Dads and Doulas


We as a society are a unique people; each of us different in a myriad of traits. And after many years of birth, postpartum, teaching, and doula experiences, I’ve found that there are three definite categories into which many Dads place themselves.

It’s a good idea for couples to discuss their expectations of Dad’s role in this whole birth and parenting gig before things get crazy.

So grab a snack and cuddle up with each other, plan to be open and non-judgmental of each other’s feelings, and decide where on the spectrum you fit.

First, there is the Coach.

This is the Dad who has read the childbirth books and blogs, actively participated in the childbirth class and has no qualms whatsoever with being the primary support for his wife during labor.

In fact, he relishes the thought of being the defender, cheerleader and coach.

He plans to massage his wife’s back, set up the aromatherapy oils, play the ocean wave soundtrack and remind the medical staff of the birth plan. He is confident that he will be able to talk his wife through any fears, and frequently mentions the directions they received in their preparation class.

Although this confidence is the whole point of many of the childbirth preparation classes, the truth is that this kind of confidence is rare, especially for first time Dads. However, whenever we find a Dad with this level of assurance, we are quick to cheer him on!

The Coach Dads who hire a Doula are usually very involved and typically they are the ones who meet with the Doula first. Throughout the pre-natal period and during the labor and birth they want us to serve as a source of information and ideas; a role we are completely comfortable filling.

Second, there is the Partner.

He is sincerely concerned about his wife receiving the care and support she will need during the labor or postpartum period and he may be the first to call us. Or he may feel completely supportive of his wife’s decision regarding birth plans and postpartum support and show his support by following her lead.

He is the Dad who puts together a playlist of songs that his wife likes, he is willing to massage her back or feet, but wants to be shown how to do so gently and effectively. He wants to be a present and actively participating partner in the birth, but doesn’t feel comfortable being the only person responsible for supporting his wife.

He is concerned about his wife and child and may feel too emotionally involved to provide objective assistance.

He wants to experience the birth event along with his wife, hand in hand, but not be in charge of her comfort. He wants to help, but not direct.

He wants tips for how to comfort his new baby, and strategies for feeding, burping, changing, and soothing his newborn. He’s concerned about recognizing symptoms of postpartum depression because he fiercely protects his family.

The Partner Dads who hire us are typically grateful when we make suggestions of different methods they can use to comfort their wives. They appreciate a team mentality. They rely on us to decode medical jargon, explain implications of different procedures, and remind them of different options available.

They are reassured when we place all decisions back in their hands as a couple.

Finally, there is the Observer.

At first glance, this Dad may seem uninvolved or even disinterested.

Usually this Dad is worried.

He wants to be present for the birth of his child and there for his wife, but he’s not sure how he’ll react when he sees her in pain. He may be very aware of his reaction to the sight of blood and concerned that he may be in need of comfort himself.

This Dad may spend quite a bit of time on his phone, seeing it as his responsibility to be the reporter for the family; communicating to everyone via text, email and phone about the progress of the labor and his wife’s condition and feelings.

Because of his upbringing or past experiences, he may believe that birth is dangerous and feel that the entire experience should be handled by professional medical personnel and the best thing he can do is to stay out of the way.

Fortunately, many men are becoming increasingly aware of not only the safety of the birth experience, but the potentially beautiful, bonding, and empowering experience that it can be for the whole family.

Each role is important and acceptable.

Each style lends itself to different marital dynamics and different parenting styles. It does no good to tell a Dad, “You are an Observer, but you should be a Partner.” If he wants to change his style, that’s a good choice. If not, that’s a good choice too.

The problem arises however, when each person has different expectations.

If a Mom expects her husband to be a Coach and he plans to be a Partner, she’ll be left feeling abandoned during the birth experience. Conversely, if Dad expects to be a Coach and his wife is expecting him to be a Partner, she may feel run-over and overwhelmed.

It is important to discuss these roles prior to the birth of your child so that you are both on the same page. When your expectations are similar, you’ll be free to focus on enjoying the experience together. At Doulas of Los Angeles, we believe that Dads are essential and are committed to supporting your family the way your family wants to be supported.