In the News


India Dads in the Delivery Room

By Joeanna Rebello Fernandes,

On April 9, 2011

In the Crest Edition of the Times of India

The Indian dad has decided to bite the bullet and bring up baby. He hasn't petitioned for paternity leave yet but if things continue this way, it won't be long. From Lamaze classes to the labour room, he's making his presence felt.

"Fathers want to help, " says Corinna Stahlhofen, a German midwife who has been running a natural birthing centre in the village of Assagao in Goa for the last ten years. Corinna has pre- and post-natal walk-throughs for couples, taking them through Lamaze, yoga and a mental warm-up for what's to come. She invites men into the delivery room (many would sooner go to the North-West Frontier), and their knee-jerk refusal is easily reversed with a bit of coaxing. About 40 per cent of Corinna's clients are Indian, and about 99 per cent of the men agree to stand with their partners through labour, and even lateral birthing techniques like water or chair-births. "I tell them that this is not a hospital where fathers are barred from the delivery room. " Both parents are encouraged to experience childbirth together, "says Corinna. "Men only need to be given the chance to participate. There's not as much blood as they expect."

Some men may have got their cue from movies like Junior and 3 Men and a Baby or the emboldening blogs of pro-daddies like Duncan Fisher who authored Baby's Here! Who Does What but whatever the reason, men are more willing than ever to smooth the wife's brow during pains or cut the umbilical cord.

And though American sitcoms have shown us one too many men swoon while filming a close-up of the crowning, most dads bear up quite well at the end of the table. It's not just necessity that requires them to know as much about colic and nappy rash as their child-bearing partners (impute this to the quartered family), many bleary-eyed papas have learned to revel in the joys of fatherhood.

Advocacy groups in developed countries have long stressed the benefits of going half-and-half in child-rearing. Even governments put out this message through positive propaganda that includes social campaigns, state policies or sufficient paternal leave like in Sweden (two months and then some). Last year, the cash-strapped British government promised to alter its policies in favour of shared parenting from the earliest stage of pregnancy.

While modern men see no shame in taking a deeper interest in their children than the perfunctory inquiry about their age every once in a while, the real test of mettle is childbirth. While to-be-mums have been known to sign up for pre- and post-natal classes (with working mothers using such portals as babycenter as proxy teachers), experts are amazed to find almost as many men in class. "A decade ago men felt their only role was to accompany their wives to sonography appointments. Now, they are ready to be labour partners, " says Dr Geetanjali Shah, a pediatrician who, along with her husband Vikram conducts preparatory classes for parents to-be.

Traditionally, it has always been the mother or mother-inlaw in the labour room, and while their presence is reassuring, their advice may be old-fashioned. Many, for example, insist the mother push her baby out the minute she enters labour, with no heed to full dilation of the cervix. When men attend our sessions with their wives, they learn the dos and dont's.

They also learn the how-tos : massaging their pregnant wife, practising breathing exercises with her, maintaining her diet, knowing how to help her through labour, how to hold the newborn, bathe and massage it, preparing feeding charts, and helping their wives counter post-partum depression. "Husbands even have a part to play in breastfeeding, " says Dr Shah. They can help the mother into the right position, reassure her about her ability to lactate (a debilitating anxiety in new mothers) and shoot down any unsolicited advice from unhelpful relatives.

It's a sign of the times that a young new parent brings a scrupulously detailed logbook to the pediatrician with such accounts: 12. 10am: baby pooped;1. 05 am: baby fed;1. 45am: baby burped;2am: baby asleep etcetera. This eager breeder was, quite unnaturally, the father, not the mater tabulating the hour-by-hour itinerary of his new-born (catch a sleepdeprived mum groping for a pencil at 2am). "It goes to show that Indian fathers are now taking keen interest in childcare, " attests Dr Amin Kaba of Prince Aly Khan Hospital in Mumbai, the aforementioned pediatrician who was visited by the new-age father and his journal.

However, experts contend that it's only the city-bred, progressive man who wants as much to do with his child as the mother. In some cities like Mumbai, men attend pre-natal classes alone if their wives have been recommended bed rest. In Kolkata, a first-of-its-kind daddy bootcamp called Parenting for Dads will be conducted by consultancy Birth and Beyond next week. They expect around 15 participants. "The session we've designed will educate fathers to be a positive reinforcement in the child's infancy and toddler years, " cofounder Vidhi Beri told TOI-Crest in an email. The tools will be experiential, drawing on the fathers' own childhood experiences and the impact of parental behaviour in their own lives to determine the kind of parenting they want to practise.

Ultimately, it is a relieved wife and mother who is thankful that in these hectic times, the father figures.