In an emergency during birth, how should maternity services engage with fathers? (Australia)

emergency birth

A new review of research on fathers being present at the birth raises an important question: what is the role of maternity services in relation to fathers in an emergency situation?

Dr Rakime Elmir and Professor Virginia Schmied at Western Sydney University, Australia, looked at 8 qualitative studies covering the experiences of 100 fathers of complicated births.

The following themes emerge:

  1. A rapidly unfolding crisis – the possibility of death, blood, sometimes being suddenly being shut out and alone.
  2. Feeling powerless and helpless.
  3. Craving information – frequent lack of information and poor communication, though sometimes the opposite is experienced, with constant communication and reassurance.
  4. Scarring of the relationship with the mother – sometimes an inability to talk about the event, physical and emotional distance, avoidance of sex.
  5. Unresolved trauma afterwards – sometimes no debriefing, nightmares.

But should fathers be involved at all in such emergencies? Arguments are put forward both ways.

In favour:

  • The father has a big stake in the event and in the outcome of it, as responsible partner of the woman and parent of the baby.
  • The father is there to carry out their responsibility to care for the mother.
  • The mother may want him there, particularly in a crisis.


  • A man may react inappropriately under stress with his own opinions, fears and anxieties and make unreasonable demands that are not in the best interests of mother and baby.
  • The exposure may result in later trauma that has an impact on the family.

The researchers conclude that the two most important things for fathers in these situations are information on the one hand, and compassion and kindness on the other.


Elmir R & Schmied V (2015), A meta-ethnographic synthesis of fathers’ experiences of complicated births that are potentially traumatic, Midwifery

Photo: Rowan Simpson. Creative Commons.