A survey of 1,000 new mothers showed that while as many as 84 per cent of women had their partner present throughout labour, only 59 per cent said the men had been " supportive".
Others were said to be more a hindrance than a help. Some are sick, some traumatised, and some pass out requiring medical treatment themselves, distracting nurses and midwives at crucial points in the delivery.
The report also found that 46 per cent of the new mothers questioned did not find midwives supportive, 72 per cent had not met the midwives before the delivery, and 81 per cent had used an electronic foetal monitoring machine.
The study was carried out by the National Childbirth Trust in conjunction with Practical Parenting magazine, and aimed to show how much progress had been made in areas of pregnancy and maternity care after the publication in l993 of the government report Changing Childbirth.
A spokeswoman for the NCT said: " The revelation about men in the labour room - and how women felt about it - was one of the more surprising results."
John Friend, a consultant at the Derriford Hospital, Plymouth, and a spokesman for the Royal college of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, said: "It is now very commonplace for male partners to be around at birth and some may regard it as their right to be there. It is seen as the thing to do because friends and colleagues had done it. They may not have examined the possible consequences of seeing a delivery, particularly a difficult one.
"It is obviously good for women to have support during labour, but it is hardly helpful for them if their partners get distressed while they are there. There are also, of course, many unhappy relationships between partners, and this unhappiness can be transferred to the wards and create added strains."
Sheila Kitzinger, an author and authority on childbirth, said: "When you have a situation where 72 per cent of the women had not met the midwives before childbirth there are bound to be strains when the partner comes in as well. I am not blaming the midwives for this, it is a problem with the system.
"Giving birth is a very private psycho-sexual experience. If you have a team of strangers present, and machines attached to the mother, it can be very off-putting. If this was happening while you were having sex, you would never have an orgasm."
Beverley Beech, honorary chair of the Association for Improvements in the Maternity Services said: "Our president said recently, jokingly, perhaps the time has come to campaign to get the fathers out of the delivery rooms.
"In many cases men are not prepared for the experience of the delivery, and are taken into the delivery room as a bit of spare part ... when things go wrong the women often blame their partners for not being supportive. But the men themselves are often very distressed and traumatised. They feel disempowered."Reuse content