Few mums-to-be believe their partner really understands what pregnancy is like. And the fact is, most men don't. We talk about it. We show interest. We'll even read up about it. But our experience of having a baby is fairly removed from the real thing until we're face-to-face with nappy changing and sleep deprivation.
No dad can possibly relate to the minute-by-minute, close-to-the-heart reality of carrying a baby to term. But we can participate. We can be there to listen to the first heartbeat. We can cut back on the beer or wine, we can pore over the baby-naming books together, and more. Here are 10 ways you can get involved.
Face your fear
If you didn't feel anxious at some point during your partner's pregnancy, you wouldn't be normal. After all, how do you know you'll make a good dad? Will your baby be born with 10 fingers and 10 toes? Will labour go smoothly? Will you love your baby? Worries like these are perfectly natural. The best solution is to talk to your partner, your dad, or friends who are old hands at parenting. You can also find other dads-to-be in the same boat as you in our community.
You can't be pregnant, but you can be an active observer. Here's how:
- Let your partner know you're enjoying seeing her pregnant body. Take pictures to record how her bump grows.
- Give her a back massage when she's tired.
- Feel the baby kick.
- Keep track of your baby's development - you'll probably be amazed. Sign up for our weekly newsletters and download our app so you know just what's happening, and what needs doing.
Try to make it to some of your partner's many antenatal appointments. You have a legal right to take unpaid time off work to accompany her at up to two of them. And don't miss the chance to get a glimpse of your baby during an ultrasound.
If your partner has an amniocentesis or other procedure to test for genetic conditions, make sure you're there. And, of course, attend antenatal classes, and work through the breathing and relaxation exercises together.
Get healthier, too
Your partner is probably trying to improve her diet, give up alcohol, and drink more fluids. You can support her by sharing these lifestyle changes too. Eliminate bad-for-baby foods that may tempt her. Cut down or cut out alcohol yourself.
Treat yourselves to some healthy pastimes. Go for a swim together or enjoy regular walks in the park. If you can afford to, book yourselves in to a spa that offers treatments for pregnant women.
Love her changing body
As your partner's pregnancy progresses, it's understandable that she may start to feel unattractive. If you happen to agree she's not looking her best, whatever you do, don't let on!
However you feel about your partner's changing body, you'll probably find that sex takes a back seat during pregnancy. What with hormone changes, back pain and morning sickness, your love life may be a bit less exciting for a while. Read our feature on sex during pregnancy so you know what's safe, and what to expect.
Your partner may be pretty demanding. Go with it. She's doing most of the hard work. The least you can do is organise the grocery shopping, buy her flowers and fulfil her late-night requests for cheese-and-jam sandwiches.
Memorise the route to the hospital
This may seem obvious, but unless you're working away when your partner's waters break, you'll be the one making that drive to the hospital. With your other half in the throes of labour, you may not be in a fit state to navigate your way there. Do a dry run, so you can be confident you know the route.
Check that there's always enough petrol in the car. And make sure, too, that your partner can contact you no matter where you are when she has to make that “drop everything” call.
Be a partner in labour
Find out what your partner wants you to do when she's in labour. Does she want you to:
- rub her back?
- help her change positions?
- soothe her and massage her?
- feed her ice cubes and offer her drinks?
- help her make decisions about pain relief?.
- If you're up for it, ask your midwife if you can cut the umbilical cord.
Shop, talk, and make lots of decisions
By the time your baby arrives, you and your partner will have:
- bought baby clothes
- bought a Moses basket or cot
- bought and installed a car seat (hospitals won't let you drive your baby home without one)
- settled on boy and girl options for your child's name
- decided whether to breastfeed or bottle-feed
- chosen to use either cloth or disposable nappies.
- And there you were, thinking you had nothing to do...
Prepare to be unprepared
The nine months of pregnancy rush by so fast, believe it or not, that the experience can be overwhelming. Enjoy it, savour it, and don't worry if you don't have everything ready by the time baby shows up. You have his whole life ahead of you.
Strange as it may sound, some men start to feel pregnant while their partner's expecting; they even display similar symptoms. The phenomenon is called Couvade Syndrome or "sympathetic pregnancy".
You may not go to those lengths, but trying to empathise when your partner's feeling moody or uncomfortable will help you feel involved in the pregnancy. Plus you'll be storing up plenty of brownie points, too.