Many couples will learn about and hire a doula for their birth. Many other couples will not. If you're on the fence about hiring a doula, you may want to consider how doulas also help and work with dads during labor and birth. In full disclosure of my personal bias, I have worked as a doula and have had a doula for one of my own births -- I think they are awesome and invaluable for dads and moms/birthing people!
Some people believe that a doula's role is to take place of dad, which can be a very off-putting idea to couples. In reality, a good doula works as a liaison or assistant between the couple during labor and birth, not as a "replacement." Let's talk specifics.
1. Figuring out dad's desired role - Not every dad wants to get in the birthing tub and help deliver baby; not every dad wants to sit on the couch and surf Instagram. The role that a dad sees himself in during labor and birth will be unique to his comfort level with birth and his relationship with his partner. A doula works with a couple during pregnancy to begin this discussion. As a doula, I asked dads, "How do you see yourself participating in your birth? What's your comfort level? What kinds of things do you see yourself doing on the big day?" I remind dad that there's no wrong answer, and each person's and couple's situation is individual. Of course, what a dad imagines doing during birth and what actually happens may change -- many dads are surprised at how comfortable and involved they are even if they predicted otherwise.
2. Respecting dad's wishes and checking in - During labor and birth, a doula keeps in mind the very important discussions they had during pregnancy, and provides support to the couple accordingly. At the same time, a doula also frequently checks in with dad to find out how he's doing, feeling, if he has questions/concerns, and if he would like assistance in supporting his partner. A doula is good at assessing and checking in with empathy and without judgement. If a dad who previously said he doesn't see himself being very "hands on" begins to take more interest, a doula will appropriately encourage and foster that desire. A doula works to ensure that the mother/birthing person has positive memories of her partner's role during labor and birth.
3. Providing reassurance on the process of birth - Even if a couple takes a good childbirth class, there may be times of concern, uncertainty, or fear about what's normal/not during birth. A doula can help reassure dads and birthing partners about what's happening (is it normal that she's vomiting? why is it taking so long? what does that procedure/instrument/word mean?) in order to help reduce fear and anxiety. A nurse and doctor or midwife also can help answer these questions, but the reality is that nurses and care providers are not with a couple throughout labor and birth, while a doula provides continuous support. Additionally, a doula's role is to provide emotional and informational support, whereas a nurse's and doctor or midwife's role is medical (although many nurses, doctors, and midwifes also can provide good emotional support, too).
4. Catching a break - Research shows us that people in labor and giving birth do better when they have continuous support -- that means the encouraging support of another person throughout labor and birth. Even the most hands-on and physically involved dads in labor need a break to go to the bathroom or refuel with some food. A doula helps provide a welcome and needed break for dads, which is especially helpful in cases of long labors.
5. Boosting confidence - Doulas aren't just cheerleaders for the person in labor, they also help dads feel more at ease and help them believe they know just how to support their partner. A good doula will encourage dads, and provide tips and suggestions gently, only when it looks like it's needed. Sometimes, a doula is like the "magic" feather in Dumbo's trunk -- just her presence alone can increase confidence. Beyond that, her knowledge and insight often feels both critical and reassuring to dads and partners.
Dads and doulas make a great team. If you've ever felt hesitant about hiring a doula because of perceptions about "interference," I encourage you to investigate further. Schedule a few interviews, talk to friends who've had good doula experiences -- learn for yourself how dads and mom/birthing person can both benefit from the presence and support of a doula.