For many years husbands or partners of women giving birth have been commended for and even expected to be present during the process of labour. It was considered the modern norm even though holistic obstetricians such as Michel Odent warned against this. The results of multiple recent studies in different countries seriously questions the wisdom of applying this universally and even go as far as saying the father’s presence can increase the chances of a Caesarian section.
Fathers watching mothers giving birth is a relatively modern phenomenon. For many generations, generic birth was left to the women of the ‘tribe’ to support and help the mother through confinement. Then birth became a medical matter and obstetricians got in on the process. Although the medicalization of birth made some natural births unnecessarily stressful (compared to a normal home delivery) doctors also saved many, help many mothers and babies from horrible catastrophes. A hospital birth was considered the safer option because when things go wrong in childbirth, medical action often needs to be taken quickly.
In the 60s and 70s a new natural childbirth movement emerged. Headed by the holistic French obstetricians, Frederick Leboyer (whose wonderful book, Birth Without Violence – see great interview with him here – was a major influence on my medical career), Fernand Lamaze and the afore mentioned Michel Odent, the movement profoundly influenced our attitudes towards childbirth, interestingly much more so in Holland and the UK than in France itself. Suddenly home births were in fashion again and mothers were keen on giving birth in water. Not surprisingly, fathers were encouraged to attend pre-natal courses and of course be there at the birth itself. However one of the pioneers of natural childbith, Michel Odent warned against the expectation for all fathers to be present at the births of their children. Now it seems that evidence has emerged to prove him right.
For many fathers this was a wonderful life-changing experience but for some it was a nightmare through which they were expected to put on not only a brave face but a smiling and happy mask as well! Some men were naturally terrified of the process and of course this was not exactly encouraging for their wives who sensed fear in the very partners to whom they turned to for encouragement and support.
Michel Odent always thought that the presence of an anxious father can make the mother tense and increase the incidence of Caesarian sections. The phrase ‘horses for courses’ comes to mind and perhaps it is now reasonable for me to say that not all studs make good midwives. For some husbands watching the birth of a child can be a miracle of rare device that makes them love mother and baby even more but others are better suited to pacing up and down the corridors of the hospital, cursing the No Smoking signs and waiting for that life-changing telephone call.