The Role of the Expectant Father

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. Apart from being there for the major appointments such as ultrasound scans and other antenatal appointments expectant fathers can also help by being more accommodating to the needs of your partner.

It is important to communicate with your partner and tell them how you feel during the pregnancy as this will further build on strengthening bonds and aid in being a good support during labour and after birth.

What to Expect from Pregnancy

The First Trimester

The first trimester of pregnancy is the period from 4- 14 weeks, when you are likely to have found out that your partner is expecting. Your wife or partner may experience the following symptoms during the first trimester, and you may need to be of assistance if your partner experiences the following:

  • Morning sickness or nausea
  • Changes in appetite
  • Mood swings
  • Swollen ankles
  • Anxiety
  • Changes in sex drive
  • Cravings

Morning sickness is commonly one of the earliest signs of pregnancy. Mood swings are common in pregnancy, although not all women experience this symptom; however, you can be rest assured that any changes in mood are more likely to do with pregnancy hormones than anything you have done.

Many women suffer from swollen ankles due to the increased weight of the baby so adequate rest is a must. Anxiety can be experienced by both mother and father and such issues are best resolved.

In the first trimester your partner may experience a change in appetite, an increase or decrease. Try to encourage your partner to maintain a healthy balanced diet, and ward off any bad habits such as smoking or drinking immediately as they can have a damaging effect on the unborn baby.

The Second Trimester

The Second Trimester ranges from 14-27 weeks, often the most enjoyable phase of pregnancy. In the second trimester you and your partner will get to experience seeing your baby for the first time in an ultrasound scan. Many hospitals will give you a photo of your baby’s scan. In some cases you may be able to find out the sex of the baby, this option likely to be made available at the scan.

Every woman is different but most women find that most pregnancy symptoms such as morning sickness subside in the second trimester. This means that your partner may be more able to enjoy the pregnancy. The second trimester is an ideal time to go on holiday as there is less risk of the baby being born prematurely than if you were to go in the third trimester. There are many holiday destinations to choose from but you would have to remember that your partner will require written confirmation of her due date from a doctor and the airline would also want to know that if she is fit and healthy to fly.

Many couples find it an enjoyable experience shopping for their baby and you may want to start planning the nursery for your baby, as it often takes time to order baby equipment. Encouraging your partner to do gentle exercise such as brisk walking is beneficial to the health of the mother and baby.

The Third Trimester

The third trimester is the final stage of pregnancy, ranging from 37-40 or more weeks. This is when you can really get ready for your new baby as it won’t be long until the big day. There are many things you can do to prepare you and your partner for labour, such as reading up on labour and pain relief methods. It is important to discuss pain relief methods with your partner so that you can assist during labour and know what she would prefer as pain relief.

You may want to watch some educational videos on the birthing experience to give you an idea of what to expect. There are a few symptoms to look out for when it comes to the onset of labour:

  • Leaking water of fluid – This may mean that your partner’s waters have broken and the labour is about to begin. If this occurs then you need to take your partner to the hospital immediately, and inform the doctor or midwife
  • Contractions –These are sharp pains that come and go and gradually increase in intensity. If your partner feels that she is having contractions you should ring the hospital and let them know you are on the way. You should also begin to time the contractions. If the contractions increase and are coming on quicker you should call the ambulance
  • Bleeding –If your wife experiences bleeding you are advised to go to the hospital immediately
  • Abdominal pain – If your wife experiences abdominal pain and feels that this is to do with the labour you should ring the hospital or go there immediately, depending on the severity of the pain

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 labour 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 colours 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 transformational 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.

Paternity Leave

Many employers grant fathers a maximum of 2 weeks paternity leave though this can be further discussed with your employer. Most employers grant paid paternity leave, which gives you the quality time you need with your partner and baby during the early days after birth. Some fathers choose to take extra leave if there is no support from family or friends and their partner is left alone looking after the baby. It is always best to be supportive during this time as your partner’s hormones will still be fluctuating, and symptoms of post natal depression should be looked out for.

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