There are plenty of studies that show how important it is for fathers to be actively involved in pregnancy and birth. The days of pacing a hospital corridor waiting to be told by a nurse in a starched bonnet whether your wife had given birth to a boy or a girl are long gone! Not only do most dads witness the birth of their children their involvement in pregnancy often starts as soon as the couple realise they’re going to have a baby.
“Dads-to-be play an incredibly important part in pregnancy and labour,” says Elizabeth Duff from NCT. “They may not have the same physical effects of pregnancy but the life changes, the highs and lows, are all happening to their relationship and life too.”
It’s often new territory for expectant fathers so we asked the experts to give their top tips.
1. Show support
Make sure she knows you have her corner and are there for her both in pregnancy and during labour.
Neil Sinclair is an ex commando and now a stay-at-home dad of three. He’s written a series of ‘Commando Dad’ parenting books. Neil says, “A dad-to-be role is not a passive role, it’s back up support for your partner aka the commanding officer.”
On an emotional level let her know how much you love her and reassure her that you are there for her.
“Listen to your partner until she has finished speaking about her fears and worries, then go on to do some research about her concerns and then talk to her about what you’ve found,” says Mark Harris, an independent midwife and author of Men, Love and Birth.
2. Be informed
The more information you have the more you’ll know what to expect.
“Expectant dads can support their partners by reading up – books or online – about what pregnancy entails, to learn how they can provide practical, hands-on help and emotional empathy and support,” says Rob Kemp, author of ‘The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide’.
3. Attend antenatal classes and appointments
“Attend as many appointments as you can. Speak to your employers, HR or your line manager and explain you want to go to as many as possible,” says Neil.
Going to antenatal classes will help you learn lots more about pregnancy. It’ll make you feel more prepared for labour and birth, as you’ll have an idea of what to expect.
You’ll also meet people going through the same thing as you.
New dad Paul from London went to antenatal classes with his wife to find out the practical things about having a new baby like how to put on a nappy.
“In fact, we spent about 5 minutes at the end of 15 hours, practising nappies on dolls, and a good 3 hours being told we really shouldn’t have bought any of the things we’d already bought, and probably shouldn’t buy anything else either. We also threw a knitted breast around a room as a way of signifying who was to speak!” says Paul.
“Of course, the real reason for going to classes is to meet other expectant parents, and that’s been invaluable for my wife, especially after I returned to work,” adds Paul.
Sometimes the people you meet at these classes end up as life-long friends, as your children are the same age you’ll often see them at the nursery and the school gates a few years down the line.
4. Talk about your concerns
You may have worries and concerns about pregnancy and birth that are different from your partner’s. You may be dreading seeing her go through any pain in childbirth. The financial implications of having a child may be weighing on your mind, if a baby means you will be down to one salary.
“Talk about who’s going to do what once the baby arrives,” says Jeremy Davies from the think-tank the Fatherhood Institute.
“Book your paternity leave in plenty of time, and if you are eligible for shared parental leave, think about how you might share the time off so you both get to develop hands-on parenting skills and stay focused on your careers,” adds Jeremy.
5. Don’t stress about sex
Some expectant dads really fancy their pregnant partners, they feel extra closeness because of the experience they are sharing or just appreciate her bigger boobs!
You may have to change sexual positions especially later on in pregnancy to make things more comfortable for your partner because of the baby bump.
Some men go off sex. They may feel they don’t want to hurt the baby (they won’t).They may just be put off by her shape. If that’s the case don’t mention it.
“Sex or the lack of it is something both partners have concerns over. Don’t pressure each other into having sex during pregnancy or after until you’re both comfortable with it,” advises Rob.
6. Help with the birth plan
Don’t be surprised if things don’t go according to the birth plan. You don’t really know what to expect until you are in the midst of it all. There’s no problem with your partner asking for stronger pain relief once she’s in labour for example. The birth plan isn’t set in stone.
“I’d read about a dozen books about birth, detailing the different stages of labour and the different methods of delivery. We’d written two detailed birth plans – one was ‘give me every form of pain relief you have’ and the other was ‘back to nature’. We never even opened the envelope!” says Paul.
7. Preparing for labour day
On a practical level, make sure you’ve bought a car seat and know how to fit it. You’ll need it to bring the baby home if you are having a hospital birth. Just as mum-to-be has a bag packed for all of her labour essentials and clothes for the new baby make sure you do one for yourself. Labour can last more than 24 hours so stick in some deodorant, a toothbrush and some decent snacks to keep you going.
“As the baby’s due date approaches, dads-to-be might find themselves feeling excited and anxious at the same time,” says Elizabeth. “Dads should be available and prepared from about week 36 of pregnancy, but also be prepared for a long wait, the days pass incredibly slowly when you are waiting in anticipation.”
Make sure there’s always enough petrol in the car if you’re going to hospital. Your partner won’t be impressed at having to make a detour to the petrol station during labour!
8. On the big day
Labour can be very long for both of you. Especially at the start when not a lot is going on and contractions aren’t coming very often. “We’d carefully compiled two playlists to play in the delivery room and actually this was genuinely useful. Top of my list of advice – bring a fully charged iPad, with lots of your partner’s favourite programmes on it, and charging wires,” says Paul.
“Research suggests that a calm, well-prepared dad can be an invaluable support to a mum in labour who’s likely to have a shorter, less painful labour as a result,” says Jeremy.
Most dads at the birth
These days an estimated 95% of dads are there for the birth, even though some do it under sufferance.
“Some men are squeamish about the birth but you need to try to put your own feelings to one side if she wants you there. Be her rock that she can rely on,” says Neil.
You don’t have to watch all the gory bits. Stay up the head end and look into your partner’s eyes to show your support. If you REALLY don’t want to be there at all it’s your choice, don’t feel pressurised.
“And just like in Vegas, what happens in the delivery room stays in the delivery room. Your partner may go a little crazy and say things she might not usually say or even remember,” adds Neil.
It pays to expect the unexpected when it comes to birth. Not everything goes to plan.
“It’s important that dads-to-be are prepared for the scenario when things don’t go to plan and medical procedures may be suggested,” says Elizabeth.
The woman needs to give her consent before any intervention so it’s best to research all the possible options beforehand.
9. Realise you belong there
Midwives in the past did tend to treat pregnancy and birth as a women only event making dads feel excluded. The tide has turned and midwives are taught to be more inclusive.
“There’s now substantial evidence of the benefits resulting from fathers being involved in their partner’s maternity care,” says Cathy Warwick, chief executive of the Royal College of Midwives. “NHS policy is to increase engagement with fathers and encourage them to be involved.”
10. After baby is born
Labour and birth can be an arduous and tiring experience for both of you. It’s often the case with a textbook birth that your partner and the baby are out of hospital within a few hours. This doesn’t give you much time to catch up on sleep. Luckily at this age babies do sleep a lot so when they are napping you and your partner should try to sleep too.
“Don’t feel pressured to know everything or be a natural ‘superdad’,” says Rob. “Just take the time to understand what the mother of your child is going through.”
She’ll take a bit of time to get over the birth, more so if she’s had a C-section, so do all you can to help. Her focus will understandably be on the baby so your attention should be on making her life easier. Take responsibility for cooking and washing and don’t worry too much about keeping your home pristine – let the cleaning slide for a while. Accept offers of help but check if your partner is happy with that.
Taking time off work is the best thing you can do at this stage. You may have paternity leave or holiday entitlement that’s been saved up. Your partner will be relying on you a lot in the first few weeks. Get used to changing nappies, as you’ll be doing a lot of it!
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