I may be around pregnant women all the time, but that didn’t stop me from saying some pretty bonehead things to my wife while she was pregnant. So this is my advice to dads-to-be on how to stay out of the doghouse.
As just one of many examples, I once complained about not sleeping well. This is not a smart thing to say to a pregnant woman. My lovely wife was just a few weeks from giving birth, and when she wasn’t tossing and turning to find a comfortable position for her growing belly, she was getting up constantly to go to the bathroom. I may have been tired, but it was nothing compared to what she was going through. Not to mention this earned me a night on the couch.
I had no idea what to do when we were expecting our first child. Basically, I was freaking out the whole time. I think that’s normal when you’re about to become a parent.
However, no matter how scared you are, mom is just as scared. Yes, your life is changing, but it’s not your body changing drastically and sending you on a hormonal roller coaster. Pregnancy is all about mom because, let’s be honest, they’re the ones doing the hard work. What you need to do is be supportive – in whatever way you can at that moment.
First trimester: Help her feel better
The beginning of pregnancy can be tough. Your partner likely will be exhausted and she may not feel well. Offer to run out to get her medicine – physician-approved of course. Let her know it’s OK if she throws up in front of you. If she’s uncomfortable with that, give her space when she’s sick.
Your partner may start craving weird foods. My wife ate cheese sticks, boiled eggs, and raspberries for about the first two months of her pregnancy. That’s what tasted good to her and didn’t make her sick.
If your partner feels this way, don’t ask what’s for dinner. Be an adult and cook your own food. If the smell of certain foods makes her nauseated, give it up for the time being.
If your partner wants pickles at 2 a.m., get out of bed and go get them. You were responsible for half this pregnancy, so it’s the least you can do!
Starting when you get a positive pregnancy test, show interest and be involved throughout the pregnancy. Learn as much as you can. Read the pregnancy books. Accompany her to prenatal appointments. This can be especially important if a problem develops during the pregnancy. If you are involved and at the appointments, you will better understand what’s going on and what to expect down the road.
Attend prenatal classes. This can be helpful during labor and delivery when she’s in pain and forgets some of the things she learned. You can help her remember what she can do to manage her pain and what’s coming next.
Second trimester: Pamper her
This is the honeymoon phase of pregnancy – after the first trimester sickness and before the discomfort of the third trimester. If you’re looking to get away for a few days, this is the perfect time to take her on a babymoon.
You also can help her friends and family plan a baby shower. I know you may not care about the silly games they play or the cutesy gifts. But know this: You’re going to need more diapers than exist in the world, so be grateful when you get them!
Third trimester: Make her feel comfortable
By the third trimester, your partner is going to start feeling pretty uncomfortable. Tell her to sit down and put her feet up while you make dinner, or give her a massage. If you go to a movie theater, pick a seat on the aisle near the exit so she easily can get up to go to the bathroom.
She may not feel like herself, so this is a good time to help foster her self-esteem. If she asks if she looks fat, say, “Absolutely not, you look beautiful.” Make her feel special and wanted. If she’s up for it, know that sex is almost always safe during pregnancy. Talk with your doctor, but there are very few occasions when it may not be safe.
However, she may not be in the mood. She may not feel sexy, and her growing belly can make sex uncomfortable. If she’s not into it, be understanding and don’t make her feel bad about it.
Labor and delivery: What not to say
There’s no way around it: Labor and delivery can be scary for partners. You’ve gone to the classes and read the books, but nothing can prepare you 100 percent for what’s coming. You may be nervous, but remember that it’s nothing compared to how your partner is feeling. Though you can’t take away her pain, you can stand by and support her.
In TV shows and movies, dads say dumb things to women during labor and delivery. Well, they’re not exaggerating – much. When my wife went into labor and I was driving her to the hospital, there was road construction and we kept driving over big bumps. I was so nervous and couldn’t help laughing. I thought she was going to hit me as she exclaimed, “Why is this so funny? Why are you laughing?”
Here are a few other things I’ve heard over the years that I recommend not saying to your partner while she’s giving birth to your child:
- “Gross.” I don’t care if what you’re looking at is the most disgusting thing you’ve ever seen. Don’t say this. Ever.
- “Oh, the pain can’t be that bad.” It is. You can’t even imagine. Don’t try to empathize with her pain. Don’t try to minimize it. Just let her experience it, hold her hand, and do what she asks and needs you to do.
After the birth: Be protective and helpful
Now that your little one has arrived, every family member and friend you have will want to meet him or her. You need to be the gatekeeper. Mom likely will be tired and just want to spend time with her new baby. Don’t be afraid to tell your loved ones to come back later. Or meet them in the waiting room and entertain them out there.
It’s inevitable that you’ll forget things in the rush to go to the hospital. It’s your job to run back and forth to get a change of clothes, the phone charger, or whatever she needs.
The early days of a baby’s life are exhausting for the whole family, but try to minimize that for your partner. If she’s breastfeeding, you can’t help with middle-of-the-night feedings, but you can still be helpful. Get up and change the baby’s diaper so she can rest a few more minutes. My wife and I took shifts so we both could get some sleep.
Take as much off her plate as possible. Do the laundry, cook meals, and clean the house. If the baby is sleeping and she wants to rest, entertain your other children so she can sleep. Give her time alone. If the baby is fed and doesn’t need her, let her have a few hours of peace and quiet or a chance to get out of the house.
Don’t forget to take care of yourself as well. Find time to do something that will rejuvenate you – even if it’s just going to the gym on your way home from work.
It will take time for your family to get into a routine that works best for all of you – especially after one or both of your return to work from maternity or paternity leave. It’s easy to hunker down and just get through the first months of a baby’s life, but don’t forget to stay connected to the outside world. Maintain relationships with friends and family – and each other. Go on a date. You both need time to take a breath and maintain your sanity.
As for sex after having a baby, talk to your physician about how long you should wait. Most physicians recommend six weeks. Just remember, you can get pregnant again right away, even if your partner is breastfeeding. Don’t forget to use contraception.
Fatherhood is a big job – and it starts with taking good care of mom. Becoming a dad is scary and nerve-wracking, but also awesome. Enjoy the ride!