

Don’t say “don’t worry, darlin’, I’ve pulled dozens of calves out, I know what I’m doin'”.

I’m guessing not a single one of those mama cows needed emotional support.  Human women don’t (as far as I’ve heard) ever need to be restrained with a headgate during delivery.  And human women can tell you what they’re feeling.

Besides, your role is a bit different.  When you’re helping to deliver a farm critter, you’re the “medical staff”.  When you’re helping the woman you love birth a baby, you’re her support person.  It’s not the same thing.

Finally, before you open your mouth to explain “I’ve been pulling pigs since I was eight”, put yourself in her shoes.  Whether you mean it or not, it’ll come across as equating her a pig (or cow, or goat, or whatever).  I don’t think she’ll like that.

So, to recap:  humans aren’t the same as the farm critters you grew up helping deliver, your role in the birth is going to be much different, and that woman you love won’t like feeling like you’re calling her a cow.

(To end on a bit more positive note, what you’re probably trying to communicate with your farm experience is confidence and competence.  Instead of leading with your farm experience, try something like “I’ll be with you all the way through this.  You can count on me.”  She’ll appreciate that much more!)

This one is for the moms-to-be.

When you become pregnant, your body starts to undergo a lot of changes so that it can successfully grow a person.  Some of those changes combine with your knowledge of what’s going on (i.e. that you’re growing a person and relatively soon will have a baby to take care of) to lead to emotional effects.

In short, mother-to-be, you’ve got a lot going on right now.

And at some point as this is going on, you look over at dad-to-be, and you think to yourself “he’s just going on with life, hasn’t had a single day of morning sickness, his belly’s not getting any bigger, and he certainly isn’t feeling compelled to ‘nest’!”  Without meaning to, you get a bit grumpy with him.  “It must be nice,” you think, “to not have to go through all these changes.”

Yes, yes it is.

Do you think that not having to go through those changes means he’s free from having to make adjustments?

Well, everyone is different, and some men don’t make adjustments until very late in the process.  Most men start experiencing some sort of change-related stress early on.  Usually, though, they don’t talk about it.  They realize that you have a lot going on, and so they deal with their changes while (hopefully) helping you deal with yours.

Some of the changes and adjustments a dad-to-be might experience include:

  • Realizing the responsibility of being a dad and having to provide for a baby
  • Realizing he has no idea how to be a dad and hoping he’ll figure it out
  • Watching you go through morning sickness, experience other various aches and pains, and not feel like he can help
  • Giving up (or planning to give up) activities he enjoys for baby-related reasons (e.g. preparing the nursery, or realizing that you can’t go cliff diving with him right now)
  • Dealing with pressure of keeping up with his normal tasks, adding any normal tasks you’re not able to do (cooking is a common one during scent-sensitive periods of pregnancy), and adding any baby-preparation activities.

That’s just some of them.  Each guy is different and will adjust differently.

There are two things you can take away from this, mom-to-be, that might be helpful.

First, realize that he’s making adjustments–mostly emotional ones–and even more than usual, he’s not going to talk about those feelings much.  He knows you have a lot going on.  If the time is right, you might be able to have a great discussion with him about it, but don’t expect him to bring it up.

Second, when you ask him for help (and that’s a reasonable thing to do), be assertive and not controlling.  “You need to get the nursery painted this week” is controlling.  Not cool.  “The baby is due in a month, and we’ll need some time to get furniture assembled after it’s painted.  I would feel much better if we got the nursery painted this week” is assertive.  He wants to make sure everything gets done, he wants to make sure you’re taken care of, he wants to make sure the baby is healthy–but he also needs some time to process all of this.  He may not understand that in the moment, and may not be able to articulate it, but if he seems to resist doing something, the need for time to process may have something to do with it.  Assertive requests take less effort for him to deal with than controlling demands–besides, it’s good relationship advice anyway.

Understand that he’s making adjustments.  Be assertive (not controlling) when you ask him to do something.  Those two things will help you both get through pregnancy with a stronger relationship.

(And, believe it or not, that by itself could help you have a better birthing experience!)

(This post is lightly edited from the “Surgical Birth – C-Section” chapter of the Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner.)

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, almost 33% of the births in the U.S. in 2012 were c-section deliveries.  You may not ever experience being a birth partner through a c-section delivery, but you should be prepared for the possibility.

A c-section is major abdominal surgery.  The doctor makes an incision in the mother’s abdomen and pulls the baby out through the incision.  Typically, the mother is awake during the procedure, with only regional anesthesia to block pain sensation.  Occasionally, general anesthesia (the “knock you out” kind) may be used for specific reasons.

To review:  in a c-section, a doctor will cut open your wife’s (or girlfriends, or…) belly, and pull out a baby while she is awake.

Usually, you will be able to stay with her during a c-section.  In some emergency situations, it might not be possible.  But usually, you will be allowed to dress in scrubs and take a seat by her head.  The surgical team will place a screen around the mother’s belly for two reasons:  to avoid infection and to keep the “audience” (you and her) from seeing too much of the cutting.

During this whole process, the mother  may need extra support and reassurance.  All her feelings of control over teh process are gone.  If the c-section is due to a problem with labor (maybe dilation stalled too early), she may have feelings of failure or inadequacy.  She might be tired.  So just like the pushing stage of labor, you need to be the voice she listens to and her encourager.  Tell her how well she did, or how close she is to holding her baby, or how much you love her, or how proud you are of her, or any other encouraging, loving words you can to help her.

In between all those words of reassurance, encouragement, and love, make sure to distract her.  Talk about something that interests her and that will draw her into a conversation.  As soon as you find out a c-section will be necessary, start thinking of distracting topics.  The anesthesia will keep her from feeling pain, but she will still be able to feel pushing, prodding, tugging, and other sensations inside her belly.  The distractions might be necessary to keep her from fixating on what is happening or freaking out.

As you support, encourage, and distract the mother, make sure to observe how she’s doing.  If something seems wrong, bring it to the attention of the medical staff.  If it seems like she is emotionally losing control, physically having trouble, becoming unusually anxious, etc, make sure the medical staff knows.  This is part of being her advocate.

Depending on the circumstances, the surgical team may lower the screen so you can witness the moment of birth.  While the obstetrician delivers the placenta and begins stitching (and/or stapling) the incision (the closing-up process can take quite a while, as there are several layers that need closing), another member of the medical staff will examine your baby.  If you can, take a couple of pictures of your new baby and show them to Baby’s mom while the examination is still going on.  If everything is okay with Baby, the medical staff will hand the baby to you–not to the mother.  Hold Baby close to mom.  She’ll want to see, kiss, and touch Baby, even if she’s not allowed to hold him/her yet.

Now, if there’s something that concerns the medical staff, Baby may need extra attention.  If that happens, someone will tell you what is happening.  If the baby needs to leave the operating room and it is possible for you to go with, quickly ask your wife (girlfriend, etc) whether she would prefer for you to stay with her or with your baby, then decide–very quickly–what you will do.

After everything surgical is finished, the recovery process will begin.  The medical staff will keep a close eye on the mother for a few hours.  At some point, they will give the okay for her to hold Baby and to try breastfeeding.  The timelines depend on how mother and baby are doing–feel free to ask the medical staff, once any emergency situations have passed.

After a c-section, which as a reminder is major abdominal surgery, your wife (girlfriend, etc) will have some serious restrictions on physical activity.  Your task will be to do the things that she can’t, cheerfully and lovingly.  If you do your task well, with a good attitude, it will help your relationship with both your baby and your wife (or girlfriend, but at this point, you get the idea).

There is a very good chance that people will want to visit when they hear the news of Baby’s arrival.  Your reaction to that will vary, based on your personality, the difficulty of the labor and birth, and whether Baby decided that you should miss out on sleep for the birth.  Some people want all the visitors they can cram into the room, some want no visitors at all for a while, and most are somewhere in-between.

Now, families and friendships are incredibly varied, so specific advice about what to do or say is probably useless here.  You’re smart enough to apply some general guidelines to your situation.

The first, and most important guideline, is not to sacrifice rest or happiness of (in order of importance) the new mother, the new baby, or yourself to accommodate visitors.  Visitors are great, but a woman who has given birth needs rest to recover, new babies need lots of rest, and you could probably use a little rest yourself.  There will be plenty of time to see people after everyone has recovered more.  It’s okay to say something like “Mother and Baby are doing fine, and getting rest that they both need.  We’d love to see you.  How about giving us a call after we’re discharged, and we’ll figure out a good time for a visit.  The plan is for us to be discharged Tuesday.”

While you’re in the hospital, the nursing staff may be helpful in managing visitors.  Then again, they may not.  Check with your hospital or birth center in advance to be sure.  If they are willing to help, just ask when needed.  If there is someone you don’t want to see, or if you want to keep a visit short, ask your nurse to help–they have plenty of practice shooing people out without any hurt feelings.  And even if there are hurt feelings, they’ll be directed at the nurse, not at you.

Now, if the nursing staff isn’t willing to help (some hospitals don’t allow them to), responsibility for being the “bouncer” is all yours.  Good luck!  Be polite but firm if you have to turn someone away or kick them out.  Maybe something along the lines of “she [or Baby] needs rest.  Thanks so much for coming to visit.  I’m sure we’ll see you again soon.”  Make sure–just as you did during labor–that you’re paying attention to the now-a-mother so you can help her out.  She shouldn’t have to whisper to you that she’s tired or tired of some visitors–you should know just from watching.

As a side note, it may be a good idea to funnel calls through your phone.  That helps you manage visitors, and it also helps protect the new mother from feeling obligated to get up from her nap to answer the phone.

Having people that love you/her/Baby come to visit and share your excitement is part of the fun of being a new parent, so enjoy your visitors!

“I don’t know.”

“They both look good.”

“Whatever you think.”

There are guys that articulate strong opinions about interior design.  Then there are most guys.  Include me with “most guys”.  It’s hard for me to visualize the color from a little paint chip covering a room, with a shelf installed right there, and those curtains…or maybe these, which do you think?  My answer usually starts with “um”, and gets less confident from there.

When it comes to planning the nursery, though, force yourself to have some opinions.  Getting involved in planning (and then, obviously, with implementing those plans) gives you a chance to have input, shows you’re engaged in the process of preparing for a new baby, and helps build your baby-related confidence.

You might wonder why having input is a good thing.  “Seriously, I don’t care, and I’m not good at this anyway, and I’m sure she’ll do better than I will, and…”  That’s fine.  Do you care about cost?  About organization?  About quality?  Find something you care about, and use that to start having some input.  (I enjoy actually painting rooms, but not all the work of emptying, prepping, and cleaning up–so overall I’m not a fan of having to paint.  So I came out strongly in favor of painting the nursery a nice gender-neutral green.)

Helping to plan also shows that you’re engaged in the process of preparing for the new baby.  Baby is coming, and will spend a lot of his/her first few months in the nursery.  Your wife (or girlfriend, or whatever the appropriate term is…) will be glad to see evidence that you’re not checked out on getting ready for baby’s arrival.  This will be helpful now (she won’t get grouchy with you for being checked out), during the birth (she’ll have seen you’re involved and be ready to trust you), and after the birth (again, she’ll trust your involvement and be more open to your input).

For you, there is also the benefit of building your confidence about things baby-related.  If you make a suggestion, implement it, and it works out, you’ll know it (that color looks great, good job!).  Even if your suggestion isn’t implemented, or it doesn’t work out (awww, that shelf isn’t quite big enough to display Baby’s full collection of Star Wars action figures), you’ll still have practiced making baby-related decisions, and discovered that you can recover from mistakes (usually–if you’ve made decorating-related mistakes that you can’t recover from, please explain in the comments!).So help plan the nursery.  She’ll probably do most of the planning, so help her out by offering your opinion when asked–even if you don’t have one!  And, more seriously, you might notice something she hasn’t thought of.  (“I know it’s cuter this way, but the dresser drawers won’t open all the way unless the glider is blocking the closet.  Let’s try putting the dresser over there.”)  If it helps, don’t think of it as a nursery.  Think of it as a maximally-efficient baby-care workflow environment.  Maybe that will help!

This one is for the moms and moms-to-be out there.  For this post, just to make the writing easier and clearer, I’ll assume that “he” (the non-mother) is Baby’s father.  You can customize this for your own situation.

Last week’s post urged him to become a competent caregiver.

Today, I want to make sure that you’re willing to let him.

“Of course I’m willing to let him!  Are you crazy?  Why would I not want him to be competent at taking care of Baby?”

I’m glad to hear it.  Let’s dive in.

Many new mothers are protective of their new babies.  That’s good.  There are a lot of dangerous things in the world, and babies are, well, a bit helpless.  If things aren’t ideal for Baby, Mom is going to fix it, no matter what it takes.

Almost all the time, this is a good thing.

Once in a long while, though, it’s not.  Especially when it comes to someone else taking care of Baby.  Sometimes, dads do things differently than moms.  Sometimes those differences are mistakes (for example, abruptly opening a baby boy’s diaper all the way), and sometimes they aren’t.  Sometimes they’re dangerous (for example, leaving Baby unattended on the changing table), and sometimes they aren’t.

Now, if you see Dad doing something dangerous, it’s okay to make sure Baby is safe, then talk about safety.  By all means.

If you see Dad making a non-dangerous mistake, he might appreciate you suggesting why it’s a mistake (“did you know the sudden cold air can make Baby pee?”).  Keep in mind that experiencing the consequences of a mistake is a much faster way to learn than being told.

If you see Dad doing something that’s just different, let it go.  Yes, Baby looks goofy with that green shirt and those different-shade-of-green pants.  Yes, those are from entirely different outfits.  Yes, I know.  And yes, you can tell anyone who asks that Dad dressed Baby today.

Different ways of doing things that don’t matter–and except for safety and health, most of it doesn’t matter–is okay.  If you want him to become a competent caregiver, especially if he’s a baby rookie, give him the chance to make some mistakes and learn.  It’s okay to offer advice and suggestions, but don’t scold or mother him.

Laugh at the outfits he picks out, shake your head at his strange ways of doing things, respect his growing competence, and enjoy having someone that you can trust with Baby.

Fortunately, neither pregnancy nor birthing lasts forever.  Eventually, Baby makes his/her appearance.  Of course, Baby arrives with some new needs:  food, warmth, diaper changes, baths, love, and help getting to sleep.  And guess what?  It’s not just Mom that can help with those things.

If you were an awesome birth partner, helping take care of Baby will seem like a natural next step.  If you’re like most guys, you will have less baby-care experience than Baby’s Mom does.  That’s okay.  Most of Baby’s needs are simple right now, and you’ll figure a lot out as you go.

Maybe you’ve never changed a diaper.  If you’re smart enough to figure out that the two smaller holes are for legs, you can change a diaper.  Get used to doing diaper changes.  Once the meconium stage is past, diaper changes are not as bad as TV and movies would have you think.

If Baby is going to be breastfeeding, you may feel like you’re off the hook as far as feeding goes.  It’s true that you won’t do most of the work.  But you can still help.  When Baby cries for food, check for a diaper issue (and change the diaper if that’s the problem), and snuggle Baby.  If Baby keeps crying (baby-speak for “I’m still hungry!”), carry him/her over to Mom.  Once Baby is done feeding, you can help with burping.  Toss a burp cloth over your shoulder, and pat those air bubbles out.  And if Baby is going to be bottle-fed, figure out right away how to get a bottle ready.

Finally, get good at doing Baby’s bath.  Become the bath-giver.  They’ll probably show you how to do Baby’s bath at the hospital.  They may even have you help.  Bathtime is a great time to bond with Baby, and a great time to let Baby’s Mom rest for a couple of minutes.  (Pro-Dad-Tip:  If you’re doing bathtime in a little baby tub in the kitchen, make sure the ceiling fan is turned off to avoid cooling Baby off too much.  Oops.  Actually, after just a couple of kitchen baths, I’ve preferred putting the baby tub in the big-people bathtub.)

That might sound like a lot of work, especially if you don’t have much experience caring for a baby.  Like any skill, you’ll get better the more you practice.  As you get better, it won’t seem like as much work.  If you don’t have much experience, see if your hospital or birth center offers a “Baby Basics” or “Baby Skills” class.  They’ll show you all the basic skills you need, and let you practice a bit on baby dolls.  (For extra practice and insight, a “Boot Camp for New Dads” or similar class is a great idea.)

Why put yourself through all this extra work?

Simple:  it’s good for her, it’s good for Baby, and that makes it good for you.

You’ve probably seen TV shows or movies where fathers are depicted as entirely incompetent at childcare.  On some level, you may be expecting to get by without becoming a competent caregiver.  There are a lot of reasons to become a competent caregiver, but here are a few:

  • Being a competent caregiver gives both emotional and physical support to the mother.
  • Being a competent caregiver helps the mother get some rest, and a rested mother is a happy mother.
  • Being a competent caregiver will increase the mother’s respect for you.
  • Plus, having a competent and involved father figure is good for Baby .
  • Bonus:  realizing your own competence increases your confidence and helps you feel better about yourself.

It’s more work to be a competent caregiver.  It’s worth it.  Do it.

This one’s for the moms-to-be out there.

As a mother-to-be, you’ve almost certainly been getting prepared.  You know your due date.  you know what week you’re at.  You’ve got the nursery planned out (or set up already), started figuring out which diapers to use, which bottles will be best, and of course, decided whether to go with froggies or birdies on baby’s bath towels.

You’re probably also looked at, registered for, or taken birthing classes at your hospital.  You might have pre-registered.  As a very pro-active gal, you’ve also started working through the Plan-Ahead series (or maybe the planning checklists in the book).  You’ve got this as under-control as you can (and, you admit, there’s a lot you can’t control, but what you can, oh boy, you’ve got that!), and you’re feeling pretty good about things.

What about him?  You know, your husband (or boyfriend, or whomever your birth partner is going to be–and if he’s a she, just adjust pronouns and other words as needed).  That guy that’s going to be by your side through the birthing process.  Do you trust him as a birth partner?

We both know he’s a great guy.  Funny, smart, handsome, fantastic at grilling burgers.  We both know he cares about you and would do anything for you.

But…there’s something in you that’s just a bit concerned about him.  Your concern probably falls into one of two categories (they’re listed in the book, and I’m not going to list them here, lest you decide that you should be concerned about both categories), and that makes you feel just a little bit uneasy.  You absolutely want him by your side during the birth, but you kind of, just a little bit, also want someone that you know will be steady and fully equipped as a birth partner.

As a side note, that’s one reason people hire doulas, even if they’re having a hospital birth.  They’re experienced, generally pretty steady, and they’re usually pretty well equipped as birth partners, that being their job and all.

Let me paint a different picture for you.  What if, instead of that little bit of unease, you looked over at him.  Funny, handsome, smart.  And you thought about him by your side during the birth.  You realized he’s going to be steady, solid, and he’ll know what to do.  Even if he doesn’t know what to do, he’ll know enough that he’ll be able to figure it out and you know he will completely take care of you.  You can trust him.

Did you have a little shiver there?  That’s a pretty exciting scenario.  And if that’s your scenario, you’re in a much better situation that most women heading into the birthing room.

If you can trust him as a birth partner, you’ll be able to focus on birthing your baby.  You won’t be splitting your attention.  You’ll be able to relax, knowing that he’ll do the right thing, the thing in your best interest, and that you’ll be surrounded by steady loving care.

I’m not a woman, and I’ve never given birth, but I’m pretty sure that sounds appealing.

If you want that, don’t just dream about it (though even as a guy, that scenario sounds pretty great).  Figure out what your concerns are about him as a birth partner.  Then work through them together.

There are resources out there that can help.  The Field Guide to Being an Awesome Birth Partner is, I think, a great resource.  It may not be the right resource to address your concerns.  Leave a comment below, or email me, and I will do my best to help you find the right resource for you.