Finding out that you will be a parent is super exciting but can also be intimidating, especially for dads and partners. Most of what people know about having a baby is from movies or what they have heard from friends. That will not adequately prepare you for what is ahead. Understanding pregnancy, birth, and birth recovery basics will significantly impact your ability to support mom. Most importantly, you will be better equipped to navigate pregnancy, labor, and being a new parent. This article is a crash course on everything dads and partners need to know, from finding out you will be a parent through pregnancy and bringing your baby home.
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Congrats! You are Going to be a Parent
Finding out that you will be a parent is super exciting but can also be intimidating, especially for dads and partners. Some aspects of having a baby rest solely on the mother. It is up to her to carry a baby for nine months. She is responsible for learning about pregnancy and birth. The mom is the one who has to go through labor and give birth. After your baby arrives, the mother will be physically recovering from birth for weeks or months. Your newborn relies on her to produce breastmilk and for nourishment around the clock.
Where does that leave partners? First, you must remember that some mothers have babies without the luxury of a partner. If the two of you can navigate this together, you are fortunate. The entire process of having and raising a baby is exponentially more difficult alone. If you are pregnant and don’t have a romantic partner or a co-parent, I encourage you to lean on friends and family so you are not going through this phase of your life without support.
One of the biggest things I hear from partners during pregnancy and after their 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 for them to do. Let’s start with setting the record straight that there are so many things partners and dads can do to support mom and baby. Check out this episode for more on dads’ and partners’ roles during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum. A fantastic place to start is by reading this article and getting up to speed on everything you should know.
How Pregnancy is Measured
You are probably under the impression that pregnancy lasts about nine months. Pregnancy is measured in the weeks leading up to birth. A baby is due at the start of the 40th week of pregnancy. Pregnancy is also measured in trimesters of 12-14 week periods. The first trimester is through week 12. The second trimester spans weeks 13-27. The third trimester goes from week 28 until a baby is born. You should also know that the due date is just an estimate. Only about 3-5% of babies are born on their due date, and nearly 90% are born between 37-41 weeks.
Attend Prenatal Appointments
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 for all of them. Or at least as many as you can. If you cannot be there in person, consider joining via Facetime, video chat, or speakerphone. This lets you be included, have input in major medical decisions, ask questions, and hear everything firsthand. If you have a question, do not be afraid to ask.
If you can only attend some 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 gets 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.
Help Mom Be Healthy
One way you can be really helpful during pregnancy is by supporting your partner in being 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 difficulty with healthy habits, and you are doing the opposite, it will be even more challenging for her.
Mom will have to cut out any significant 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.
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. Hint, there is an episode on caffeine during pregnancy. So many “rules” get repeated that are not evidence-based. While there are cautions around caffeine, deli meats, 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.
A hallmark of pregnancy for many expecting mothers is morning sickness. This affects between 60-80% of expecting mothers. Symptoms are nausea which 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 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. As their hormone levels increase, they will 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 enjoy some time to yourself.
Hormonal Mood Swings and Emotions
Changes in hormones during pregnancy can cause mood swings and make an expecting mother more emotional. To put this into perspective, a woman will produce more estrogen during pregnancy than her entire life when she is not pregnant. I encourage you to be understanding that she has no control over this. This is most prevalent in the first trimester and tends to improve over time.
After your baby is born, mom will experience a sharp hormone drop. Combining that with lack of sleep, recovering from birth, and caring for a newborn, you have the perfect storm for the baby blues or postpartum depression. Baby blues are prevalent and are estimated to occur in about 50% or more of women. Some studies show an even higher prevalence at nearly 80%. The baby blues include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Some other signs are sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, reduced concentration, and a reduced appetite. Baby blues typically begin within the first two to three days after birth. The good news is that it disappears quickly, within one to two weeks.
One in seven new moms will experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. 40% of mothers who experience postpartum depression will have an onset after birth. Postpartum depression can be mistaken for the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms will be more intense and last longer.
Many moms try to power through the baby blues and postpartum depression without assistance. If you think mom is experiencing this at any point, please encourage her to contact her doctor or midwife. Her care provider can connect her with resources and tools that can make a massive difference in she copes and how long her symptoms last. See this episode for more information on signs of the baby blues and postpartum depression, how to get help, and how to protect your mental health postpartum.
Fathers also experience many challenges after the birth of a new baby, including lack of sleep, anxiety, and even changes in hormone levels. Research shows that partners and fathers can also experience the baby blues. One study found that at least 17.5% of fathers experienced baby blues. Researchers found that symptoms of postpartum blues were positively correlated with impairment in the father-to-infant bond. Feelings of sadness or depression in fathers after the birth of a baby happen most often during the first three to six months but can develop up to a year after birth.
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 mindful of 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, especially during pregnancy and after having a baby. Please tell mom she is beautiful and amazing and avoid anything that will make her more self-conscious about her changing 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 interested in sex than usual or even completely turned off by the thought of sex. Tell her how you feel, and make sure you are open to hearing how she feels about sex.
Intercourse cannot hurt your baby. Your baby is protected in the womb, and you don’t need to worry about them even knowing what is happening. You may need to find different positions depending on how big mom’s belly is to ensure she is comfortable. Toward 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.
For the vast majority of couples, sex is completely fine during pregnancy. In some cases, a care provider may advise not having sex if there are complications or in a high-risk pregnancy. If you have any questions about sex during pregnancy, bring them up with your doctor or midwife. Pregnancy is temporary, so do not stress if your sex life isn’t exactly what it was before getting pregnant.
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 how your partner feels and the circumstances of their birth recovery.
Interacting with Your Baby Before Birth
It may be easier for a mom to bond with her baby before birth since she is the one carrying them. Research shows that not all parents feel strongly bonded to their babies. Even after birth, 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. Think about everything you are excited about once your baby is born. This could be holding them for the first time, visiting 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 initially, but they can hear and respond to familiar sounds, such as your voice, with movement. You can talk to your baby about anything and everything. If this initially feels weird, say hello, and tell them you can’t wait to meet them. When they are born and hear your voice, they will recognize it.
As a baby grows, their movements will become stronger and more apparent. Eventually, you can see mom’s belly move when they kick or move around. Ask mom to tell you when the baby is moving so you can feel her belly.
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 by 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, consider putting systems in place to spend time away from your business or cut down on hours. Taking time away from work can be challenging, especially if you lose some income. This is such a short opportunity to be with your new baby. Please 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.
You should be aware of some traditions around having a baby. 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. In recent years, co-ed showers have become more popular. You and your wife/girlfriend/partner can invite whomever you want, regardless of sex, and make it any celebration you wish to.
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 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. If you can swing a babymoon financially and with time off work, celebrating the two of you before your baby arrives would be a nice treat.
The last thing you should have a heads up on is the idea of a push present. This is a gift you give to moms 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
Before your baby is born, a lot of focus is on 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 many people, that is how it works. Since you listen to the Pregnancy Podcast (or the person having your baby), I’m guessing you want more say in how your baby is born. You have many choices regarding where you give birth, who is there, your environment, and what happens. A couple of things 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
Creating a birth plan is another powerful tool in preparing for the birth you and mom want. This is an excellent exercise for you two to get on the same page and clarify what you do and do not want. 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 during labor. Do they prefer you to offer encouragement and hold their hand, or do they want you to actively participate 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 they are born. Include this stuff in your plans and inform the hospital or birth center staff beforehand.
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.
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 massive part of the birth of your baby. You are the cheerleader, coach, trainer, and advocate. You need to be rested and prepared to be present for the entire thing.
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 an un-medicated birth, be supportive and ensure 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. It may feel like you can’t do anything in these moments. Being by her side will help get her through those challenging moments.
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. Having a heads up on what to expect after your baby arrives will benefit you 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 enjoy the new addition to your family. If you can do anything to let mom rest, please do.
After birth, mom will still look about five months pregnant. All of the fluid and tissue in her uterus must 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 a 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 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, especially in the first 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, and dental problems, and their immune systems 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 many 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 has any issues, please encourage her to go to a support group, contact her doctor or midwife, or seek a lactation consultant. The first few days or weeks may be challenging, but breastfeeding will get easier. Encouragement and support from you go a long way.
While breastfeeding, moms can get stuck sitting or lying down with one arm holding their baby. That means they may not be able to get up easily and 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 a baby is 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 breastfeed that, you support her doing that anywhere she is comfortable.
While mom is 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 home running. If you are generally not the person in your relationship who tackles these tasks, please step up and help.
Baby Wearing and Skin-to-Skin Contact
Many things are geared toward moms, but they are also great for dads and partners. This includes baby-wearing and skin-to-skin contact.
Baby 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. Skin-to-skin contact 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 value sleep, it can be stressful to even think about having 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 also good for dads and partners . Sneak in on some of those naps, and you will be glad you did.
There are a few resources geared toward dads and partners that may be helpful:
One of my favorite tools for dads is the Daily Dad. This is a daily email with one piece of timeless advice to help you become a better dad. Although I am a mom, I have been a subscriber for years and enjoy reading this every morning. 10/10 recommend this daily email for every parent. The Daily Dad is written by Ryan Holliday, a best-selling author of numerous books on stoic philosophy. His latest release, The Daily Dad: 366 Meditations on Parenting, Love, and Raising Great Kids, is a fantastic book.
40 Weeks podcast has an episode for each week of pregnancy. In just about six minutes, you can learn how your baby grows each week and what is happening in mom’s body. Plus, get a heads up on what to expect at prenatal appointments, and each episode ends with a tip for dads and partners. You can sign up for weekly emails with your email address and your baby’s due date, and you will get an email each week with a link to the episode.
I have done thousands of hours of research, and hundreds of episodes are 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 Episode Guide on the Pregnancy Podcast website to browse by topic or search by keyword. Other Pregnancy Podcast episodes for dads and partners:
If there is any subject you want more information on, there is likely a podcast episode covering it.
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