Pregnancy, birth and beyond for dads and partners

Avatar photo
Written by Tim Barnes-Clay

If you’re the husband or partner of a pregnant woman, the closer the two of you are the more you’ll be able to share the experience of pregnancy and birth.

nhs logoYou can look at the information on different weeks of pregnancy to see what happens to a pregnant woman and her unborn baby throughout pregnancy.

In the early weeks (around four-14 weeks of pregnancy) pregnant women can feel very tired andsick. Certain smells and tastes might make your partner feel nauseous, and she might want only to sleep. She might be irritable about things that seem minor to you.

In the middle months (around 15-26 weeks of pregnancy) many pregnant women find that much of their energy returns, and she may not want to be given special treatment any more.

Towards the end of pregnancy (around 27-40 weeks) the baby can feel very heavy. The tiredness and irritability of the early weeks often returns, and your partner may start to feel frightened about the birth. If she’s on maternity leave from work, she might feel lonely without the company of her colleagues.

If your partner is anxious, encourage her to talk about it. Many women are more used to listening than being listened to, so it may take a while before she opens up. Be patient. If you can learn to support each other now, your relationship will be stronger when the baby arrives.

Practical support

Now is the time to start sharing the housework, if you don’t already do so. There are two areas where you can be helpful:
cooking: in the early months the smell of cooking may put her off, and if you cook she’s more likely to eat what she needs
carrying heavy shopping: carrying can put a lot of strain on her back, so do the shopping yourself or together

Let your partner know that she’s not alone. Start by browsing through this site with her so that you’re both well informed. The basic health advice is just as important for you as it is for her:

– eating well is much easier if you’re doing it together: start picking up the healthy food habits you’ll want to pass on to your child

– cigarette smoke is dangerous for babies, so if you’re a smoker, get advice on how to stop smoking. If you continue to smoke, don’t smoke near your partner, don’t offer her cigarettes, and don’t leave your cigarettes lying around

– go with your partner to the doctor if she’s worried, or be sure to talk it through when she gets home

– be there if she has ascan, and see your baby on the screen: if she needs to have extra tests your support is especially important

When your partner is offered blood tests in early pregnancy, you may be asked to have blood tests as well. This is to check whether your baby is at risk of having an inherited or genetic condition, such as sickle cell anaemiathalassaemia or cystic fibrosis. You’ll also be asked about your family history and origin, because certain inherited conditions are more common depending on family history.

Find out about antenatal classes for couples, or fathers’ evenings. The more you know about labour, the more you’ll be able to help.

nhs pregfordads 002Most men stay with their partner during labour, but it’s important that you’re both happy about this. Find out what happens in labour and what’s involved in being her birth partner. If you prefer not to be present, talk to your partner and listen to how she feels. You may be able to think of a friend or relative who could accompany her instead.

Talk about what you both expect in labour, and talk about the birth plan. Fill it in together so that you know what she wants and how you can help her achieve it. Support her if she changes her mind during labour. Be flexible: the health of your partner and the baby is the most important thing, so birth plans sometimes have to change.


Your feelings

Just because the woman is the one carrying the baby doesn’t mean that pregnancy has no impact on the father. Whether the pregnancy has been planned for months or years, or is unexpected, you’ll probably feel a range of emotions. A baby means new responsibilities, whatever your age, that you may not feel ready for.

You and the mum-to-be may have mixed feelings about the pregnancy. It’s normal for both of you to feel like this. The first pregnancy is a very important event. It will change your life and change can be frightening even if it’s something you’ve been looking forward to.

Money problems may be a worry. You may face the loss of an income for a while, extra expenses for the baby and, if the mother returns to work, the cost of childcare. You may be worrying that your home isn’t right or that you’ll feel obliged to stay in a job you don’t like. (It might help to look at what benefits you’re entitled to and start planning ahead.)

Some men feel left out. The pregnant woman’s attention will be on what’s happening inside her, and you may not have realised how much you relied on her to make you feel cared for.

Sex in pregnancy

Your loneliness may be increased if she doesn’t want to make love, which can happen in pregnancy. It varies from woman to woman. There’s usually no medical reason to avoid sex, but keep in mind:

– her breasts may be very tender in the early weeks

– don’t have sex if there’s any bleeding or pain

– make sure she is comfortable – you may need to try out a few different positions as the pregnancy progresses

Find out more about sex in pregnancy. If you’re not having sex, try to find other ways of being close, but do talk about it.

Some men find it difficult to make love during pregnancy. They may feel uncomfortable about their partner’s changing shape. If this is happening to you, talk about it but be sensitive to how your partner might feel. She may well feel uneasy about her changing body and may be hurt if she thinks that you don’t like her appearance. Confide in friends who are already fathers and will know what you’re going through.

Be prepared for the birth

This checklist for dads-to-be may be useful for the final weeks: 

– make sure you can be contacted at all times

– decide how you’ll get to the hospital (if you have arranged a hospital birth)

– if you’re using your own car, make sure it works and has petrol, and do a trial run to see how long it takes to get from your house to the hospital

– remember to pack a bag for yourself, including snacks, a camera, and your phone or change for the telephone

Seeing your baby for the first time

Watching your baby coming into the world can be the most incredible experience. The midwives may hand you the baby. Some men feel afraid of hurting such a tiny creature. Don’t be. Hold the baby close to your body. 

Many fathers experience very strong emotions; some cry. It can feel difficult to go home and rest after such an intense experience, so think through what your needs might be at this time. You may want to tell someone about the birth before you can rest, but then sleep if you can. When the baby comes home (if the birth took place in hospital), you can expect sleepless nights for some time to come.

Bringing them home

You may find that relatives and friends are able to help in the early days so that the baby’s mother can rest and feed the baby. This is especially necessary after a difficult birth. However, you may live far from relatives and your partner may have only you, and it’s good idea to have a week or so off work if you can (find out about paternity leave – if you qualify, you’ll need to apply for paternity leave before the baby is due). Think about the following:

– too many visitors may exhaust the baby’s mum and interfere with this special time when you are learning about being parents and becoming a family

– you could look after the baby so that the baby’s mum can get a good rest each day

– take over the basic housework, but don’t feel you must keep the place spotless

– try to use this time to get to know your baby – learn to change nappiesand bathe your baby as well as cuddling and playing with him or her 

– if your baby is breastfed, you could bring the baby’s mum a snack and a drink while she’s feeding; if she’s bottle feeding, you could sterilise and make up the bottles and share the feeding

– be considerate about sex – it may take weeks or months before the baby’s mum stops feeling sore, so think about discussing other ways of showing your love for each other until sex is comfortable

You can find out more about your partner’s body after the birth, including stitches, soreness and bleeding.

Your partner feeling low

Some mothers become depressed and need a lot of extra support, both practical and emotional. Make sure you know how to spot the symptoms of postnatal depression and where to get help.

You may also get depressed. She is facing the biggest changes but that doesn’t mean that you should ignore your own feelings. You need support too. Keep talking and listening to each other, talk to friends, and be patient. Life will get easier in time.

Becoming a parent, particularly for the first time, is an emotional experience. By reading all the information in this pregnancy guide you can learn about what to do to help the mum-to-be be happier and healthier throughout her pregnancy.

Find out about healthy diet in pregnancy, foods she should avoidantenatal care and what happens in labour. You can also find out about how to offer practical support by taking paternity leave once the baby is born.