Dads and Doulas
A DONA International Birth Doula Topic Sheet
Dads and Doulas: Key Players on Mother's Labor Support Team
There was a time when expectant fathers were portrayed as anxious, floor-pacing, cigarsmoking
men who were tolerated in hospital corridors until the long-awaited moment when a
nurse or doctor would announce they were the proud father of a daughter or a son. Today's
expectant fathers are different.
When it comes to pregnancy, birth, and parenting, today's father may want to share
everything with his partner. He may want to be actively involved; ease his partner’s labor pain,
welcome his baby at the moment of birth and help care for his newborn at home. A birth doula
can help a father experience this special time with confidence.
Studies show that when doulas are present at birth, women have shorter labors, fewer
medical interventions, fewer cesareans and healthier babies. Recent evidence also suggests that
when a doula provides labor support, women are more satisfied with their experience and the
mother-infant interaction is enhanced as long as two months after the birth. With doula support,
fathers tend to stay more involved with their partner rather than pull away in times of stress.
Today, a father's participation in birth preparation classes or his presence at prenatal
visits and in the birth suite is a familiar occurrence. Yet, we sometimes forget that the
expectations of his role as a labor coach may be difficult to fulfill. Sometimes it is also
culturally inappropriate for an expectant father to be so intimately involved in the process of
labor and birth.
The father-to-be is expected, among other things, to become familiar with the process and
language of birth, to understand medical procedures and hospital protocols and to advocate for his
partner in an environment and culture he may be unfamiliar with. A doula can provide the
information to help parents make appropriate decisions and facilitate communication between
the birthing woman, her partner and medical care providers.
At times a father may not understand a woman’s instinctive behavior during birth
and may react anxiously to what a doula knows to be the normal process of birth. He may
witness his partner in pain and understandably become distressed. The doula can be reassuring and skillfully help the mother to cope with labor pain in her unique way. The father-to-be may be asked to accompany his partner during surgery should a cesarean become necessary. Not all
fathers can realistically be expected to coach at this intense level.
Many fathers are eager to be involved during labor and birth. Others, no less loving or
committed to their partners' well being, find it difficult to navigate in uncharted waters. With a
doula, a father can share in the birth at level at which he feels most comfortable. The doula’s skills
and knowledge can help him to feel more relaxed. If the father wants to provide physical
comfort, such as back massage and change of positions, and help his partner to stay focused during
contractions, the doula can provide that guidance and make suggestions for what may work
Physicians, midwives and nurses are responsible for monitoring labor, assessing the
medical condition of the mother and baby and treating complications when they arise; but birth is also an emotional and spiritual experience with long-term impact on a woman's
personal well being. A doula is constantly aware that the mother and her partner will remember
this experience throughout their lives. By mothering the mother during birth, the doula
supports the parents in having a positive and memorable birth experience.
The benefits of doula care have been recognized worldwide. The Medical Leadership
Council of Washington, D.C, the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada and
the World Health Organization are among the many healthcare organizations that value the
benefits that doulas provide to women in labor.
The father's presence and loving support in birth is comforting and reassuring.
The love he shares with the mother and his child and his need to nurture and protect his family are
priceless gifts that only he can provide. With her partner and a doula at birth, a mother can have
the best of both worlds - her partner’s loving care and attention and the doula's expertise and
guidance in birth.