Basics of Common Labor Procedures for Dads

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

In the interests of making you, the new dad, familiar with all possible aspects of labor and delivery, some of the procedures you can expect to see during labor are detailed below.

Vaginal exams explained for dads

Vaginal exams — when the cervix is checked for dilation — are often uncomfortable, especially when they’re done during a contraction, but they’re the only way to assess labor progression. Although your partner may not be overly fond of vaginal checks, you may love them because they give you new information to convey to friends and family in the waiting room or on the other end of the phone.

Basics of IVs for dads

If you’re delivering in a hospital in the United States, your partner will most likely have an intravenous infusion, or IV for short. The IV serves the following purposes:

  • Supplying fluids: Many hospitals restrict fluids when labor begins, and getting dehydrated is easy when you’re working extra hard and not taking anything in. If an epidural is given, prehydration is necessary to avoid a drop in blood pressure, which can decrease oxygen flow to the baby.

  • In case of Cesarean delivery: With the percentage of Cesarean deliveries now more than 30 percent in the United States, there’s a very good chance your partner will end up with a Cesarean. If the surgery is done as an emergency, with time being of the essence, having an IV already in place saves time.

  • Covering the hospital’s legal obligations: If a woman has serious bleeding, an emergency Cesarean, or just about any complication, an IV is necessary to give fluids to replace possible blood loss and maintain normal blood pressure, which often drops if spinal anesthesia is given for the surgery.

    Many hospitals routinely give IVs before they’re really needed because, unfortunately, you live in a litigious society, and in the case of a malpractice suit, the lawyers will want to know if she had an IV in place for just such possible emergencies.

After an IV is in place it shouldn’t be terribly uncomfortable, so if it is, let your partner’s nurse know. Sometimes just retaping the catheter so it’s at a different angle helps with the discomfort.

Women who want to walk without dragging around an IV pole or spend time in the hot tub can have the IV hep-locked, which means the end is capped off and the bag of fluid detached. If needed, the hep-lock is flushed with solution to make sure it’s still working before the bag is reattached.

But despite all this, some women — and your partner may be one of them — really don’t want an IV during labor, as long as everything’s going well. It may make her feel like the birth is a medical procedure or she may just have a massive fear of needles.

Obviously, IVs aren’t necessary for childbirth; millions of babies around the world are born without benefit of an IV every day. For a normal, uncomplicated delivery, an IV is certainly an option, not an essential.

If your partner is adamant about not having an IV:

  • Talk to her medical provider ahead of time, both to get his views on the topics and so he can put a note in her chart, if he’ll agree to forgo the IV.

  • Understand that pain medication is generally given via IV in the hospital because it acts more quickly and also disappears faster. Injected or oral medications stay in the system longer and can make your baby sleepy and less able to breathe well at birth.

    If your partner plans to write “Give me my epidural” on her forehead before going to the hospital, an IV is inevitable because epidural anesthesia causes side effects that IV fluid can counter, like a drop in blood pressure or a fever.

  • Realize that a medical emergency throws all previous agreements out the window; there may not be time to have an earnest discussion about the pros and cons of IVs. In a real emergency, the IV is in before anyone has time to discuss it.