A father’s role in birth is very important. As Rose St. John says in her book, Fathers At Birth:
No one other than the mother is more personally and profoundly affected by the baby's birth than you are. As the mother's lover and the baby's father, you are connected to them like no other. Your role- to provide stability and refuge-is unique to you.
Your presence profoundly influences your partner and how she navigates through labor. As a vigilant attendant, you offer your partner tremendous refuge and have the power to alter how labor and birth unfold.
Because the man's role can make such a critical difference, it is important men have access to the preparatory attention they need to fulfill their role.
Doulas support and enhance the relatively new but vitally important role of a father’s increased involvement in the birth of his child. The father-to-be is expected to understand the process and language of birth and hospital protocol, and be able to advocate for his partner and protect her in an environment which is usually as unfamiliar to him as to his partner. There is also often an expectation that he know how and be able to emotionally and physically support his partner throughout her labor. A doula can provide the information needed by parents to make informed decisions and help dad to better and more comfortably provide the support mom needs from him. She can also facilitate communication between the laboring woman, her partner and her medical care providers.
Dad may not understand a woman’s instinctive behavior during childbirth and may become unsure and anxious by her actions or her obvious discomfort. A father's instinctive response is to try to protect her and take away her pain. The doula is able to support this innate desire and enhance a father’s involvement, at whatever level he is comfortable, by providing reassurance and guidance to him. She is able to make suggestions about what kind of physical support measures may work best and how he can be involved. Her goal is to help him best support his wife. She also can run errands for the couple, get him something to drink, or give the father a much needed bathroom/dinner break/nap while providing assurance that mom is not being abandoned and has the assistance she needs.
The process of labor and birth are time of dramatic change and transition for the father. A mother has been becoming just that, a mother, since she knew she was pregnant. For fathers the actual birth of their child tends to be a defining moment. He will likely have his own strong emotional experiences during the labor process as he prepares to take on the new roles of father, provider and protector of his newborn child. Fathers benefit from a doula's presence and reassurance of their own personal experience while encouraging and helping them to support the mother.
Some fathers want to be involved in every aspect of the birth process, from massaging his partner’s back and feet, to supporting her leg or back while pushing, to catching the baby. Others, while just as supportive and no less loving, find it difficult to fill the role of “labor coach.” A doula is able to help the father navigate this uncharted territory and help him feel more relaxed and confident, no matter his degree of participation. Ultimately, the doula will base her own level of involvement on the wishes and desires of both the mother and father, being more or less present and involved as needed.