What’s It Like for Dads During Labor?

One of the questions I wondered when my wife was pregnant was what labor would be like as a dad.

Obviously, I was far more concerned with it going smoothly for my wife since she had the toughest job of actually giving birth, but I did think about what I should expect to see and how I’d feel becoming a dad. 

I googled and searched for ideas and didn’t find much. I did ask a few friends who had recently become dads, and some of their thoughts are included here, too.

Below is what I’d tell a dad who’s curious about what to expect.

Labor as a Dad Thoughts

First, keep this in mind

Your experience will be different from mine. I’d be willing to bet money on it.

There are a ton of different variables that differ like the hospital you’re at, how long labor takes, whether there are any complications, your birth plan, getting an epidural or not, and lots of other details. 

My wife chose to get an epidural, we had a mostly smooth labor & birth process, and labor lasted about 24 hours. So my thoughts below are based on my situation and I’d encourage you to not perfectly expect any specific experience based on what’s happened for others. There are so many variables that your scenario will likely be unique from others you hear about.

View of labor as a dad
My hospital room view (I promised my wife I wouldn’t show her picture mid-labor)

The best way I can describe labor as a dad

When we got close to my son’s due date, I was pretty curious what the time at the hospital would be like. Would I be scared? Helpful in any way? Just worried about my wife and newborn? 

The best way I can describe the whole experience (which, again, was relatively smooth and there weren’t any major complications) is focused

I was tired and nervous. Sleeping on the hospital’s rubber couch was difficult and I wanted everything to just turn out fine with my wife/son.

But I wasn’t panicked or super stressed. Labor and birth isn’t constant pushing and screaming like what’s shown in movies or tv shows. There was a lot of waiting, too. 

Lots of waiting for my wife to dilate more and for the time when she needed to start pushing. 

All the feelings and different emotions combined to just make me feel focused. Focused on helping my wife stay as comfortable as possible and understanding things the nurses and doctors said like how the contractions work and what would happen in the coming hours. Things happening outside our hospital room felt pretty irrelevant.

Labor wasn’t a joyous walk in the park by any means, but I expected it to be more intense and stress-inducing the whole time, rather than just the end when my wife pushed and my son arrived.

There’s blood and stuff

I’ll leave out the specific details. But a friend with a 4 month old son summarized it well with the advice he gave me. He knew I’m not a big fan of blood or gross stuff, so he gave me the cautious forewarning before my son was born: 

“It’s a very…earthy…experience.”

He went on to explain I might see quite a bit of blood and smell some unusual smells since that’s pretty normal. He was right. But I thankfully went in mentally prepared for it and wasn’t too bothered in the moment. 

If you’re queasy and don’t like blood, I’d suggest you tell the nurses early on. Ours gave me warnings and asked me (early on) about my comfortability with things like if I wanted to cut the umbilical cord and where I wanted to be during the epidural. 

I chose not to cut the cord because I expected I’d be too queasy. I ended up being fine and could have done it. And I chose to stay in the room during the epidural to help support my wife, but I made sure not to look at the needles or any blood. 

I was happy with those decisions and would suggest that any dad decides on a rough plan of what they’re comfortable with before they’re actually in the delivery room.

It’s often a lot of waiting

Dad sleeping on a hospital room couch

I mentioned the amount of waiting. It deserves to be brought up again because there was a lot of it. 

When you see birth portrayed in movies or on tv, it’s normally the mother in lots of pain pushing or the moment of surprise when their water breaks and they need to rush to the hospital. 

So when I used to hear that some women spend 24-48 hours “in labor”, I thought that meant the painful pushing I saw on tv was what happened for those 24-48 hours. 

I was very wrong. 

It’s not all waiting of course. We talked with doctors/nurses, slept on and off, had the epidural done, watched a movie/tv, and of course my wife did push for the last bit. 

And that doesn’t mean it was all comfortable for my wife. She was uncomfortable most of the time, in pain for some of it, and it was intense at some times (like during the epidural, once when the baby’s heart rate dropped unusually slow, and during the pushing).

But if you don’t know what to expect like I didn’t, it’s good you go in knowing that labor isn’t 24+ hours of pushing. It’s a lot of other things that happen before pushing. And that could include a lot of waiting. 

I should note: this is one detail that might be very different in your experience. I have friends whose wives have given birth within an hour or so of showing up at the hospital. Others have spent 3 days waiting on the baby. 

You might have lots of waiting or not much at all. Just don’t expect it to be a replica of what you see on tv and in movies.

It’s all new

One thing I do know, regardless of how your labor and delivery process plays out, it all feels unfamiliar. 

Assuming you don’t have much experience with birth, be prepared for it to be a lot of new stuff and things you haven’t thought of. (If that’s true for you, there are a few things I’d suggest on how you can prepare for birth as a dad.)

To use myself as an example…

Understanding the details explained by the doctors and nurses was new. Figuring out how to help my wife to the bathroom while she has an IV in her arm was new. Learning what happens during an epidural is new. Holding my wife’s leg while she pushed was very new (did not expect to be given that responsibility). 

So going in with a very open mind and not being afraid to ask tons of questions is one thing I’d focus on if I could go back and do it over again.

And while all that probably sounds daunting, your newborn baby is also new. And having your baby enter the world is incredibly incredibly exciting. I’ll never forget how proud I was of my wife and excited I was to see my son for the first time. 

So all the new things that require asking lots of questions are all worth it to have the gift that is a newborn.

A reminder

In case you forgot, your experience is going to have different details. Any dad you ask about their child’s birth is going to have a different experience than you will. 

But if you go in with a rough idea of what you’ll experience and ultimately focus on how you can be supportive of mom, you’ll be far better off than going in without thinking about it beforehand. 

And congrats on being a new dad. You’re getting one of the coolest titles and most incredible roles life has to offer.

P.S. You’ve gotten this far. You might also be interested in thoughts on planning for paternity leave and what I found to be the most helpful podcast episodes and books for new dads.

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