HAVING dads in the delivery room is an irksome business, according to French obstetrician Michel Odent.

He reckons the “masculinisation of the birth environment” – that’s having blokes in just in case you were wondering – makes women tense and slows down labour, so making them more likely to have a Caesarean.

He doesn’t reckon much to all this new man stuff where the dad-to-be soothes and coos his way through the birth and is there at the end of it all to either keel over or be bowled over by the enormity of the moment.

No, says Odent, giving birth is a business best done behind closed doors, aided only by a “silent, low profile and experienced midwife.” This appears to be something of a throwback to the Victorian era when sex was so taboo (except behind closed doors of course) that even seductively curvy table legs were covered up in case it gave men of little brain the wrong idea and they attacked the furniture like a rampant dog.

But given some of the birth experiences I’ve heard about I’m sort of with him on this one. And it’s nothing at all to do with whether women end up under the knife or not, but much more about the antics of the dads in the first place.

Like the one who staggered to York Hospital from the pub where he’d spent the afternoon, picking up a sustaining bottle of Scotch on the way to keep him oiled in the laborious hours ahead. He only got away with it because he’d decanted the whisky to a coloured plastic soft drink bottle, which he then hid in his briefcase.

Every so often he’d repair to the waiting area on the pretext of making phone calls or going to the loo, sustain himself with a further swig and then lurch back into the labour room to encourage his partner with a resounding “come on, then!” or a “go on! go on!” in the manner of a football fan urging on the home team down the right wing.

As you can imagine, it wasn’t just the puffing and panting of labour that was making his partner grit her teeth – in the end she screamed at him to go forth and multiply and make bloody sure it wasn’t with her. Ever again. Suffice to say he did, on both counts, and it wasn’t too long after that they finally untied the already unravelling knot… Then there was the dad who sat in the corner of the room watching TV, complete with headphones, so he wasn't disturbed by the groans and yells of his wife as she delivered their child, according to David Vernon, the writer of an Australian book, Men At Birth.

There was also the bloke who was so bored with how long it was taking that he fired up his laptop and played computer games. The midwife interrupted him when he had nearly finished a level to tell him the head was crowning and he might want to come and help. Hang on, he said, I’ll just finish this… So engrossed was he that his son was born before he completed the level but at least he got a new high score, so that was all right then.

But for every would-be dad who displays such laddish tendencies during his partner’s hours of need, there are those for whom being present at the birth of their child is a life-affirming, loving experience that further cements the union that brought their offspring into the world in the first place.

It wasn’t always thus, though. My mother tells of how, when my elder brother was born in the early 1950s, fathers were well and truly kept away from the action and banished from the maternity ward like some medieval outcast. Every evening during her incarceration – ten days was the norm then – she would wave forlornly to him from the window as he stood beneath the street lamp outside to catch a glimpse of her before she was hustled away by some over-zealous midwife.

No one wants to see a return to such insensitive practices, not even Monsieur Odent I bet, but his assertion that dads should be kept out of the birthing room for reasons of medical expediency – that is, fewer Caesarean sections – doesn’t take account of what the mums and dads themselves want. Leave it up to them to decide what’s best for both of them. But for heaven's sake leave the whisky, the telly and the laptop outside…