Well, you did it, your partner is pregnant, and you’re going to be a father. Say it again: a father! Getting a positive pregnancy test is a huge deal! You’re excited. You’re nervous. You really have no idea what to expect! That’s great and exciting. You’re in for a wild ride. She’s no doubt feeling the same thrill. After all, you did it together.
Having a baby is a special and emotional time for both the mother and the father. Many expectant fathers like to actively participate in helping their partner through pregnancy from beginning to end. Although it is the woman who carries the child for nine months the father has an equal foothold in preparing for the baby and there are many ways that a man can prepare himself for fatherhood.
Expectant fathers who are having their first child may feel alienated, as they do not know what to expect and what role it is they can play. Here are the next steps on what to do once you find out your wife’s pregnant, and what you can expect as a husband or partner.
While pregnancy and giving birth is Mom’s job, there are a number of ways you as her partner can share the load, too. And guess what? It’s a lot more fun that way. After all, it took two to start this journey! From now until you snip the cord, a lot may happen that no one will have prepared you for ahead of time. There’s no way to anticipate every possible scenario, but you need not be completely in the dark. It’s also good to have an idea of ways you can be helpful to the mom-to-be. Getting involved early and “at every level”, not only makes things easier for the mother, but it also keeps you from feeling left out.
The Wonderful World of Pregnancy
Whatever you think you know about your wife… forget it. She is about to transform into someone you have never seen before. Call it hormones if you want, but things are going to be different around your house in a very short time.
Not every woman responds the same way to pregnancy. Some women absolutely love being pregnant. Others cannot stand it and are miserable the entire time. If this is your wife’s first pregnancy, you will just have to wait to find out which type she is.
Preparing the Nest
When people talk about the changes that happen in pregnancy, they tend to say a lot about changes in the mother’s body and her moods. Less tends to be said about changes in your home, which may interest you just as much as your pregnant partner’s swelling bosom.
Assuming that you have been living together for at least a little while, you’ve settled into a domestic routine. Expect that things she used to do are no longer easy for her to do; and even if she’s willing, she won’t be able to do as much. You’ll willingly need to step up to the plate and do more things around the house than ever before.
Now that you’re soon to be a family, your home also will contain a lot more stuff. These include changing table, nursing rocker, bassinet, swing, stroller, and car seat, plus all the baby toys and gadgets that you never knew existed, but which you now must have.
Things will be different in the bedroom, too. The bed you share may seem less cozy as she becomes more uncomfortable and sleeps fitfully, making frequent trips to the bathroom in the night. You may even lose your bed-mate for a while because some pregnant women prefer to sleep in a reclining chair. Sex during pregnancy is a whole other matter on which plenty has been written on. Remember also that all smoking inside your home has to stop right away. Secondhand smoke is very bad for the baby.
Setting up a Doctor appointment
Once you get a positive pregnancy test, you should setup a doctor appointment between 6 and 8 weeks (or 2 to 4 weeks after her missed period). During this time, the doctor will do a transvaginal ultrasound to confirm the pregnancy. The cool thing is that this will be the first glimpse you’re going to get of your baby!
It’s going to look like 6th-grade biology – a little round circle of a cell that has a little flutter in the middle – your baby’s heartbeat.
Telling your family and friends
For all the reasons above, the standard for telling people you’re pregnant is 12 weeks. Once you get past the 12-week mark, the odds of having a miscarriage are extremely low – so it’s safe to let people know. It’s also the time when you can be a little less worried about whether everything is okay, and start worrying about what you’re going to do when you have a little one in a few months.
Prenatal Visits and the Expectant Father
A generation or two ago, it was unusual for an expectant father to be present during labor, let alone hang out with his pregnant wife in the examination room when she saw her doctor. Now dads are encouraged to go to prenatal care appointments.
Assuming that all goes well, there will be about 15 routine prenatal visits scheduled with varying frequency: once a month until 28 weeks, three or four times up to week 36, and once a week for the last month.
If you can make time to join your partner at all or most appointments, she will likely appreciate it, and you’ll benefit from knowing what’s going on. Two visits in particular are especially worthwhile. During the exam, the doctor should give both of you some general advice on having a healthy pregnancy and address any specific medical issues. You can help by paying close attention and asking thoughtful questions. The exam typically involves simple things like collecting urine and blood samples from the mother, taking her blood pressure, measuring around her middle, and weighing her.
During the 20th week of pregnancy, an ultrasound exam is normally done. This is when many parents get a first glimpse of the baby and take home a sonogram snapshot for the baby’s album. Sometimes ultrasound is used earlier in pregnancy to screen for birth defects or if a doctor suspects a problem. Ultrasound at 20 weeks can also reveal the baby’s sex. You may choose to find out what it is or wait to be surprised.
The Grand Finale
At some point, the mom-to-be will draw up her birth plan. That’s a detailed description of how she wants to do labor and delivery — where to go, who’ll attend the delivery, how she intends to labor, whom she wants in the room, and what your role will be. Taking a birthing class together can help you figure out the best practical ways to support her throughout labor.
When the moment arrives, all might go according to the plan. Circumstances could also trash the plan utterly. Because there are so many different ways for labor and delivery to play out, it’s difficult to describe a typical experience for a father-to-be in much detail.
Nevertheless, it’s fair to assume that you’ll deliver in a hospital, which is where 99% of all births in the United States occur. That means there will be doctors and nurses around, with medical support available as needed. If you plan on going to a certain hospital, you may benefit from visiting the maternity unit (what this is called differs from hospital to hospital) well in advance of the due date to get a real sense of what the place is like. Anticipate spending at least 48 hours there for the delivery.
There’s no way you can predict it, but on average, for a woman having her first baby, labor lasts 12-24 hours from her first contractions to delivery. Your partner may be in the early phase of labor for many hours before the hospital will admit her. If at all possible, spend this time together and help to keep her feeling at ease. When it’s time, proceed calmly to the hospital.
As labor progresses, it gets increasingly painful. Even with pain control measures, it hurts a lot. To you, it might seem like not much is happening as the hours pass. Stay focused on her. The birth of your child is a big event that will change your life. But no matter how deeply you care, and regardless of how supportive you are, labor and delivery is not your show. Your name is in small type at the bottom of the show bill. Even mom is in a supporting role because, really, the baby is the star.
Ways to Get Involved in the Pregnancy
There are many ways in which you as the expectant father can get involved in the process of pregnancy, as described below:
- Accompanying your partner to antenatal appointments allows you to see how your baby is growing. You may also be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat if a Doppler machine is used.
- Attend ultrasound and dating scans with your partner. This will enable you to get a first glimpse of what your baby looks like and you can even get a picture to take home.
- Join prenatal preparation classes with your partner to learn about being a parent. Prenatal classes are normally offered free by your hospital and can help you to learn the basics of looking after a baby.
- Be Informed –Try to read up on pregnancy and birth. This will enable you to have an idea of the basics of pregnancy and what to expect at labor and birth.
- Why not do a class with your partner, such as special aqua natal classes? This involves swimming sessions to help your partner feel relaxed.
- You and your partner can go shopping for baby items to get in the mood. You can even help in choosing the colors for the nursery, rather than leaving it all to your partner.
- Prepare a list of baby names and discuss with your partner what names you prefer, be it a girl or boy. There may be an opportunity to find out the sex of your baby at the 5 month ultrasound scan; however, if you want to leave it a surprise then you can always make two lists of names.
- Take some share of the chores around the house. Your partner’s body is going through a tough transformation process, and she requires rest and understanding. Little things like helping to wash up can really make a difference.
- Communicating with your partner is vital in identifying any anxieties that you both may have. You may find that you are able to reassure one other about certain issues.
- Create a birth plan with your partner outlining methods of pain relief and where you want to have the baby. Get involved by voicing your ideas but make sure to listen to your partner’s ideas to make it a special birthing experience.
- Book a holiday while your partner is pregnant to enjoy some quality time together before the baby arrives. Most airlines allow pregnant women up to 36 weeks to travel. It is however best to travel in the first and second trimesters when there is less risk of premature birth.
Last but not least try to enjoy your new role as the expectant father, your about to be someones hero for the rest of their life!