FQ Expert

Staying in the Loop – Antenatal Care

Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

Antenatal care can be very confusing. There always seem to be more appointments, scans and information than you can possibly keep track of! So what do you and your partner really need to know?

We’ve teamed up with Martin Chapman from the National Childbirth Trust (NCT) to put together this handy guide to help dads with Antenatal Care, so you not only get to grips with it yourself, but can support your partner by knowing what should be happening and when.

Antenatal Care can vary and if it’s your partner’s first baby, it is especially important you both know what to expect. Although it often comes as a surprise, dads can play an important part in their partner’s pregnancy.

Appointments: The low-down

During the appointments your partner can discuss any questions or problems with a midwife. Ideally, they will see one or two midwives across this process and build a relationship with them. At every appointment, they will check your partner’s urine for glucose and protein – so suggest she always attends the clinic needing a wee! She will also need a full bladder at the 12 week ultrasound scan and sometimes the 20 week.

The following chart shows a likely list of appointments for a normal pregnancy (but these may vary with different local healthcare providers):

8-12 weeks Booking Appointment A long appointment (approx. 90 mins) which will go through you and your partner’s medical history.
8-14 weeks Dating Scan You will be given your estimated due date (EDD) and they will check the development of the baby.
16 weeks Midwife Appointment Your midwife may listen to your baby’s heartbeat from this appointment onwards.
18-20 weeks Anomaly Scan This scan will check your baby for any abnormalities.
25 weeks Midwife Appointment Offered if it’s your partner’s first baby. Also may be the first measuring of your partner’s bump with a tape measure.
28 weeks Midwife Appointment The may offer more screening tests and your partner’s first treatment of anti-D if rhesus negative.
31 weeks Midwife Appointment Offered if it’s your partner’s first baby. Discussion of any screening results if needed.
34 weeks Midwife Appointment Your partner will have a discussion about any complications or interventions, and caesarean section. She will also be given information about preparing for labour and birth and offered her second anti-D treatment if rhesus negative.
36 weeks Midwife Appointment Information given on caring for your newborn, breastfeeding, Vitamin K, your partner’s health post-birth including the ‘baby blues’ and PND.
38 weeks Midwife Appointment Your partner may discuss the options and choice available if she goes overdue.
40 weeks Midwife Appointment Most women give birth a week before to a week after their EDD.
41 weeks Midwife Appointment If your partner hasn’t given birth yet, they’ll be offered a membrane sweep and can discuss the options for an induction.
42 weeks Midwife Appointment Your partner may choose to be induced due to the associated risks of being overdue or be offered increased monitoring of the baby.

If your partner’s pregnancy is classed as ‘high risk’, she may also be offered extra scans to monitor the baby’s growth and development. These are likely to happen at 28, 32 and 36 weeks.

If there is a history of miscarriage or she experiences unusual bleeding during the first trimester then she may be offered (or ask for) an early scan to look for a heartbeat which can happen pre-12 weeks. An early scan is internal and feels unusual but not painful (for this she will need an empty bladder).

Martin Chapman (NCT) says: It’s a good idea for the father to attend as many as possible of these appointments with the mother, but particularly the 20-week scan, also known as the anomaly scan. Seeing the baby onscreen is a great moment, but the serious side to the scan is that it can reveal any problems with the major organs as well as any other conditions. Dad should be at the scan to experience the joy of seeing his baby but there is also the possibility of having to support his partner – and cope himself – if there is bad news.

Risk factors in pregnancy

If your partner’s pregnancy is classed as ‘high risk’, she will usually be expected to give birth in hospital rather than at home or in a midwife-led unit. This is so she or/and your baby can receive any medical care quickly if it’s needed during or immediately after the labour and birth.

If your partner suffers with a mental illness which could be affected by the pregnancy or birth, then she may be considered ‘high risk’. She may be seen by a specialist mental health midwife who will help her throughout the pregnancy and could be overseen by a consultant. Perinatal departments are available for women who want to know more about mental health related questions. Usually, Community Mental Health Teams work in conjunction with Antenatal Services and sometimes Perinatal Services to provide the support your partner will need.

Martin Chapman (NCT) says: If a pregnant woman has an underlying medical problem, such as heart or kidney disease, hypertension or diabetes (for example), a pregnancy could be considered ‘high risk’. For a straightforward pregnancy, a midwife can provide all care needed, both antenatal and at the birth. If complications arise, the midwife can then refer the woman to a specialist.

Understanding your role

Lots more dads are becoming of utmost importance during the pregnancy and labour. For example, your partner may choose to use hypnobirthing techniques which you may be hugely involved in – learning breathing techniques alongside her and helping her to get into – and remain in – a relaxed state.

Martin Chapman (NCT) says: Becoming a dad is a major life event for men. The birth of a baby changes relationships in the family, brings new responsibilities and has a major economic impact. It can be a time of joy, celebration and pride but equally, there can be moments of stress and anxiety and a feeling of upheaval.

It is very important that fathers are involved throughout pregnancy so they feel prepared for the arrival of their baby and the new role of being a parent. Men have their own needs as new dads and they also need information about what their partner is going through and how they can support her. NCT offers information specifically for dads on our website about pregnancy and beyond.

Antenatal Testing and Screening

If you find out your partner is likely to have a baby with a certain condition or it’s confirmed with a diagnostic test, then the hospital are able to provide extra medical care at the birth, such as a specialist paediatrician. It is also important to know that the first screening test (for conditions including Down’s Syndrome) will be done on the 12 week scan – make sure you have discussed it and considered your options before you go.

Martin Chapman (NCT) says: There are many different types of antenatal check-ups offered during pregnancy: screening and diagnostic procedures will help parents find out, for example, if their baby has a condition that would cause a disability. These tests are optional, and it is each individual woman’s decision, with her partner, whether to accept or refuse any pregnancy screening. Be aware that some, such as amniocentesis, may carry a small risk of miscarriage. Antenatal tests differ across the UK and it is best for each woman (and her partner) to discuss what tests they need with their midwife. You can find information about different tests mothers can have during pregnancy here!”

Getting involved

It’s a good idea to keep track of your partner’s appointments and be aware of what is likely to happen at each one, you could print off the chart to stick on the fridge so you both know what to expect.

You may find it helpful to attend some classes with your partner, either to learn about baby care or how to help her during labour. There are classes especially for men when you can hear other dad’s experiences and get advice on what you can do during the birth.

Martin Chapman (NCT) says: For dads-to-be, a written birth plan is an opportunity to affirm what the father and their partner want to happen during the birth. Some midwives or hospitals may have a birth plan template that can help get them started. Discussing and understanding a birth plan can help dads to feel more confident as the birth approaches. More information about birth plans for dads can be found here!”