Your wife's belly is burgeoning, baby furniture has maxed out your credit cards, and you have not had sex in weeks. Somehow, pregnancy is not exactly what you or your wife had envisioned. Your once loving, carefree wife has become cranky and constantly nauseous. Welcome to the world of expectant fatherhood.
Any type of adjustment is stressful, and preparing for a baby is an enormous change in one's lifestyle, mindset, and physical environment. If you find yourself wondering how you or your spouse will make it through the next 9 months, you are not alone.
The First Trimester: Hormones, Exhaustion, and Morning Sickness ^
Your wife may feel fine during the first few months of pregnancy, or she may be exhausted and need a couple of naps a day. Her hormones are hard at work, shaping the new life she carries within her. Sad movies, baby clothes, or even a minor disagreement may propel her into a crying spell. Remember that hormonal shifts are temporary and eventually your wife's moods and emotions will return to normal.
Morning sickness, or queasiness, affects only some women and most find that this annoying symptom disappears in 2-3 months. Unfortunately, morning sickness is a poor name for this symptom of pregnancy since many women are sick all day and night. Food odors or other smells may trigger nausea, as may eating certain foods. Some men find that the sight or sound of their spouse getting sick is enough to send them running to the bathroom as well.
Here's What You Can Do
For Your Wife
- Help her find safe foods. Ask her healthcare provider for recommendations. In general, avoid foods that upset the stomach, such as those that are fried or spicy.Some women find that crackers, ginger ale, or lemonade help. Some women may find that an empty stomach causes extreme nausea. Suggest eating frequent, smaller meals. It is important to stay hydrated. Make sure she drinks plenty of water throughout the day
- Give your wife support. Do some research. There is a lot of information about morning sickness and how to conquer the symptoms. Ask a nutritionist or healthcare provider to help guide you through this time.
- Stay active. Stick to your weekly physical fitness routine and activities. Find a friend who enjoys the same sports or hobbies and get out of the house.
- Talk to a trusted friend, particularly one who is also a new dad. Or maybe even your own dad. You will be surprised that your apprehension and fear are extremely common.
The Second Trimester: Sex? What's That? ^
Your partner's body will begin to change dramatically during this period. She may gain weight quickly and the baby will suddenly make its presence known. During this trimester, you will hear your baby's heart rate and get a glimpse of your child via ultrasound.
Some expectant fathers note that their partner's sexual appetite changes during the second trimester. Each woman responds differently to the changes taking place inside her. Some women are easily aroused and want sex more frequently; others may simply be too tired or worried that sex will harm the baby. Every couple experiences this trimester differently—there are no right or wrong approaches to your sex life.
Try to talk openly about the changes that are taking place. A woman may fear that her body is no longer sexy, which may dampen her sex drive. Be honest with your spouse about the changes that are occurring and communicate your needs to her as well. Learn to compromise now. It will be great practice for the upcoming challenge of parenting.
Here's What You Can Do
For Your Wife
- Help with chores or housework to reduce stress in her environment.
- Encourage your spouse. Give her positive feedback, even when she looks horrible and is too sick to change out of her pajamas. Tell her how excited you are about being a dad and that you know she will be a terrific mom.
- Join a support group for fathers. There are many types of support groups for new fathers. You do not have to talk—just hearing other dads share similar problems is a great relief.
- Write down your expectations of being a father, of what type of parent you want to be, and discuss your thoughts with your wife. It helps to talk about parenting styles and discipline techniques before situations arise.
The Third Trimester: Preparing for Labor and Delivery ^
The final weeks of your wife's pregnancy may seem eternal, and you may begin to wonder if the baby will ever arrive. At this point, your spouse's complaints may range from an aching back or major heartburn to restless, sleepless nights. The final weeks of pregnancy are an emotional time. Last minute nursery preparations, increasing discomfort, and carrying the weight of a full-grown baby begin to take their toll.
A childbirth class can help at this point. Talk to your wife's healthcare provider about your options. There are many types of classes available, depending upon the class content and the instructor(s). A class offers an excellent opportunity to interact with other new parents. Ask as many questions as possible. The instructor may be a registered nurse or certified labor assistant and will be equipped to answer all types of questions. Do not be embarrassed by your questions. The teacher has usually assisted at multiple births and has witnessed a variety of situations. You may have the option to view a recording of a live birth. Although these videos are educational, they do tend to be explicit in nature.
Last Minute Concerns ^
Common pre-delivery concerns include worry about the baby's health as well as the increased financial responsibilities that accompany parenting. These are normal concerns that every mother and father think about throughout the pregnancy. Talk with your partner about your concerns and financial resources.
Fear of Birth ^
Your wife may begin to express a great deal of fear about giving birth, including fear of the pain. Reassuring her may not seem to help. Show her that you care by offering your support and reassurance. Ask her what you can do to help before and throughout the birthing process.
Here's What You Can Do
For Your Wife
- Prepare a birth plan with your spouse. This is an outline of how you want the childbirth experience to progress. Think of a birth plan as more of a wish list that may or may not come true, since neither of you can control the events during childbirth.
- Help your wife pack her hospital bag. Include support items for both of you. Bring snacks, money, magazines, distraction material (music, a favorite hobby or a deck of cards). Many fathers wish they had remembered basic things such as cameras, chewing gum, breath mints, and a change of clothes. Do not forget to bring clothes for the baby.
- Be prepared. Pay close attention in the childbirth classes and be an active participant. Read as much as you can about labor and delivery.
- Realize your limitations. It is important to understand that no amount of preparation, reading, or support can prepare you for the enormous responsibility associated with childbirth and parenting. Know your limits and keep in mind that it may be difficult to see your wife experience the pain of labor and delivery. Be supportive and do the best you can.
International Childbirth Education Association
Healthy Canadians—Government of Canada
Women's Health Matters
A father's guide to pregnancy. American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists website. Available at: http://www.acog.org/~/media/For%20Patients/faq032.pdf?dmc=1&ts=20130912T1012263686. Updated April 2013. Accessed July 9, 2015.
Lacroix R, Eason E, Melzack R. Nausea and vomiting during pregnancy: A prospective study of its frequency, intensity, and patterns of change. Am J Obstet Gynecol. 2000;182(4):931-937.
Nausea and vomiting in pregnancy. EBSCO DynaMed website. Available at: http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed. Updated May 11, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.
Pregnancy, birth, and beyond for dads and partners. NHS website. Available at: http://www.nhs.uk/conditions/pregnancy-and-baby/pages/dad-to-be-pregnant-partner.aspx. Updated April 2, 2015. Accessed July 9, 2015.
12/9/2013 DynaMed's Systematic Literature Surveillance http://www.ebscohost.com/dynamed: Hodnett ED, Gates S, Hofmeyr GJ, Sakala C.. Continuous support for women during childbirth. Cochrane Database Syst Rev. 2013;7:CD003766.
Last reviewed June 2015 by Michael Woods, MD Last Updated: 7/9/2015