It is often said that women become a mother the moment they see the positive result on the pregnancy test, whereas men become a father when holding their baby for the first time – but is this right?
Dads can often struggle more than mums to feel the full reality of the situation during pregnancy because they are not going through physical changes. Mums are pushed into necessary and immediate change – focusing on good nutrition, remembering to take folic acid, giving up smoking if they previously smoked, cutting out caffeine and more. They feel their breasts swell and become sore, they watch their stomach grow, feel movement from the baby and may feel sick or dizzy especially early on.
For dads, these changes are not taking place. In fact, many can catch themselves saying ‘think of our lovely baby’ to their partner as a cheering mechanism. It’s pretty unlikely their partner is going to forget – she is constantly reminded! However, it is just as important for dads to make these changes for so many reasons. For starters, some actions done around your partner can affect your baby even when still in the womb, such as smoking.
Unsurprisingly, pregnancy is a stressful time for your partner and she doesn’t want to be worrying that if you’re not changing when you find out she’s pregnant, then you won’t when the baby is here and it’s crunch time. She will hugely value it if you seem to be making a big effort to change and feel much more supported and relaxed about the life-changing journey you are both embarking on.
Something worth asking yourself is if you need to make changes, why not change now? When the baby is born it will be a wonderful time but a very stressful one, with lack of sleep and a human who constantly needs you, it is not a particularly good time to try and make those changes; much better to change in the relative calm of your partner’s pregnancy.
It may sound basic but being fit is so important when you’re becoming a dad. Labour is a very physical ordeal for women so they need to be in good shape, but dads are so key during the labour process that it’s vital for you to be fit too! Labour can take days and the average stage of ‘active labour’ is 8 hours, it’s a very intense and emotional time and can be exhausting for you too.
Getting involved means you won’t be sat around eating fish and chips, you’ll be up and down, rubbing your partners back, running a bath, calling a midwife in if needed and encouraging your partner to breathe through the pain. You can’t plan when labour kicks off and if it happens in the middle of the night it really helps for you to be rested, healthy and in good shape!
As your child grows up you are going to want to be able to cook a healthy meal for both them and yourself. You need to know what is healthy and which portion sizes are good for you and your youngster as they grow. Children will almost always do as you do and not as you say, so setting a good example with diet and exercise is essential here.
Being fit will also be important in the future when you are running around after a young child – they can be shockingly fast and very good at ducking away from you! If you haven’t been helping with housework, start now. Make sure you know what needs doing and when, so you can not only keep the house clean but can in turn teach your child important life skills.
Learn about labour and beyond
Read books, magazines, watch documentaries, chat to mums and dads online and attend any classes on offer about pregnancy, childbirth and baby’s first year. Dads can feel out of their depth during childbirth and preparing for what’s about to come is so useful. Chat to your partner about her birth plans so you are aware of what she’d like and can help her be clear about that at the birth (though be aware it’s just a ‘plan’ and often things don’t go the way she may have wanted).
Your partner needs support throughout giving birth and if you have some knowledge about it then you can offer that and help her feel more at ease. It’s also worth getting information on parenting methods and information about your baby’s first year so you can chat to your partner about plans you may have, the way you want to raise your baby (co-sleeping or baby’s own room etc.) and which milestones to look out for!
Make some key decisions now
Although you do need to go with the flow as a parent, it can also be very useful to have discussed parenting methods pre-baby. Many parental arguments can easily be avoided by coming up with basic house rules, agreeing on ‘family values’ and discussing childcare options before the baby comes. Sometimes, when the baby arrives, you will be so caught up in the moment that you won’t have time to step back and decide these things – so talk things through now.
These aren’t set in stone and choices can easily be altered to suit your child as he or she grows but you will have some idea of what to aim for as parents and will be able to pinpoint any major disagreements before they happen. These key decisions can also include child proofing and safety, which you will need to research and is best to be done before the birth.
It cannot be stressed enough that there isn’t anything in the world that involves more ‘learning on the job’ than being a parent. No-one expects you to be an expert from the off, but if you start being a dad from pregnancy, you are giving yourself the best chance at performing during the chaotic but amazing journey ahead.