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Baby Go-Time: Advice for Dads and Other Support People

Plan ahead, pack that bag, be attentive and be an advocate

Support people helping pregnant person giving birth

When your loved one goes into labor, all eyes are on them. It’s lights, camera, action — and they’re the star of the show.

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But dads, partners and other chosen labor and delivery support people have an important co-starring role to play when baby is on the way.

“During labor and delivery, dad’s main job is to be supporting and comforting,” says parenting educator Sam Lapin. “They can play an important role in coaching, advocating and taking some of the other burdens off the person in labor.”

Of course, labor support isn’t always the dad’s job. Partners, family members, friends and other loved ones can all play the role of labor support person. Some people may choose to hire a doula, too, to help as a support person throughout pregnancy and delivery.

So, when we’re talking about “dad’s” role, know that we’re really sharing advice for anyone who’s taking on the job of being a labor and delivery cheerleader, advocate and caretaker as baby makes their way into the world.

Regardless of your sex assigned at birth, gender identity or your relationship to the laboring person, if you’re committed to providing comfort and care, Lapin offers this advice for you.

1. Be prepared

Knowledge is power. And while it can be tough to know what exactly to expect in the delivery room, the more you can know ahead of time, the better.

Brush up on the basics of labor and delivery care, so you can have an idea of what goes down:

Get familiar with the logistics of baby go-time, too. For example, if you’ll be driving to the hospital, know the best route to get there, where to park and how to navigate inside the hospital to get to the right place. (And keep an eye on your gas tank as the due date gets closer. No one wants to stop for gas when baby is coming!)

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Lapin suggests checking with your local healthcare institutions or community resources to gather information. They often host pregnancy and birthing classes that can be very helpful. And there are plenty of online resources and books dedicated to all these things (and much more).

2. Get your stuff together

Before heading to the hospital, you’ll want to have everything ready that you’ll need. Because go-time is not the time to be packing your bag or installing the baby’s car seat.

What should your hospital bag have in it? Lapin advises:

  • Important documents, like IDs, insurance cards and a copy of the birth plan, if you have one.
  • Clothes and toiletries (and don’t forget glasses and contact supplies, if you use them!).
  • Comfortable shoes. Consider a pair of flip-flops or sandals for the shower.
  • Pain-relieving tools for labor, like a tennis ball, hot/cold packs and massage lotion.
  • Snacks and drinks for both of you after baby is born.
  • Any electronics you’ll need, like your phone and charging cords.
  • Baby gear, like swaddling blankets and a going-home outfit. (Pro tip: Consider two outfits in different sizes — one newborn size and one 3-month size — as babies aren’t one-size-fits-all).

To be safe, it doesn’t hurt to pack a month or two before the due date.

“I’ve heard a lot of stories where labor started early — when they thought they still had a few weeks to go,” Lapin shares. “So, they didn’t have a go-bag ready or the infant car seat installed yet. Having to get that all together in a hurry is a stressful way to start off.”

3. Know the birth plan

Some people head to the hospital with a birth plan in mind. And chances are the pregnant person in your life has some ideas of what they’re looking for.

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Ask them:

  • What pain relief measures are you comfortable with?
  • Do you plan to breastfeed or use formula?
  • If you're having a planned C-section, do you expect to be awake during the procedure?
  • Who’s allowed in the room when you’re in labor (other family members, friends, etc.)?
  • Do you want visitors at the hospital, or should they wait until after you return home?

Talk about all these questions and more. As the support person, you’ll be in the best position to help communicate the birthing person’s preferences and expectations when they can’t. The more you’re on the same page, the better.

And discuss the need for the plan to be adaptable.

“Things can change during the course of labor,” Lapin reiterates. “The support person can help encourage flexibility, when needed. You can ease fear and anxieties if things don’t go according to the plan.”

For example, if the plan calls for an unmedicated birth, but exhaustion is setting in, you can provide assurance that it’s OK to consider an epidural if they want. Or if a medicated birth was in the plan, but things are progressing too quickly, you can coach them through the discomforts.

4. Set the atmosphere

As the support person, one of your jobs is to make the delivery room as comfortable as possible. Not always an easy feat in a hospital setting, but there are ways you can help to set the vibe.

You can do that by:

  • Creating a playlist with the birthing parent’s favorite tunes. Or calming nature sounds. Or whatever they prefer in the moment.
  • Keeping the lights dimmed.
  • If allowed, use aromatherapy, like essential oils or plugins with calming scents (think lavender or jasmine).

5. Anticipate needs

If you’ve been chosen as a labor support person, chances are you know the laboring person better than most people do. You’ve been there for them in times of need before, and you probably read their cues well by now.

Put that knowledge to good use during labor and delivery.

You can help keep them comfortable by noticing when they may need some help, and offering support like:

  • Ice chips.
  • Massage and comforting touch, like holding hands or stroking hair.
  • Reassuring words.

6. Be the gatekeeper

The support person is typically in the best position to help share news and information with other loved ones.

Plan ahead and create a list of who should be notified when labor starts and after baby comes. And make sure those people know the ground rules.

“If you don’t want others to make announcements on social media, it’s important to spread that word. If you don’t want visitors to the hospital, you can enforce those wishes,” Lapin states. “You should put your phone down some, too, to enjoy time when baby comes. But it often falls on the support person to share updates as you can.”

7. Listen carefully

Your role as labor support person doesn’t end when baby is born.

Throughout your time at the hospital, you’ll be visited by a lot of healthcare professionals. And they’ll all have a lot of useful advice for the postpartum period.

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But it’s a busy time. A lot gets said. And it’s easy to lose track of everything you hear.

  • How often should baby eat?
  • How many diapers should they go through?
  • When is that first pediatrician appointment again?
  • What are the signs of postpartum depression to look out for?

Listen closely. Take notes. And don’t be afraid to ask questions.

The person doing the pushing may be the star. But as their chosen person, you have a big part to play in keeping them comfortable and ensuring a positive birthing experience.

You got this!

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