Fathers, Fear, and Birth

“I told my dads that they were their partner’s lover and that their most important role at the birth was one they did everyday without classes, books or practice: Loving the mom. You could literally see the dads relax as this thought sunk in and took root.”

~ Lois Wilson, CPM

My husband supports me during my birthing time with our second baby

I don’t use these exact words, but I share something similar with the dads in my classes—your most important job is just to love her the way you love her, not to try to be anything different or more “special” than you already are…

I recently shared my review of The Father’s Home Birth Handbook by Leah Hazard and also wanted to share this excerpt from an article in Midwifery Today:


Helping Men Enjoy the Birth Experience, by Leah Hazard


Nearly 70 years ago, Grantly Dick-Read wrote in Childbirth without Fear that laboring women often experience a cycle of: Fear > Tension > Pain. This is a cycle with which many of us are familiar, and we’ve developed a myriad of ways to break the cycle since Dick-Read first published his seminal work in 1942. However, less attention has been focused on the emotional roller-coaster fathers experience throughout pregnancy and birth, and it’s this area that I’d like to explore in greater depth.

Although a man cannot feel the same pain as a laboring woman, I believe that many men experience a similar cycle of emotions in the birthing space to that which Dick-Read described, with a slightly different end product, namely: Fear > Tension > Panic. A man who is not confident in his partner’s birthing abilities, who is poorly informed, and/or who is poorly supported, becomes increasingly tense; and if this tension is not eased, then he spirals into an irreversible state of panic. This panic manifests differently in different men: some men become paralyzed by their fear (the familiar specter of the terrified dad sitting stock-still at the foot of the bed), while others spring into hyperactivity, bringing endless cups of water or becoming obsessively concerned with the temperature of the birth pool.

The root of this panic is fear, and it’s a fear which often begins to grow long before the first contraction is felt. As such, we need to think about ways that we can address and minimize this fear in the days and months preceding birth…

[Please read the rest of this article excerpt in the full online version of E-News: http://www.midwiferytoday.com/enews/enews1221.asp ]

Excerpted from “Beyond Fear, Tension and Panic: Helping Men Enjoy the Birth Experience,” Midwifery Today, Issue 95 Author Leah Hazard is the author of The Father’s Home Birth Handbook. For more information, visit www.homebirthbook.com .


I really think the fear-tension-panic cycle makes a great deal of sense and it brought me to this quote:

“Fear is completely intertwined with what we experience as labor pain…And it is the fear in our physicians and nurses as much as the fear within ourselves.” –Suzanne Arms (Immaculate Deception II)

I think sometimes women underestimate the power the attitudes of other people in the birthplace hold over outcome (the nocebo effect, possibly)—while being prepared, confident, fearless, etc. as a birthing woman is excellent and she can sometimes manage to triumph over the fear of the others around her, I more often see the fear of others overriding the preparation and confidence a mother has tried to develop in herself. I think it is important that we actively cultivate coping skills and resources within fathers-to-be as well, so that they are less likely to get into the fear-tension-panic cycle and are better able to be present for the birthing woman (fear-tension-panic within doctors and nurses is a subject for another post!). Here are some other posts I’ve written specifically for fathers:

Ideas for supporting your partner in labor

No Right Way

Resources for Fathers to Be

Birth Affirmations for Fathers

For Labor Support Remember TLC or BLT

Comfort Measures & Labor Support Strategies

Helping yourself while helping your wife or partner in labor

(P.S. Yesterday this was a much more developed post and WordPress erased it accidentally and to my great dismay 😦 )

7 thoughts on “Fathers, Fear, and Birth

  1. I am slightly embarrassed to be commenting since *I did not read the entire post* :), BUT, the beginning was so great and I feel compelled!! Ha, ha!

    Anyway, this is such great advice for dads-to-be. Of course, you already know there is so much pressure on dads in our society to be these kind of superheros during their partner’s labor/birth. And then the whole notion of “coaching” caught on…which only added more pressure to them! I say, let’s do away with any notion of a man doing all sorts of special preparation for birth and instead, encourage them to focus on growing in maturity, growing in their marriage relationship, and growing as a person. Through these things, their ability to support their partner during birth will be naturally strengthened. A weak man who is trained to “coach” his partner will still be a weak man.

    • You make so much sense to me on this! I have several posts in my drafts folder about fathers as “coaches,” but I can’t quite manage to fully articulate my thoughts into real posts.

  2. Oh and one more thing:

    This also reminded me of a couple I did private BirthWorks sessions with. They were such a sweet, honest couple and at one point as we were talking about how labor might start, what each might be feeling emotionally and such, the husband asked me,

    “What if I get really worried about something once she’s in labor? Should I talk to her about it?” 🙂

    I smiled and we shared a laugh together as I told them that my short answer was, “NO!” Of course, then I elaborated and I reminded them of all we talked about it in terms of hormones and how the delicate balance is affected by things like fear, etc. And thankfully, this couple had already hired a doula, so it was great to be able to keep reminding them, “This is another great benefit of having a doula. If you’re [the husband] worried, go talk to the doula about your concerns. She’s there for you, too.”

    It was just such an honest question, totally from a guy-perspective, and I thought I’d share. 🙂

    • I tell the dads in my classes the same thing about doulas–that doulas free them up to take their own journey into fatherhood (which is very important and valuable too!) without the pressure and expectation of being the “doula” themselves.

  3. Pingback: Fears About Birth and Losing Control | Talk Birth

  4. Pingback: Happy Father’s Day! | Talk Birth

  5. Pingback: Tuesday Tidbits: Pain, Birth, and Fear | Talk Birth

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