There is so much attention on mom and baby during pregnancy. Even if you are not the pregnant person in your relationship, there is so much you can do to prepare for becoming a parent. Dads and partners play a huge role in pregnancy, birth, and parenting. This article will bring you up to speed on everything you need to know about what changes mom is going through during pregnancy, the lowdown on sex, how to prepare for birth, how to be supportive in the postpartum period, and your role with a new baby at home.
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This article is going live on Father’s Day, Happy father’s day to all of the dads and dads-to-be. I know everyone who is becoming a parent may not be a dad. This article is for dads and partners, wives, girlfriends, and all parents. If you are listening and you are pregnant, this may give you an idea of some of the things your partner may be concerned about and some ways they can be supportive. Send your partner a link to listen to this episode. Both of you will benefit from them knowing what is expected and what partners can expect during your pregnancy, birth, and the first few days of parenting.
What is Your Role?
One of the biggest things I hear from partners, during pregnancy and after your baby arrives is that they don’t know what to do. They feel useless and like they can’t help. Or they feel like there is nothing to do. Let’s start with setting the record straight that there is a ton you can do to support your pregnant, laboring, breastfeeding partner. You are off to a great start by reading this article.
Some things will rest solely on mom. It is up to the mom to carry your baby for nine months. To navigate learning about pregnancy and birth. The mom will experience labor first hand and will be tested both physically and mentally to birth your baby. Once your baby is born, it is mom who will be physically recovering from childbirth for weeks or months. It is mom who will be producing breastmilk and nursing your baby, whether that ends up being for a long time or a short time.
Where does that leave partners? First, you have to know that some mothers have babies without the luxury of a partner. If there are two of you to navigate this together, you are fortunate. Mothers were never intended to navigate all of this on their own. They need support, encouragement, and help. That is where you come in. You know your partner better than anyone, and you likely know the best way to support and encourage them. This article will lay some groundwork for things you should know upfront about pregnancy and birth and get into some key ways to help through all of it.
Congrats! You are Going to be a Parent
First, finding out that you will be a parent is super exciting, but it can also be intimidating. Get prepared a little bit at a time, and you will be as ready as possible when you become a parent. This is easier said than done. I do not want to play down how intimidating it can be to find out you are having a baby.
I have done thousands of hours of research, and there are a lot of episodes in the back catalog. Chances are if you have a question about something, I have already done all of the research and hard work for you. Check out the past episodes, and you can also utilize the search bar on the website. Researching things and gathering information is an excellent way for you to help mom during her pregnancy. Ask her what topics you can check out and how you can assist in learning about pregnancy, birth, or having a new baby.
Getting on the Same Page
You and your pregnant wife, girlfriend, or partner need to be on the same page. Have some open discussions. It is normal for both of you to find yourself worrying about your relationship, finances, work, and your baby. Everything will work out. It seems like a lot initially, but you will learn what you need to and figure out solutions as you go. Having a baby is a major life change, and you will not come up with all of the answers overnight. Give yourselves time to figure everything out, and keeping an open line of communication will help tremendously with that. If either of you has any doubts or worries, share and work through any concerns together. A healthy relationship with your partner will create a strong foundation and positive environment for your baby. Check out this episode on how to navigate times when you and your partner disagree.
If you can, go to the doctor or midwife appointments with mom. I understand COVID-19 changed many practices, and hopefully, more care providers will be encouraging partners to join mom for appointments. If you cannot be there in person, consider joining on Facetime, via video chat, or even on speakerphone.
You two can expect to have somewhere around 14 appointments throughout the entire pregnancy. On 14 days, you two will see a doctor or a midwife, that’s it. Make it a priority to be there in person or virtually for all of them. Or at least as many as you can. This gives you a chance to be included, have input in any major medical decisions, ask any questions, and hear everything firsthand. If you have a question, do not be afraid to ask. I recommend keeping track of any questions you have and ensuring they all get addressed at the next visit. There is no such thing as a stupid question. The fact that you are asking about anything shows that you are making a great choice to be an informed parent.
If you cannot be present for appointments, a few may be more important than others. The first appointment is when a doctor or midwife confirms the pregnancy and sets some expectations. The other big one is the anatomy scan ultrasound. This happens at about the halfway point. It is exciting to see your baby on an ultrasound. In the last month, before the due date, appointments are weekly, and there is likely more conversation around birth which can be beneficial to hear. If any complications come up throughout prenatal care or mom is getting some unfavorable test results back, those appointments can be tough to go through alone. Please make as many of the appointments as you can. The priorities are the first one, the midway anatomy scan, and those in the last stretch. Check out these tips to make the most out of every prenatal appointment.
Helping Mom Be Healthy
For the other 260 days that mom is pregnant, it is just the two of you and the baby. You two are the biggest influences on your little one and how their health will be, supporting your partner in staying healthy. What does this mean? They should stay hydrated, eat healthy whole food, be active, and sleep well. These are the essential components of prenatal care. You can influence the food mom eats by cooking meals at home or grabbing healthier options when you eat out. If mom needs support to be active, invite her on a walk, or make it a point to be active together. If mom is having a hard time with healthy habits, and you are doing the opposite, it will be even more challenging for her.
Cutting Out Bad Habits
Mom will have to cut out any major bad habits when they find out they are expecting. Try to be as supportive as possible of that. A perk for you is that you get a designated driver for the next nine months but don’t take that as a license to go party every weekend. Make sure you plan nights that don’t involve alcohol, so mom doesn’t feel left out.
Also, while mom will need to be cautious about things like caffeine, it isn’t necessarily off-limits 100%. Before you give her a hard time about enjoying a cup of coffee, get educated on it. So many “rules” get repeated that are not evidence-based. While there are cautions around caffeine, deli meats, alcohol, sushi, fish, etc., some moms are comfortable consuming these in moderation. Chances are, if you have questions about foods or drinks during pregnancy or while breastfeeding, there is an episode on it.
- Foods to be Cautious about During Pregnancy
- Drinks to be Cautious about During Pregnancy
- Caffeine and Pregnancy
- Alcohol and Pregnancy
- Eating Fish During Pregnancy
- Deli Meats
A hallmark of pregnancy for many expecting mothers is morning sickness. This affects between 60-80% of expecting mothers. Symptoms are nausea that may include vomiting. Morning sickness doesn’t always happen in the morning. They may be nauseous at any time or even all day. This can start as early as three weeks after conception and usually ends around the 12th week, right when they begin the second trimester. Find out what helps them cope and have some sympathy. Morning sickness sucks.
Fatigue is also very common, especially in the first and third trimesters. You may find that mom passes out twenty minutes into that movie you have been looking forward to watching. As their hormone levels increase, they are going to be tired and wiped out. If their body tells them they need extra rest, then they need to listen to it and get some extra sleep. Use this to enjoy some time to yourself to read a book, catch up on that Netflix series your partner doesn’t like watching or just enjoy some time to yourself.
Mood Swings and Emotions
As mom’s pregnancy progresses, changes in hormones can make her moods swing all over the place, especially in the first trimester. She may also be more emotional in general. This is normal, and it will not last forever. I encourage you to try and be understanding and do your best not to get upset or angry. She may not even realize that she is moody, and the hormones are to blame.
The good news is her moods should even out in the second trimester. She will feel like she has more energy. The second trimester is generally the favorite trimester for most women.
After your baby is born, mom will experience another huge change in hormones. Many new moms will experience what is often referred to as “baby blues” after their baby arrives. This generally includes mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Some other signs you may see are sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, reduced concentration, and a reduced appetite. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after delivery and last for about two weeks. The good news is it generally disappears pretty quickly on its own and is pretty common.
Some new moms will experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can be mistaken for the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms will be more intense and will last longer. Eventually, it can interfere with her ability to care for your baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms generally develop within the first few weeks after birth, but they can take longer to show up, in some cases even up to six months after birth.
Since you, as the partner, will be around mom most often in those days and weeks after birth, please be on the lookout for warning signs. If mom has difficulty coping emotionally, please contact your doctor or midwife and seek help early on. Ignoring it, not acknowledging it, and hoping it will go away on its own is not a great strategy. You can help mom by checking in on how she feels mentally in those early days and weeks and encouraging her to reach out to her care provider if she is having trouble.
Usually, women are not noticeably pregnant until the end of the first trimester, around week 12. You are likely expecting mom to get a big belly, which will happen. Her breasts will also grow, one to two cup sizes. That may seem like a great perk for you. The downside is that her chest will probably be sensitive and tender. You may need to be sensitive to that, especially in the first trimester.
Women vary all over the spectrum on how they feel about their pregnant bodies. Partners are going to differ in opinion on this too. Whatever you do, mom should know that the physical changes she is going through are necessary to have a healthy baby. It is impossible to create a new life without going through a significant transformation. If she is insecure or unhappy with the changes in her appearance, be sure to remind her that it is temporary and, in the end, will all be worth it. Body image can be particularly tough for women, both during pregnancy and after having a baby. The idea that you will bounce back and lose the baby weight is not realistic for most women. Please tell mom she is beautiful and amazing and avoid anything that will make her more self-conscious about her body.
You can have sex! Your sex life might be on a bit of a rollercoaster during pregnancy. Again, hormones are the culprit for this. Mom might find themselves feeling more frisky than usual or even completely turned off by the thought of sex. Let her know how you feel, and make sure you are open to hearing how she feels about sex. Pregnancy is temporary, so do not stress if your sex life isn’t exactly what it was before getting pregnant.
Intercourse cannot hurt your baby. You may need to find some different positions depending on how big mom’s belly is. As long as she and you are comfortable, go for it. Your baby is protected in the womb, and you don’t need to worry about him or her even knowing what is going on. At the end of the pregnancy, sex can even help start labor naturally. If she hits her due date and is ready to go into labor, you may want to try having sex.
Once your baby is born, it is generally recommended to wait six weeks before having intercourse. This time frame may be shorter or longer depending on your partner and the circumstances of their labor. Communicate about it and know that you may need to take it easy in the beginning.
Interacting with Your Baby Before Birth
It may be easier for mom to bond with your baby before birth since she is the one carrying them. According to some research, even after birth, not all parents feel strongly bonded to their babies. 65.9% of mothers and 71.6% of fathers reported a strong bond, 29.4% of mothers and 26.2% of fathers felt only moderately bonded, and 4% of mothers and 2% of fathers had poor or no bonding with their new baby.
There are some things you and mom can do to build a bond with your baby before birth. A meta-analysis found that studies show a modest but significant association between prenatal thoughts about your baby and parent-child interaction after birth. Take some time to think about all of the things you are excited about once your baby is born. This could be holding them for the first time, trips to the park, or teaching them about your hobbies.
Another tip is to talk to your baby. Around 18 weeks, they will be able to hear you. This may seem silly at first, but they can hear sounds and respond to familiar sounds, such as your voice, with movement. You can talk to your baby about anything and everything. If this feels weird at first, start by saying hello, tell them you can’t wait to meet them. When they are born and hear your voice, they will recognize it.
As your baby grows, his or her movements will become stronger and more obvious. Eventually, you will be able to see mom’s belly move when they kick or move around. Ask mom to tell you when the baby is moving so you can put a hand on her belly and feel it. As your baby becomes more responsive to touch and sounds, they may start responding to your voice with movement.
Plan for Paternity Leave
There is a counterpart to maternity leave for dads and partners, and this is paternity leave. I urge you to take some time off when your baby arrives. It is such a special time for your family, and the first few weeks are a significant adjustment period. If you are employed, start with checking with your employer. Next, check the policies in your state if you are in the United States. If you are in another country, check with the government agencies there.
You want to determine how much time you can take off and whether you will be paid during paternity leave. For self-employed partners, look at putting systems in place to spend some time away from your business or at least cut down on hours. It can be challenging to take a big chunk of time away from work, especially if you lose some income. This is such a short window of opportunity to be with your new baby. I urge you to explore your options and get creative to try and find a way to spend as much time as possible with your family in those first few weeks.
There are some traditions around having a baby that you should be aware of. If you are married and had a traditional wedding, you probably found out about a whole host of things you didn’t even realize were a thing. Having a baby is similar. Not everyone chooses to do these things, but you should know they exist.
The term “shower” comes from showering the expecting mother with gifts. A baby shower is a celebration of becoming a mother and the new addition you are adding to your family. There is a lot of etiquette surrounding baby showers. Typically, this is an event planned by a friend of the mom-to-be in the third trimester. Most moms-to-be create a baby registry, which is a wish list of things you want, and this is how people choose gifts for the baby shower. Traditionally this is a get-together that lasts a few hours with female friends of the mom. You and your wife/girlfriend/partner can invite whoever you want, regardless of sex, and make it whatever type of celebration you want.
Another event that may be new to you is a babymoon. This is a vacation or trip, usually in the second trimester, for you and mom to get away and spend some quality time before your baby arrives. This could be anything from traveling to a foreign country to spending a night at a hotel in town for a staycation. Thankfully, travel is becoming more of an option up since everything was shut down for COVID-19 over the last year. If you can swing a babymoon financially and with time off work, it would be a nice treat to celebrate the two of you before your baby arrives.
The last thing you should have a heads up on is the idea of a push present. This is a gift you give to mom after they have a baby. Not everyone is into this. Have a conversation about it. You don’t want mom to expect a gift when you don’t even know what a push present is or don’t plan to get one.
Preparing for Labor
A lot of focus before your baby is born is preparing for labor and birth. This may seem unnecessary if you expect that when a woman is in labor, they go to a hospital, and a doctor delivers the baby for a lot of people that is how it works. Since you listen to the Pregnancy Podcast (or the person having your baby), I’m guessing that you want more say in how your baby is born. There are so many choices you have regarding where you give birth, who is there, the environment you are in, and what happens. There are a couple of things that are key to preparing for labor and birth. As the partner, you should be involved in both.
Take a Birth Class
A birth class prepares you and mom for what to expect. A class also teaches some emergency preparation in the event something comes up that you are not expecting. In labor, things can move quickly. If you aren’t familiar with different options or procedures, it is challenging to make informed decisions. Taking a birth class and educating yourself increases the chances that you and mom will get the birth experience you two want. Plus, participating in a birth class will give you a better idea of your role and how you can help.
The Value of a Birth Plan
The other powerful tool in preparing for the birth you and mom want is to create a birth plan. This is an excellent exercise for you two to get on the same page and clarify what you do and do not want. I cannot stress this enough. If you are having trouble crafting your birth plan, you can get a free copy of my birth plan to get an idea of how you could word it and some things you can include. A birth plan can serve as great cliff notes of your preparation and come in handy during labor. You can also get the Your Birth Plan book, which walks you step-by-step through creating and writing your birth plan with samples and a template you can customize to your preferences.
You should communicate with mom about how you can be the most supportive. Do they prefer you just to offer encouragement and hold their hand, or do you want you to play an active part in the labor process and urge them to try new things? You may have the opportunity to cut your baby’s umbilical cord or catch your baby as he or she is born. Include this stuff in your plans and let the hospital or birth center staff know ahead of time.
The biggest reason you want to be involved in a birth class and in building the birth plan is so you can help advocate for mom. Labor is challenging, and when she is preoccupied with coping with contractions, you can help advocate and make sure what she wants is being supported by doctors, midwives, nurses, or doulas.
What to Expect in Labor
Labor is a marathon. It is one of the most physically and emotionally challenging workouts mom will ever go through. You can expect to need to be there both physically and emotionally too. You are a huge part of the birth of your baby. Partners are the cheerleader, coach, trainer, and advocate. You need to be rested and prepared to be present for the entire thing. In the event mom is having trouble speaking up, you can advocate for her.
You should know what procedures they are on board with and what they want to avoid. (This is where your birth class and birth plan come into play.) For example, if mom wants an epidural as soon as they get to the hospital, make sure that happens. If you two are planning for an un-medicated birth, be supportive and make certain meds aren’t being pushed if mom doesn’t want them. Expect labor to be challenging and expect it to be long. There may be times that mom is in pain and physically and emotionally drained. In these moments, it may feel like you can’t do anything about it. Being by her side will help get her through those challenging moments.
One great role for dads and partners is the role of gatekeeper for the birth and directly following it in the first few days and weeks. Dealing with visitors can be exhausting, especially when mom is healing from birth and the two of you are bonding with a new human. It is okay to say no to all or some visitors or to set rules for visits. The only people who need to be present and be with the baby are you and mom. If you two decide you are not ready for visitors or keep visits short, you are entitled to dictate that.
The postpartum period is the days, weeks, and months following birth. This period comes with its challenges. These are often not thought about ahead of time or overlooked when the challenges do come up. By having a heads up on what to expect after your baby arrives, you will benefit because you won’t be blindsided by what mom is going through. More importantly, you will be able to be there for her, not just physically but emotionally too.
Mom will need to recover after birth. Recovery will look different for every mom based on whether they had a vaginal birth or a cesarean and the particulars of their labor. There are a couple of episodes that can help with what to expect postpartum and planning ahead. There are a few things you should know about birth recovery.
Right after labor, you and mom will probably be exhausted. Your only job is to relax and spend time enjoying the new edition to your family. If you can do anything to let mom rest, please do.
After birth, mom will still look like she is about five months pregnant. All of the fluid and tissue that was in her uterus will need to come out. She will essentially have a period for up to six weeks after birth.
Mom will likely be sore after labor. A cesarean section is major surgery, and it takes time to heal the incision. A vaginal birth is often accompanied by a tear of the perineum, the spot between the vagina and the rectum. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the rate of some type of laceration during all vaginal births is between 53-79%. She may or may not have stitches. Even in birth with an intact perineum, the area will be sore, and you can help mom out by minimizing the moving around she has to do. She will be able to get around much better in the next few days. Even if she had a vaginal birth, her vagina will heal and be fine. Don’t worry that having a baby will wreck her vagina. That is not a thing.
How You Can Contribute to Breastfeeding
Breastfeeding is arguably the best thing for a new baby. Breastfed babies are at a lower risk for ear infections, intestinal upsets, respiratory problems, allergies, dental problems, and their immune system will be stronger. Breastfeeding also produces hormones that foster a chemical connection between mom and baby and helps mom recover from birth better. Be supportive of breastfeeding.
If you are supplementing with formula, you can feed the baby. If your baby is exclusively on breastmilk, you may feel like there is nothing you can do. There are a lot of things you can do to support your breastfeeding partner.
While nursing may come naturally and easily for some moms, it can be physically and emotionally challenging for many. If mom is having any issues, please encourage her to go to a support group, reach out to her doctor or midwife, or seek a lactation consultant. The first few days or weeks may be challenging, but breastfeeding will keep getting easier. Encouragement and support from you go a long way.
When nursing, you can get stuck sitting or lying down with one arm holding your baby. That means you may not be able to get up easily, and you only have the use of one hand. You can help by getting your partner something to drink or something she can easily eat with one hand. You can hang out while your partner is breastfeeding. Nursing a baby can be lonely, especially in the early days and weeks when it feels like you have a baby constantly attached to your breast. Having someone to sit with you or watch a show with you can make a big difference. If you are out and about, make sure if mom needs to nurse that you support her doing that anywhere she is comfortable.
While mom is taking care of all the breastfeeding, you can take care of diaper changes, do the dishes, make dinner, clean the house, or go grocery shopping. There are many chores required to keep a house running. If you are generally not the person in your relationship who tackles these tasks, please step up and help out.
Baby Wearing and Skin to Skin Contact
There are many things geared towards moms but are great for dads and partners, too, baby-wearing and skin-to-skin contact. Carriers are an excellent way to spend time with your baby, be hands-free, go for a walk, or just give your partner a break. If you don’t want a pink wrap carrier, find a baby carrier that you are comfortable wearing your baby in when you are out.
There are many benefits of skin-to-skin contact that do not only apply to mothers. Being skin to skin stabilizes your baby’s heart rate, breathing, and temperature and reduces stress in both you and your baby. It also increases your interactions with your baby. If you are hanging out on the couch, take your shirt off and put your baby on your bare skin. It is an excellent way to relax and bond.
You should know that researchers see a baby sleeping through the night as six hours of sleep continuously. Many babies are not physically capable of sleeping even six hours. You should expect less sleep than you are accustomed to when you have a new baby. Adjusting your expectation for sleep can make a big difference in how you feel when you don’t get enough sleep. I can pretty much guarantee that mom is getting even less sleep than you are.
If you are someone who values their sleep, it can be stressful to even think about, like existing on five hours of sleep one night, or even less, if it’s a particularly tough night for your baby. This stage will not last forever, and you will adjust. For more expert advice on sleep in the first year, check out this episode with parenting expert Jen Lumanlan. The saying, “sleep when the baby sleeps,” is good for dads and partners too. Sneak in on some of those naps, and you will be glad you did.
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