New Parents – Especially for Fathers

If you are like most expectant parents, you are both excited and anxious about this big step in the lives of you and your spouse. You can help your wife by understanding the changes she is going through and by being a prepared and supportive as possible.

Becoming a Parent
The spouse can play an important role in his wife’s pregnancy. Your job as a parent begins long before your baby is born. Research has shown that women with supportive husbands have fewer health problems in pregnancy and more positive feelings about their changing bodies.

Physical and Emotional Aspects of Pregnancy
Pregnancy lasts about 40 weeks, which is equal to 9 months. The 9 months of pregnancy are divided into three 3-month periods called trimesters.

The “due date” that you are given by the physician is only an estimate of when the baby will be born. The due date is based on the day the mother’s last menstrual period started. Do not be surprised if this due date changes. Most women receive an ultrasound examination at 18–20 weeks of pregnancy. This exam gives an estimate of the actual age of the fetus. The due date may be changed as a result.

Early Pregnancy: First Trimester
The first 14 weeks of your wife’s pregnancy is called the first trimester. During this time, most women need more rest. Women in early pregnancy also may have symptoms of nausea and vomiting. Although commonly known as “morning sickness,” these symptoms can occur at any time during the day or night.

Early pregnancy can be an emotional time for a woman. Mood swings are common. You may have mixed feelings as well. You may feel left out as she focuses on her changing body and emotions. One way to feel more involved is to go with your partner to her prenatal care visits and when tests are performed. Read books about pregnancy together and talk about what you have read. Listen to your partner and offer support.

Mid-Pregnancy: Second Trimester
For most women, the second trimester of pregnancy (weeks 14–28) is the time they feel the best. As the woman’s body adjusts to being pregnant, she usually begins to feel better physically. Her energy level improves, and morning sickness usually goes away.

As your wife’s abdomen grows, the pregnancy becomes more obvious. Soon you both will be able to feel the baby move and listen to the heartbeat during prenatal care visits.

Late Pregnancy: Third Trimester
In the third trimester of pregnancy (weeks 28–40), your wife may feel some discomfort as the baby grows larger and her body gets ready for the birth. She may have trouble sleeping, walking quickly, and doing routine tasks.

Pregnancy and Sex
Many couples worry whether it is safe to have sexual intercourse during pregnancy. Unless your wife’s health care provider has told her otherwise, you can have sex throughout the entire 9 months. Sex is not harmful because the baby is protected within the uterus and is cushioned by fluid. There may be times when your wife does not feel comfortable enough to have intercourse. You two can experiment to find which positions are easiest for her.

Lifestyle Changes
It is important for your wife to have a healthy lifestyle while she is pregnant. You both can change your daily habits to include a well-balanced diet, plenty of rest, and exercise.

While she is pregnant and breast-feeding, your partner must not smoke or drink alcohol. Not smoking around her also is important because the chemicals in secondhand cigarette smoke can harm your unborn baby. Secondhand smoke is harmful after the baby is born as well. Babies exposed to secondhand smoke have an increased risk of developing asthma and sudden infant death syndrome.

Prenatal Care
Your wife will have regular doctor appointments during her pregnancy. At each visit, her health is checked, as well as that of the growing baby. Most women have monthly prenatal care visits. In the last trimester, visits usually become more frequent.

Some tests are performed at certain times. For example, at weeks 18–20, an ultrasound exam usually is done to check the baby’s development. It also is sometimes possible to find out the baby’s sex. Other tests include the following:

  1. Screening tests for birth defects (between weeks 8 and 20)
  2. Blood test to screen for gestational diabetes (between weeks 24 and 28)
  3. Screening test for group B streptococcus (between weeks 35 and 37). This infection can be passed from mother to baby during birth.

In addition to these tests, others may be given depending on a woman’s risk factors or health history.

Labor and Delivery
As your wife nears weeks 38–40, her labor can start any day. There is plenty you can do to help make the labor and delivery as smooth as possible.

Getting Ready
Learning about labor and delivery, being familiar with the hospital, and installing an infant car seat are good ways to prepare for the birth:

  1. Child birth classes may be helpful. Others may choose to learn a little at each physician appointment. This is a more individualized approach to education.
  2. Take a tour of the hospital. During the tour is a good time to ask about the hospital’s policies on who can be in the room during labor and delivery (even cesarean births), whether you can stay overnight in the room with your wife and baby.
  3. Install an infant car seat. You will need a safety seat for your baby’s first ride home from the hospital. Plan to get a safety seat well before the due date and make sure that it is installed correctly.

What to Expect
When your wife starts labor, your role as labor coach begins. Labor happens in stages. It may last between 10 hours and 20 hours. For some women, it lasts much longer. Your role during this time is to give your partner emotional support and comfort.

If an emergency occurs during labor or delivery, you may be asked to leave the room.

Sometimes babies are born by cesarean delivery—through an incision in the mother’s abdomen and uterus. It is a possibility with all deliveries. A cesarean birth is major surgery. Although some are planned in advance, many happen unexpectedly. If your spouse has a cesarean delivery, she will need more time to recover.

The Postpartum Period
The postpartum period is the first 6 weeks after birth. Your partner’s body will be going through dramatic changes as she recovers from the physical stress of birth and adjusts to caring for a newborn.

At the Hospital
After the baby is born, you can most likely take your new family home after 1–2 days. If your wife had a cesarean birth, however, she and the baby may need to stay in the hospital longer.

When it is time for your spouse and baby to be discharged from the hospital, you will need to have the car seat installed in the car before you will be allowed to drive away.

At Home
Most women will feel tired and sore for a few days to a few weeks after childbirth. Women who have had a cesarean delivery may take longer to heal.

Postpartum depression
The first days and weeks after having a baby is a time of adjustment. It can be trying for both of you. Many new mothers have mild feelings of sadness called postpartum blues or “baby blues.” When these feelings are more extreme or last longer than a week or two, it may be a sign of a more serious condition known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression also can occur several weeks after the birth. Women with a history of depression are at greater risk for this condition.

Breast-feeding
With few exceptions, breast-feeding is the best way to feed the baby. Mother’s milk has the right amount of all the nutrients the baby needs, such as sugar, protein, vitamins, and fat. It also strengthens bonding between mother and baby.

Sexual Intercourse
There is no set “waiting period” before a woman can have sex again after giving birth. Some health care providers recommend waiting 4–6 weeks. The chances of a problem occurring, like bleeding or infection, are small after about 2 weeks following birth. If your wife has had an episiotomy or a tear during birth, the site may be sore for more than a week and she may be told to not have intercourse for a while. You two should discuss when to resume sexual intercourse with your spouse’s physician.

When your partner does feel ready to have sex again, it is a good idea to use a water-based lubricant. Her vagina may be less moist than usual, especially if she is breast-feeding.

Even if a woman is not having a period or is breast-feeding, she can become pregnant.

Copyright © July 2009 The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists