Traditionally the business of childbirth is something done by a woman with the help of other women. During childbirth, the husband was absent, either working, or drinking with his friends, or anxiously pacing the hospital waiting-room! In most European cultures, and in nearly all Asian and African cultures, the man kept away during childbirth, although in a few the husband went to bed and ‘suffered’ from imaginary labour pains during his wife’s real labour. This custom is called ‘couvade’.

In English-speaking and Scandinavian nations a change has occurred in recent years. During this time couples have communicated more about sex, and have had a closer relationship. This has extended to the desire, felt by many expectant mothers and fathers, that both should participate in the birth process, both be able to witness the birth of their baby, and to share their mutual joy.

A man can only participate in this way if he and the expectant mother have received training during pregnancy. He can only help his partner if he understands the processes of childbirth, if he has learned how to support and encourage the woman during childbirth. A couple can do this most effectively if they have attended educational classes together, and have read books, so that they are prepared to participate in childbirth.

In the past decade, slowly at first, but now with an increasing momentum, obstetricians, nurse-midwives, and hospital administrators have accepted the change to family-centred, participatory childbirth in which a couple who have been prepared can participate jointly.


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