A Man’s Guide to Pregnancy: How to Deliver a Baby in a Pinch

by Brett & Kate McKay on May 3, 2011 · 40 comments

in Fatherhood, Relationships & Family

I’m sorry to report that this is not a step in the process.

As you count down to the arrival of your progeny, you may read some books on pregnancy or go to a childbirth class with your wife, and feel like you can picture in your head how the whole thing is going to transpire: your wife laboring in a hospital bed (or at home for you earthier types) and you holding her hand while the folks in the white coats take care of business and bring your baby into the world. And there’s a good chance that it will go something like that. But there’s also a small chance that your baby, precocious little kid that he is, will try to make his escape from Uterus-traz before you even get to the hospital. If that happens, are you prepared?

Yes, this really does happen to people, although it’s much more common in woman who have already had a baby. The cervix rapidly dilates, and the baby makes its exit all at once and is born (unexpectedly) at home. So it’s a good bit of knowledge to have locked in your brain canister. Even if your wife’s not pregnant, you might have to come to the aid of a lady giving birth in a taxi or elevator. We included a section on this in The Art of Manliness: Classic Skills and Manners for the Modern Man, and I honestly reviewed it a couple times in the weeks before Kate’s due date (Hey, I was a Boy Scout–Be Prepared!). So give this short guide on how to deliver a baby a read, especially if you live a long way from the hospital.

How to Deliver a Baby in a Pinch

1. Don’t panic. Your wife is under a lot of stress right now. Standing there havy cavy or running around the house yelling like a little boy will not help her. Ease her stress by remaining completely calm.

2. Assess the situation. During labor your wife will experience contractions—the periodic tightening and relaxing of her uterine muscle. You’ll know your wife is experiencing one by the looks of discomfort on her face. If your wife’s contractions are less than two minutes apart, the baby is on its way, and you probably don’t have time to get to the doctor. If you can see the top of the baby’s head in the vagina, you definitely don’t have time.

3. Call for help. Just because you read something on the internet or watched Patches give birth to puppies when you were eight, does not make you an expert on delivering babies. Call an ambulance (or if you were planning on giving birth at home anyway, your midwife). Even if the baby comes before the ambulance gets there, someone can talk you through the process.

4. Get Mom comfortable. Because you’ve seen hundreds of television and movie births, your first reaction will probably be to have Mom lie on her back. This position isn’t actually the most comfortable or effective for delivery. If space is available, have her get on her hands and knees. This alleviates some of the pressure on her back. Some women also find it comfortable to stand or squat when giving birth, positions which allow gravity to aid in the birthing process. Just let nature dictate what she does. If Mom is in one of these vertical positions, keep an eye on the baby so he or she doesn’t squirm out into a free fall. If space isn’t available (say, in the back of a taxicab), the traditional on-the-back position will suffice.

5. Scrub up and prepare the birthing area. You don’t want to risk giving the baby or Mom an infection by handling them with your grubby paws. Wash your hands and arms with hot water and plenty of antibacterial soap. Birth is a messy process, so make sure you place clean sheets or a shower curtain under Mom. You’ll also need to have some clean towels handy to wipe off and wrap up the newly arrived bundle of joy. If you’re in a taxi, you can use your shirt.

6. Watch and guide. Nature is pretty dang amazing. For the most part the baby doesn’t need much assistance to make it into the world. Avoid barking instructions for your wife to push and breathe. You’ll just stress her out and cause her to possibly push when she shouldn’t. Let her push when it feels natural. When the head makes it out of the vagina, the baby will turn to one side. That’s completely normal. He or she is just trying to get in the best position to make an escape. Simply place your hand under the baby’s head and gently guide it downward. Don’t try to speed the process along by pulling on the baby. Just gently guide the shoulders out, one at a time. As the baby makes his entrance into the world, be ready to receive him; babies are slippery!

7. Rub the baby down. Take that clean towel and gently rub the baby down to clean off the fluid and blood. The rubbing will also help stimulate the baby so it starts breathing. Wipe any fluids out of its nose and mouth. If you have a straw, take it and suction out the fluids by inserting the straw into the nostril and then placing your finger on the open end. No need for holding it upside down and slapping its tush. That practice went away along with polio and celebratory cigars in the waiting room. Just place the baby, skin to skin, on Mom’s chest and cover the new arrival with a towel or shirt.

8. Don’t cut or tie the cord. Wait for a trained professional to do this.

9. Deliver the placenta. About fifteen to thirty minutes after the baby is delivered, Mom will expel the placenta, the sack that’s been nurturing your baby for the past five months. When you see the placenta start coming out, don’t pull on it to make it come out faster; just let it slip out naturally. If it’s not coming out right away, you can massage the mother’s abdomen to help it along.

10. Get medical attention ASAP. By now the ambulance should be there. If not, get Mom and new baby to the hospital as soon as possible so doctors can take care of the umbilical cord and examine the goods.

11. Bully for you! You’re a dad. And you didn’t even have to boil any water!

How to Deliver a Baby from a 1966 California State Police Education Film (NSFW)

Back in 1966, the California State Police created a film to educate officers on how to deliver a baby in a pinch. The film does a good job reviewing the basics we just went over, but then it goes one step further: it shows an actual live birth. The whole enchilada. The idea was to expose officers to a live birth via film so that if they ever encountered one in the real world, they wouldn’t panic or be grossed out.

The film stars real California policemen, so the acting is awesomely bad which makes it really funny to watch.

But again, the video features a gen-u-ine live birth, so please don’t watch it if you’re at work, in class, or if you generally find babies coming out vaginas offensive.

I do recommend watching this film if you want a nice recap on the steps to deliver a baby and if you’ve never seen a woman give birth before. If you’re a dad-to-be and are wondering what it looks like to have a baby come out of your wife, pop some popcorn and watch this film. Well, maybe skip the popcorn part.


A Man’s Guide to Pregnancy Series:
How to Take Care of a Pregnant Wife
How to Deliver a Baby in a Pinch
Getting Ready for the Baby Bomb
Your Progeny Enters the World

{ 40 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Mark Petersen May 3, 2011 at 11:50 pm


2 Dr. C May 4, 2011 at 12:06 am

Good article… It’s rarer now than ever for a baby to be born outside the hospital, but it still happens, and a man should be prepared for it. Two minor things:

- Keeping the baby warm after birth is key, as they cannot well maintain their own body temperature. Skin contact with mom is good, but if something warm is available, bundle the baby well.

- If, rather than the head of the baby, you see the cord or another body part presenting through the vagina, STOP — trying to deliver in this case can put both the baby and mother in danger. EMTs are trained that this is one of the rare instances in which they should insert a (gloved) hand into the vagina and hold the baby from moving further down the vagina, so you should too. Get the mother to a hospital ASAP, as she will likely need a Caesarean delivery.

3 Lee May 4, 2011 at 12:14 am

Whoa, bookmarked. Hopefully I’ll never have to use this.

4 Jeevan May 4, 2011 at 12:41 am

The practice of holding the baby upside down might be critical in curcumstances when the baby is unable to breath, and/or blood is not circulating to the brain.

5 Gary V May 4, 2011 at 12:59 am

“Congratulations, you are fully dilated to ten centimeters. You may now give birth.”

6 Patrick May 4, 2011 at 1:07 am

While in my Paramedic training I was on a ride time with the local fire department, No calls all night 15 min left for the night and I was able to help deliver a healthy girl on the side of I-80. The mom had a history of fast deliveries and just could not make it to the hospital in time. It was a awesome experience and makes for a great story.

7 Scott May 4, 2011 at 1:54 am

Our fourth child was born at home last month. She started off posterior (facing forward). I pushed my thumbnail into the outside bottom corner of my wife’s pinky toenail and held it firmly for about a minute. The midwife checked again and the baby had spun right around. A hands and knees position may also do the trick.

How do you tell if the baby is posterior? Mom will complain of severe low back pain during contractions, and may be able to feel the baby kicking toward the front instead of toward the back.

8 Cliff May 4, 2011 at 4:57 am

Brilliant. Have often wondered how to handle it like a man were my offspring to come into this world without trained professionals in place.

9 Blair May 4, 2011 at 6:25 am

My signature dish is beef Wellington form scratch with a lovely bit of Fillet Stake wrapped in parma ham mushrooms and mustard, with grilled baby gem lettuces and goose fat roast potatoes. Delicious

10 Stephen May 4, 2011 at 7:14 am

“She started off posterior (facing forward). I pushed my thumbnail into the outside bottom corner of my wife’s pinky toenail and held it firmly for about a minute. ”

How did that fix it?

11 Jared May 4, 2011 at 9:19 am

@Blair – Do you leave that in the oven for about 9 months or so?

12 CoffeeZombie May 4, 2011 at 9:20 am

“But again, the video features a gen-u-ine live birth, so please don’t watch it if you’re at work, in class, or if you generally find babies coming out vaginas offensive.”

Gotta admit, I LOL’d. Good start to the morning!

On the topic of the post, I remember going over similar stuff in our child birthing class with #1. After that particular session, I started to get very worried that it might actually be required of me. My wife said, “No, that’s not gonna happen.”

Well, come the day #1 was born. No, I didn’t have to deliver him in the car or anything, we managed to get to the hospital. Just. In. Time. Wife was almost fully dilated, and the nurses were freaking out that the midwife might not get there in time (she did, though, turned the then-posterior baby, and out he came).

Now, we’re gearing up for #2, and I’m scared to death. Good timing on this post; I may need that refresher!

13 Robyn May 4, 2011 at 9:25 am

Oh my gosh! Who was the unfortunate woman to give birth on this film? “Everything looks ship-shape!” while she’s lying there naked and the officers taking turns looking? No modesty in this film! Too funny.
And what was wrong with the car that her friend couldn’t drive her?
Besides all that, I wonder how they timed the filming to the birth or vice versa.
And where is that baby today?

14 Louis May 4, 2011 at 12:23 pm

I can’t thank you enough for encouraging immediate skin to skin contact between baby and mother. The importance of this cannot be overstated. This is a great article–thanks for posting!

15 Brandon May 4, 2011 at 12:59 pm

I caught my last child (on purpose) and it was the most awe inspiring experience I have ever had! I would recommend this to any expecting couple out there. A healthy mom having a healthy pregnancy does not need to go to a hospital to have a baby. Emergency Childbirth: A Manual By Gregory J. White is a great book covering this information and is free on google books.

16 phil sanchez May 4, 2011 at 1:07 pm

the most manly recipe on earth requires the following ingredients:

3 lbs of freshly cut bear flank
spit roast
4 pints of boiled dear blood
refried beans
jack daniels
Honey- for insult to injury
and Caramel

Slow roast the bear flank over a spit roast, being sure to cook evenly on all sides. After meat has been thoroughly cooked, marinate it with boiled blood and caramel. Before serving douse generousely in Jack Daniel’s and Honey. Serve with refried beans.

17 Niko May 4, 2011 at 2:12 pm

Well written article with good basic information that can be remembered in stress.

I just finished the para-medic training last month and I would add a thing or two:

While shouting commands at her certainly won’t help her to relax, she should pant whenever the baby is on the move (the moments she is in most pain) and breath deeply while the baby stands still. This rhythm helps preventing perineal tear (Dammriss in German), and gives the perinea time to widen. But I’m not sure if this is part of first aid, if not, the paragraph in the article is perfect.

If her waters have broken (=her amniotic sac broke) she is to be transported and laired horizontally. The umbilical cord could slide to the bottom and that would be dangerous.

The placenta should be handled with care and taken to the hospital so they can check it for completeness as remaining parts can threaten the mothers life.

If there is time, write down the time of her labours, prepare all the documents for the hospital and pack some things she’ll need. But only if there is time, don’t leave if you’re needed.

If you want to, you can ask if you can cut the rope. Under normal circumstances they’ll allow it and guide you so nothing can happen. Do it, it’ll be a great memory.

Have fun with your baby.

18 Niko May 4, 2011 at 2:43 pm

Please do excuse my bad English skills, I had to look up many words so style and grammar suffered quite a bit.

19 Scott May 4, 2011 at 2:52 pm

@Stephen: I dunno WHY it works, and I haven’t conducted a double-blind study to determine if it works any better or worse than any other action, but that was what the chiropractor told my wife to tell me to do in the event of posterior position. The midwife said the kid was posterior, I did the thing with the nails, the midwife said the kid wasn’t posterior anymore.

20 Josh May 4, 2011 at 3:23 pm

One thing: If the baby isn’t breathing, it is OK as long as you haven’t delivered the placenta. The baby is getting oxygen through the umbilical cord, so until it is cut or the placenta has detached, the baby is getting oxygen the way it has the past nine months…

21 Robin May 4, 2011 at 3:50 pm

@Robyn: Leave it to a woman to state the most obvious comment about the video. If you hadn’t said it, I was going to. ;)

Btw, I think they said the car had a flat tire.

22 Jonathan Jimenez May 4, 2011 at 7:18 pm

Just to add to Dr. C’s and Niko’s suggestions, don’t forget to massage the fundus after delivery! Use the palm of your hand (not fingers) to massage in a circular motion around the uterus. It should feel like a hard grapefruit. This will help with post-delivery vaginal bleeding. While a loss of up to 500mL of blood is usually well-tolerated by mom, it can’t hurt, and will help determine possible emergencies faster.

Good article!

23 Jason T. May 4, 2011 at 8:32 pm

Be sure to clean out the baby’s mouth before you clean the nostrils. Suctioning the nose will stimulate the baby’s urge to breathe. If the baby inhales this fluid into it’s lungs it can cause serious health problems down the road.

24 C. M. Anderson May 4, 2011 at 8:44 pm

My wife and I actually had the pleasure of delivering my second daughter at home. It was the single greatest experience of my life. I wish I had delivered my first as well.

25 JeffC May 4, 2011 at 10:02 pm

Deliver a baby, live, on demand, for a training film? Now that’s acting!

Can’t we use the term birth canal, instead of the v-word? That was the only coarseness in this whole article.

26 Rob M. May 5, 2011 at 12:20 am

Brett & Kate, this is great information to have in one’s mental emergency kit. Thanks for sharing.

@JeffC: That woman deserves an Academy Award. I would have to disagree with you on the choice to use the word “vagina.” Using the clinical term for a body part should not be considered coarse. Try to think of it in terms of saying “heart” or “hand” instead of “blood pumper” or “upper articulated digit group.”

27 Les Brown May 5, 2011 at 1:49 pm

After a fairly typical, though fast hospital delivery for our first child, baby number two caught us by surprise. My wife and I woke up that morning at 7:30am and by a little after 9am, our son was born. No hospital, no EMT’s, no one there but my wife and I with our midwife on the phone talking me through. It was the single most intense and manliest experience of my life. Every man should have the opportunity to deliver at least one of his children. Simply amazing.

You can read our story here:


28 Fred Brocaa May 6, 2011 at 2:05 am

As far as the “insert gloved hand into vagina” goes, it’s important to include – if you see the cord, or the head pressing down on the cord against the birthing canal, attempt to place your index finger and middle finger on either side of the umbilical cord, to relieve pressure off of it. At this point, the baby has not begun breathing on its own, and is dependent on the oxygenated blood it’s taking on through the cord. Attempting to pull or dislodge the cord could cause any number of problems that might lead to death for the mother and or child.
At this point, be getting to a hospital.

29 RedHatJumper May 7, 2011 at 11:01 pm

It never hurts to research beforehand, especially since you never know… My wife spent all night having contractions with our second son and they never got less than ten minutes apart. Her water broke and less than five minutes later I was catching my son in my bedroom. Do yourself a favor, read it, watch it, hear it. Never take for granted that the medical professional actually has any clue about what they tell you beyond what they read in med school ten years ago. I highly recommend you watch “the business of being born” and read up on the Bradley method of Birth. even if your wife has no intentions of giving birth naturally you will have tenfold the knowledge of what is actually happening and will be that much more helpful when the time comes.

“I pack chutes and catch babies, top that.”

30 Mannyclouds May 8, 2011 at 2:27 am

seriously where was this article 4 years ago when i was stuck in road works on the way to the hospital and my at the time youngest daughter was born? luckily i was more experienced this time round and managed to do it at home when my wife was too stubborn to go to the hospital, GREAT article

31 NavelgazingMidwife May 9, 2011 at 11:35 am

Of course, the midwife has to poke her head in, right? (And I just shared this on FB, so expect a slew of new hits from the natural birth community!) A couple of things.

1. If the baby is breathing, you do *not* need to suction anything… mouth or nose. Newer research shows that suctioning can actually *cause* more problems, so if your kid is hollering, leave the suctioning out.

2. DO NOT, under ANY circumstances, DO NOT MASSAGE THE UTERUS BEFORE THE PLACENTA IS BORN! If you massage the uterus *before* the placenta is born, you can dislodge sections of it and cause a massive hemorrhage. If the placenta hasn’t been born, LEAVE WELL ENOUGH ALONE. If you’re transporting mom to the hospital anyway, there is zero reason to concern yourself about the placenta OR the cord until you are at your final destination. If mom is bleeding, the placenta *might* have detached. You can have mom kneel a little to see if the placenta falls out and if it does, *then* you can massage the uterus to make it into a hard knot. Oh, and in the police video, they are massaging the mom’s fundus about 4 inches too low… move up to the belly button… *that’s* where to massage.

3. There is no reason to cut the cord… and PLEASE leave your filthy shoelaces in your shoes! Many of us are on a mission to educate how disgusting shoelaces are and how they have NO PLACE near your brand new baby. There is no rush to cut the cord at all. In fact, there is a fringe movement that *never* cuts the cord (Lotus Birth), but lets the cord fall off with the placenta still attached… several days after the birth.

Thanks for writing this, though… most of it is fantastic advice! Leaving the baby alone to do his/her thing is the best advice for anyone “catching” a baby… docs included!

And the video… the video! One of the highlights of my year so far is this video. Thanks for sharing it!

32 Hillary May 10, 2011 at 10:02 am

That video is priceless!

Baby warmth: Get mama and baby skin to skin and cover the BOTH of them. And really–just don’t intervene. Interventions usually do more harm than good–just support and use common sense.

33 Paul M May 10, 2011 at 11:38 am

@Scott & Stephen:

Regarding the pressing on the outside of the toe: This is an acupuncture point indicated for use in the turning of breech babies.

34 Will May 17, 2011 at 2:21 pm

Bringing the babe to breast for post-delivery suckling helps ensure the successful release and delivery of the placenta. Oxytocin, baby!

35 Jared May 23, 2011 at 2:33 am

The craziest thing about this video is, (I know this sounds really immature, but I’m interested in historical pop culture), that she saves her vagina! I didn’t think that happened until the mid nineties.

36 Jared May 23, 2011 at 2:34 am

Ugh, I meant shaves*

37 Bali Wedding May 26, 2011 at 11:57 pm

Hi, greetings from bali wedding Palace. I am very impressed and gave me new knowledge. Thanks for the article.

38 Nicky May 30, 2011 at 1:54 pm

Great job! Thank you for noting that lying down is not the best position to deliver a baby. As a natural birth mother who delivered in a hands and knees position, I am very impressed!

39 Jessica August 31, 2013 at 10:54 pm

Just wanted to add this little tidbit that many men don’t know. A LOT (as in the majority) of women who give birth vaginally will poop while pushing. It really is no big deal and signals that all the right muscles are being used to get the baby out. Men need to know this and be prepared!

40 Matt March 23, 2014 at 4:54 pm

This page is so bookmarked!

We just found out my wife is expecting our first 3 weeks ago! And you can never be too prepared, I guess?

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