Expectant Dads: Here’s Why You Want a Doula in the Delivery Room

from a dad who's been there
written by COREY PLANTE
the everydad doulas help dads"
the everydad doulas help dads
Source: Canva
Source: Canva

When my wife gave birth to our first child, the Omicron variant of COVID-19 had just peaked. We both had to wear masks during our entire stay, I wasn’t allowed to leave the hospital, and we couldn’t have any visitors whatsoever. All the anxious jitters that come with having our first child were compounded by a sense of isolation from the support network we relied on. Things couldn’t have been more different when we gave birth to our second child in April 2024. Not only did we have my wife’s mother with us the entire time, but we also had a certified doula. Perhaps best of all? The doula was covered by our health insurance.

Supporting your partner through labor and delivery is an intense and challenging experience, even when you’ve done it before, one that easily makes you feel powerless. While the husband or partner has potentially less to do when there’s a doula there to help, it generates an opportunity to collaborate with an expert who’s far better educated and equipped to offer the mom-to-be the best possible birthing experience. 

If you’re considering a doula with your partner, here’s what you can expect from the experience and how doulas help dads through the process, too.

What is a doula?

A doula is a trained professional who provides emotional, physical, and informational support to women throughout the birth experience, typically from mid to late pregnancy through the early postpartum period. 

Have you ever had a travel guide in a foreign country? Having a doula is a lot like that. Pregnancy, labor and delivery, and all the highs and lows that come after collectively feel like setting foot in a foreign country. Even if you speak the language, it’s always overwhelming, confusing, and disorienting. Research can only prepare you so much, but a professional can translate all medical jargon, guide you through the experience, and offer informed recommendations at every step of your journey.

The benefits of a doula

Doulas support the mother’s goals to achieve a healthy, satisfying outcome for the entire family. Many expectant couples develop a birth plan outlining preferred pain relief methods, birth positions, and more. A doula executes that plan with the mutual understanding that labor and delivery are unpredictable. Because a doula develops a personal relationship with the family, they’re better equipped to offer suggestions in the spirit of the mother’s intentions, even when you must veer away from the original birth plan.

Many report that having a doula makes them feel empowered, particularly compared to births without one. There’s so much guilt and pressure put upon mothers to do it “the right way,” but a doula provides an informed and encouraging third party that, quite frankly, relieves a lot of the pressure we feel as fathers in the delivery room.

Birth plan preparation with a doula

While a doula is there to support the expectant mother first and foremost, there’s a holistic bigger picture they often consider. Our doula, Susie Finnerty, scheduled two lengthy in-person meetings during my wife’s pregnancy—and one between us and her alternate, just in case of a scheduling conflict. In these meetings, we discussed what we liked and didn’t like about our previous birth experience and our hopes for the next one, essentially developing the birth plan together. You can also talk about your desired role: How comfortable are you with witnessing the birth itself and cutting the umbilical cord? 

We also set up an inclusive text-based group chat to provide updates, ask questions, and share specific resources. 

how doulas help dads
Source: Corey Plante

“I generally hope that partners can participate by finding a doula from whom they are also comfortable getting support and asking questions,” Finnerty told me. Especially if you’ve experienced a previous birth and are working with a doula for the next, tell lots of stories about what frustrated or confused you. More often than not, the doula might present simple solutions that the hospital’s medical staff won’t.

With our first child, my wife’s epidural seemingly slowed down the dilation of her cervix, leading to an extended labor. For the second, she wanted to try something else for pain relief, and our doula knew every option, including the institution’s various protocols. 

Our hospital, for instance, has an Alternative Birthing Center (ABC) with “minimal intervention in a cozy home-like setting.” Officially, you cannot access the ABC if you plan on getting an epidural, something that every doctor, nurse, and intake person told us with our first child. Technically, however, it’s possible to attempt an ABC delivery and then shift to a more traditional experience with the epidural; they’d just wheel you across the hall. You just have to be assertive.

Having a doula is like going to a restaurant with a friend who knows the secret menu or using a cheat code in a video game. They know things that are impossible for you to research.

Dad’s role with a doula in the delivery room

Depending on where the expectant mother feels her labor pains, it may be more comfortable to labor in various positions with different props. You can bring your own or request extra pillows (our hospital had large, peanut-shaped balls perfect for in between the legs). Gentle touch massage or mere counter pressure can go a long way to easing mom’s comfort as well. Many doulas train specifically in this sort of thing.

While they’re often running point calling many of the shots, do your best to put on your “put me in coach!” game face. Be ready to grab a leg or push on a hip. Feel free to ask questions, but the single best thing you can do in the delivery room is be available and open to doing just about anything. Hold your wife’s hand, encourage her, and breathe with her, but remember that anything you can do to help the doula is only going to make this experience better for the mother of your child. 

How doulas help dads

Having a doula also relieves the dad of a lot of the mental work that goes into labor and delivery. With our first, I just kept thinking, What can I do? What does she need? And I had no idea. Especially when your spouse begins howling through contractions, it triggers a very particular kind of anxiety. I couldn’t think clearly. I felt helpless. Doulas reassure everyone about what’s normal and channel much-needed positivity.

“Having a doula is like going to a restaurant with a friend who knows the secret menu or using a cheat code in a video game. They know things that are impossible for you to research.”

“Doulas should market themselves to dads,” a friend and fellow dad recently told me. “It made my experience so much better. With our first, it was more the doctors telling us what needed to happen, whereas with the doula it was more of a conversation. That made us feel more empowered.”

Because it becomes a conversation at every step with an expert on your side, you can be more confident that you’re making the “right” choice and, if need be, go on auto-pilot a little bit. Even something as simple as the location of the nearest vending machines is something that our doula knew, which saved me the time I could have spent wandering around. You never know how long labor and delivery can take.

“It’s OK to take breaks and eat even if your partner is the one birthing and can’t,” Finnerty said. But do your best to eat outside the delivery room if you can. Finnerty fielded questions from myself and my mother-in-law throughout the labor, but she also checked in with us both frequently and encouraged us to take breaks.

doulas help dads
Source: Robert Bussey | Unsplash

During the birth and after

If possible, it’s recommended that the baby go skin-to-skin with their mother immediately after birth. If you plan on breastfeeding the baby, this is a great time to try for an initial latch.

“Skin-to-skin is vital for both parents’ programming,” Finnerty said. “Babies love chest hair, and while it feels awkward and wobbly to handle a newborn, you aren’t going to hurt them. That fumbling together is vital to your bond and connection.”

A 2020 study from the World Health Organization (WHO) found that skin-to-skin contact (sometimes called “kangaroo care”) between the mother and baby increases the likelihood of successful breastfeeding habits. If it’s a cesarean birth, this won’t be possible, so dad should immediately start with skin-to-skin. Various studies shared by Scientific American indicate that, even if it’s after the mom, it has physiological benefits for parent and child while enhancing the developing bond between them. 

A doula’s role doesn’t end with birth either. Many doulas can and will help with breastfeeding and kangaroo care shortly after the baby is born. While mom is dealing with exhaustion and who knows what else, you can listen intently for the best practices during this process. There’s a strong chance your partner might not be able to process information super efficiently, so it’s a perfect task for the new dad in the room to take on.