Hospital Survival Guide for Expecting Fathers
You’re about to be a daddy, and you want to support the person that is bringing this new life into the world. Whether you’re heading to the hospital amid contractions and broken water or taking part in a planned induction, being a daddy in the Labor and Delivery ward is an experience like none other.
My wife and I had about five hours notice before we were set to arrive at Labor and Delivery. We were taking part in a scheduled induction – a medically necessary process in our case. Angela was 38 weeks pregnant, which is considered full term.
Every hospital is a little different, but here are some of the things I discovered during my five-day-long stay at the hospital for Luke’s birth.
Hospitals tend to take security very seriously in both the Labor and Delivery wards and the Postpartum area. Anxiety over unwanted relatives and fears about safety for the most vulnerable of us should be the furthest thing from a new mother’s mind as she transitions from pregnancy to motherhood.
Upon arrival, you may be required to check in at a front desk or ring up the nurse’s station using a phone just outside a locked door. Just let the nurses know who you are and what you’re there for and they should ring you right in.
Make sure before you set out that you have identification for both yourself and the mother, insurance card, and plenty of pocket-money. Once you’re in Labor and Delivery, you’re locked in for the long haul. Even if your spouse says it’s OK that you go home for a little while, you should probably stay put.
Food and Nourishment
Hospitals have vending machines aplenty, and there is usually a cafeteria that is open during daylight hours. Babies don’t like to be born during the day, so pack a snack or two in your bag if you aren’t a fan of vending machine food.
Some hospitals have nourishment centers that the mothers can take advantage of with ice, water, light snacks, and Jello. This is a room you should become very familiar with as you run errands for your mate, but most hospitals have strict policies about the daddy grabbing snacks for himself there.
If your hospital offers free room service for mama, that’s great! Take advantage of it but remember only the patient gets to order things through room service. You’re going to have to hotfoot it down to the cafeteria to grab your meals. Hospitals generally price their cafeteria foods very well, and some of them even have good food.
Taking Care of Mama
The mother of your child is going to be hooked up to machines from the moment they sit her in the bed. These machines monitor the heartbeat of the baby, any contractions she is having, her blood pressure, and there might even be some Is IVs giving her fluids and medicines.
This means that she will have a hard time getting up to go to the restroom. When she does, she’ll be dragging around her IV stand and draping monitor cables over her shoulder. It’s not a fun experience for her, so do your part to help her get in and out of bed. Remember, she’s probably not having her best day at this point.
Take trips to the Nourishment Center we talked about earlier. If she’s inducing labor, she will probably be put on a clear liquid diet which limits her intake to water, ice chips, Jello, and broth. Some nourishment rooms have bouillon cubes – so consider packing a microwave-safe bowl or some of your own clear liquid items for her to enjoy.
During delivery, you are her cheerleader and her rock. You are there to tell her she is doing great, encourage her, and not to ever put an obstacle in her way. Don’t bring up things that will upset her when she’s in labor. You’re there for one reason, support.
Comfort and Sleep for the Mother
In our case, we were in the hospital for three days before a cesarean section was ordered. It was hell. The beds in Labor and Delivery are not made for long-term comfort at all. They break apart and allow for pushing and other essential labor and delivery activities… not comfort.
She will complain that the bed sucks. She’ll moan, toss, turn, and then not say a word to the nurses that come in. It’s your job to speak up and suggest more pillows or let the nursing team know that things aren’t optimal. The bed might not be able to change, but pillows in the right places can make a difference.
Speaking of pillows… bring your own pillows! Not only for you, but for her. Trust me, you’ll be thankful after a few days of sleeping on rocks that you had that one small creature comfort.
The hospital room(s) are yours while you’re there. Make the space as comfortable as possible but remember that at a moment’s notice nurses and doctors may come flying in, rearranging everything. Small things like aromatherapy, a portable speaker, and extra long charging cables go a long way to make a hospital room more livable.
One last point here: Hospitals are not great for getting a good night’s sleep. Nurses will come in constantly before, during, and after delivery. Overnight, your room will be host to a half-dozen visitors. Her blood pressure will be taken every so often and neither you nor her will be getting a full night’s rest at any point.
Taking Care of Baby
After the baby is born, the real work begins. Your wife will be sore, bleeding, and in no shape to jump up and tend to a newborn’s every need. She can provide great skin-to-skin support and breastfeed, but changing diapers and soothing the child while mama sleeps is your job.
I had never changed a diaper before my son’s birth. If you haven’t either, don’t worry. It’s a skill that comes very quickly at 3am in the hospital.
Hospitals provide a lot of nifty stuff for your baby in his/her first few days. Formula, diapers, wipes, and a crib. The crib is the most important. Nurses and doctors will not examine your baby outside of the crib, and you can’t walk around the ward unless the baby is securely placed inside with you pushing.
Another big job for the daddy is keeping track of what you’re going to end up paying dearly for once all is said and done. Hospital bills are going to arrive in your mailbox soon after the little one is back home, so it’s up to you to keep an eye on what you actually use. Ask for an itemized bill so you can check the bill for accuracy. Hospitals sometimes charge you for stuff you never even received, like certain IV drugs or consultations you had declined.
Some hospitals charge you an arm and a leg for everything in that cart. Receiving blankets, those white blankets with blue and pink stripes every hospital has for newborns, are really cool. They’re not the best swaddling blankets, but they will be your best friend in the hospital. Grab a few on your way out, if the nurse lets you. Chances are they will.
There will also be a parade of people in your room following the child’s birth. Nurses and doctors of all types will stop by, there might even be lactation consultants and hearing test administrators. Someone may even stop by and offer to take a portrait of your baby for a fee.
This is all normal stuff, but you should find out which of these services are required in your state, and which of them are there to make the people offering them money. Everything is more expensive in a hospital. Medicine, photography, tests, and even linens if your hospital charges for them. Keep this in mind.
Perks for the Father
Your job isn’t all bad. Hospitals love having fathers at the mother’s side. You will likely be given a special wristband with a number that matches that of your child. This is a security precaution and your pass to the postpartum ward.
Dad’s also get to follow their baby around the hospital as he/she gets footprinted and weighed. It’s your job to take lots of photos of the big moment, so have your camera with you. Depending on how the baby is born, you might even get to cut the cord.
If the hospital is nice enough, you also get your own bed in the room throughout the mother’s stay. This bed will probably be a convertible chair and it will probably be extremely uncomfortable. But, at least you won’t be sleeping on a regular chair in the corner of the room.
You’re a parent now. Your child is your responsibility and you, along with the mother, are the ones that have to make all the big decisions for him/her. What vaccinations they receive and whether or not he’s circumcised are just a couple of the many decisions you’ll be making during the first few hours of your child’s life. Do your research and be ready to answer them.
Your job may not be the one everyone talks about, and you might not be the person people check in on, but your job is still very important. You are the mother’s support system. Their rock. Their cheerleader. The person they vent to about uncomfortable beds and painful contractions.
If the mother’s role is that of the rock star, you are her sound engineer. Keep that in mind and you’ll have a great time.