Dads in the delivery room apparently make birth more painful: study

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He might think he is being helpful as he holds your hand while you are in the throes of labour, but he could actually be making the pain far worse.

Research suggests that women who lack emotional intimacy with their partner feel more pain if he is with her.

The study, by University College London, King's College London and the University of Hertfordshire, found the pain felt by 39 women given "pinprick" laser pulses on their fingers was not reduced by the presence of their partner and, in many cases, it worsened the pain for women who most avoided closeness in their relationships.

The presence of men at a baby's birth has always divided opinion, but has grown in popularity since home births began to decline in the '70s. Previous studies had found that women in labour needed fewer painkillers if their partner was present.

In the new experiments, women were given a moderately painful laser pulse on a finger and asked to rate the pain's intensity. Researchers also measured how the electrical activity in their brains "spiked" in response to the laser pulses. Each woman then completed a questionnaire to measure the extent to which she either sought or avoided "closeness", or emotional intimacy, in relationships.

This showed that the more women avoided closeness with their partner, the more pain they felt if he was at the birth both in how they rated pain and their brain scans. However, the presence of a partner had no significant effect, good or bad, on the pain felt by women who sought closeness in relationships.

Dr Katerina Fotopoulou, of UCL's Psychology & Language Sciences, said: "This suggests that partner support during pain may need to be tailored to personality traits and coping preferences. Individuals who avoid closeness may find the presence of others disrupts their preferred method of coping. This may heighten individual's pain.

"This was further supported by the finding that electrical activity in the brains of these individuals was influenced by partner presence in the same way as their subjective pain report and particularly in areas typically associated with processing bodily threats."

A study in 1962 by US doctor Robert Bradley suggested that a father's presence helped women in labour to relax. However in 2009, French obstetrician Michel Odent blamed fathers for increasing the rate of caesarean sections. He said that a man in the delivery room could make a woman more anxious, slowing the production of oxytocin, a hormone that helps the labour process.


Chef Gordon Ramsey said he did not attend the births of his four children because he did not want his sex-life "damaged by images like something out of a sci-fi movie".

Fathers at the delivery became more prevalent after The Peel Report of 1970, which said all women should have access to hospital care when giving births.

Away from the comfort of home, family and friends, women looked to their man for more moral support.

"Previous research has shown that women prefer to have their partners present during childbirth and they make less use of painkillers after labour," said Dr Fotopoulou. "This experiment could suggest that some previous results may not necessarily relate to the sensation of physical pain but the broader meanings and needs associated with birth."

The Daily Telegraph