Sometimes a father in the delivery room can be too helpful

baby at breast
Fathers are now such a fixture in delivery rooms, it is easy to forget that this is only a recent development, extending back less than 40 years. It is difficult to fathom why they were excluded, since their presence is so valuable. They can help in a myriad of practical ways, sponging a forehead, spooning ice chips, holding a leg during pushing. However, their primary contribution comes in emotional support. They don’t call it labor for nothing, and encouragement and comfort are invaluable during the hours that labor lasts.

No one would want to go back to the days when fathers were excluded from the births of their children, but every now and then, the father poses challenges to the mother or the staff. Some fathers are not supportive, or worse, hectoring their partners or ignoring them altogether. Some fathers are drunk, or stoned, or carrying a weapon. Then there are the more delicate cases. When water became part of pain relief in labor, fathers wanted to get into the shower or the tub to offer support. That’s fine, as long as they wear a bathing suit, but not everyone remembers to put one on.

It is also possible for a father to be too helpful. That’s what happened to one of my midwife colleagues.

I was sitting at the nurses’ station filling out paperwork when the midwife came out from the room where she had just finished a delivery. Ordinarily that would not be notable, but her face was a shade of bright red, signaling profound embarrassment.

“What happened to you?” I asked.

“You’re not going to believe this,” she replied.

After a long, but uncomplicated labor, with several hours of pushing, her patient had given birth to a healthy baby boy. There had been no episiotomy. The midwife simply needed to deliver the placenta and then she could leave the couple to enjoy their new baby. The placenta took a while to detach, but the midwife was very patient, and waited for the gush of blood that heralded the detachment. After almost 20 minutes, the gush of blood came and the placenta followed shortly thereafter. Unfortunately, the blood kept gushing.

The midwife palpated her patient’s uterus. As she suspected, it was not contracting firmly, probably because of the protracted labor, a risk factor for hemorrhage. She massaged the uterus, and asked for pitocin to be placed in the patient’s IV. Then, wishing to employ natural methods as well, she explained to the patient that putting the baby to her breast would stimulate the release of oxytocin (natural pitocin) that would help stop the bleeding.

As the mother put the baby to her breast, the father cheerfully offered: “I’ll help, too!”

Before the midwife could explain that that wouldn’t be necessary, the father was suckling his wife’s other breast.

The midwife was mortified.

“It’s fine now,” she pointed out. “The bleeding stopped after the uterine massage and the pitocin. You don’t need to continue; nothing more is needed.”

“Don’t worry,” the husband replied. “It’s no bother. I do this all the time anyway.”

The midwife withdrew, to handle her paperwork and her embarrassment.