A father's presence at the birth seems to fulfil one of three roles.
A coach, who actively assists his partner with breathing and relaxation techniques, which involves a high degree of physical involvement. These fathers will have attended antenatal classes and know what they're doing.
A team mate, who is there to provide physical or emotional support as needed, but waits to be asked. Classes also help here.
A witness, who finds holding hands and 'just being there' enough.
Here are some accounts from fathers about how they felt they were able to help their partners during birth:
"In the early stages of labour, I was able to help Sarah cope with the contractions by massaging her back and suggesting new positions."
"Midwives came and went and as things dragged on my role became clearer. As well as changing the cassettes, I was also the masseur. With a bottle of scented oil and the heels of my hands I helped dissipate the pain in Susie's lower back. This at least gave me something useful to do."
"We rigged up the TENS [Transcutaneous Electrical Nerve Stimulation] machine and I did some back massage to help Mandy through the contractions. This made me feel very involved and needed."
"One thing I felt able to help with was to help Judie use gas and air during contractions. I feel competent with machines, so this felt like something I could contribute."
"I just tried to encourage Sylvia as much as I could because in the middle her contractions stopped and she was sort of becalmed, feeling she was never going to be able to deliver. Then a new midwife arrived who was very well built and exuded confidence. She told Sylvia to put her foot against the midwife's thigh and push hard. That got things moving again and Sylvia was able to deliver Anna herself without any intervention, which she'd feared. I felt I had been a sort of team coach when morale got low during the match."