Do dads belong in the delivery room?

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Many new fathers are nothing short of awe-stricken by the birth of their child, and cherish their baby’s first moments shared with the mother in the delivery room. In fact, ever since Dr. Robert Bradley introduced the concept of husband-coached childbirth in the early 1960s, fathers have been routinely encouraged to be present at their children’s births. Yet, now, in what is sure to stir up some fatherly frustration, to say the least, French obstetrician Michel Odent argues that fathers specifically, and men in general, don’t have a place in the delivery room.

According to Odent, not only are fathers in the way, but because their presence often makes the laboring mother anxious, they may be interrupting the production of a hormone critical to the birth process. The slowed supply of that hormone, oxytocin, may even increase the chances that a woman will have to deliver by Cesarean section. Odent, who believes that the safest birthing environment involves only the mother and a skilled midwife, told the Daily Mail:

“If she can’t release oxytocin she can’t have effective contractions, and everything becomes more difficult… Labor becomes longer, more painful and more difficult because the hormonal balance in the woman is disturbed by the environment that’s not appropriate because of the presence of the man.”

Odent will argue his views this week at a forum hosted by the Royal College of Midwives. He will be challenged in a debate by Duncan Fisher, an advocate for fathers, who believes that men should defer to the women’s desire to have them in the room.

Yet, even before the debate, Odent’s controversial perspective is likely to generate some opposing views, including those from fellow physicians who suggest that recent increases in C-section deliveries have no correlation with dads being in the delivery room. As Patrick O’Brien of the U.K.’s Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists told Clare Murphy with the BBC:

“What we do know is that there are many reasons why the number of emergency cesarean sections has risen—including obesity, older mothers, and fear of litigation—none of which have anything to do with the presence of dads.”

And while the birthing process has been known to make a few men feel squeamish (or even terrified), whether or not they are in the room should be a decision left to the fathers- and mothers-to-be, O’Brien says. He also told the BBC:

“Having a baby together is an intense, life-changing experience that most couples want to experience together. The father can be an immensely reassuring presence for the mother… And as for the suggestion that men won’t cope with the so-called gore – well, most of his role can be carried out at the head-end, talking, mopping her brow, offering sips of water. Of course a man shouldn’t feel forced to be there, but I have yet to meet one who said after the birth of his baby – ‘I wish I’d stayed at home’.”