A small Ugandan study, involving interviews with 16 fathers who had been at the birth of their babies, has concluded that if women’s partners are at the birth, they need some preparation for the role.
The fathers, mostly university educated, whose babies were born at the St Francis Hospital Nsambya, near Kampala, were individually interviewed by a male doctor for about 45 minutes.
Almost all the fathers acknowledged that the experience of attending the birth provoked anxiety and fear. They felt they should have had more knowledge and preparation about what happens.
Half of the fathers described the different things they did to support the mother – walking around with her, massaging and bathing her, lifting, organising the practical arrangements, preparing drinks, ensuring her privacy, reinforcing messages from the doctor using her home language.
“You encourage the woman. The woman’s heart becomes strong and when she is pushing, she needs that strength.”
Several of the fathers expressed how much the experience had affected them.
“It showed me what women go through….I have grown to respect her more…and every woman.”
“I would like to have ten children but because of the experiences she is passing through I think four are enough.”
“To me it’s bondage of love because she feels like I was there when she needed me most.”
66 years before this study, possibly the first ever written statement about fathers at the birth was made by Grantly Dick-Reid in 1949, in the book that launched the idea of respectful maternal healthcare, Childbirth Without Fear. The book was written in the context of birth being moved from the home environment to hospitals and when women were first starting to demand the right to have birth companions.
Dick-Reid emphasised the importance of support from fathers at the birth: “These men cannot be superseded in the value of their service by the most patient nurse or obstetrician.” But he strongly advocated preparation: “The totally unprepared man has no place at the birth of his child.”
Lwanga H, Atuyambe L, Sempewo H, Lumala A & Byaruhanga RNB (2017), An exploratory study of men’s companionship, perceptions and experiences during pregnancy and delivery in Uganda, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth
Photo: Hayden Paulsen. Creative Commons.