Research Article| Volume 33, ISSUE 5, P490-495, September 2020

‘The calm before the storm’: A qualitative study of fathers’ experiences of early labour

Published:November 23, 2019DOI:



      Early labour care presents a challenge for maternity services and is a cause of dissatisfaction for women planning birth in an obstetric or midwifery unit who may feel unsupported or unwelcome at their planned place of birth. Little is known about the perspectives of men who support their partner during early labour.


      Opportunity sample offathers (n = 12) in the UK who had been present during their partner’s labour in the previous twelve months. Semi-structured interviews were audio-recorded and transcribed before thematic analysis.


      Fathers learned about the stages of labour during antenatal education and felt well prepared for early labour but found their knowledge difficult to apply, and relied on their partners to decide when to travel to the planned place of birth. Early labour was described as the ‘calm before the storm’ during which they carried out practical tasks or rested to ensure they could fulfil their role when labour progressed. However, men frequently felt ‘like a spare part’ during the later stages of labour.


      The study has implications for antenatal educators, midwives and others supporting couples during pregnancy and labour. It supports reconsideration of how information about labour progress can be most usefully conveyed to couples. Professionals could acknowledge the value of supportive tasks carried out by fathers that might otherwise be experienced as doing ‘nothing’. Further research should recruit more diverse samples of men and same-sex couples. Dyadic data collection methods may be of value.


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