Feature Archive

An Expectant Dad's Guide to Pregnancy

You got her pregnant, but are you ready for the nine month roller coaster? Consider this your expectant father's survival guide.

By Martin F. Downs
WebMD Feature

Reviewed by Brunilda Nazario, MD

From now until you snip the cord, a lot may happen that no one will have prepared you for ahead of time. There's no way to anticipate every possible scenario, but you need not be completely in the dark. It's also good to have an idea of ways you can be helpful to the mom-to-be.

The thing about men and pregnancy is that there's only so much you can do -- the expectant mother really does all the work. She also gets all the attention. We all know she deserves it -- and then some -- but it's a common source of tension for couples during pregnancy, says Leonard Boulanger, a clinical social worker and fatherhood specialist for the Visiting Nurse Association and Hospice of Vermont and New Hampshire. "In the whole process, the father feels that he is being ignored," Boulanger tells WebMD.

Getting involved early and "at every level," Boulanger says, not only makes things easier for the mother, but it also keeps you from feeling left out.

Preparing the Nest

When people talk about the changes that happen in pregnancy, they tend to say a lot about changes in the mother's body and her moods. Less tends to be said about changes in your home, which may interest you just as much as your pregnant partner's swelling bosom.

Assuming that you have been living together for at least a little while, you've settled into a domestic routine. "Expect that things she used to do are no longer easy for her to do; and even if she's willing, she won't be able to do as much," Paul Woods, MD, a family doctor (and father of four) in Hibbing, Minn., tells WebMD. "You'll willingly need to step up to the plate and do more things around the house than ever before."

Now that you're soon to be a family, your home also will contain a lot more stuff. In come the crib, changing table, nursing rocker, bassinet, swing, stroller, and car seat, plus all the baby toys and gadgets that you never knew existed, but which you now must have. If you plan to set up a nursery, get ready to decorate. Crib sheets and bumper patterns will become important topics you must be prepared to discuss at great length. Pregnant women are cautioned to avoid paint fumes, so of course all the painting they want done falls to you.

You may not be able to match the mom-to-be's level of enthusiasm, but your participation counts. "Just smile and repaint for the third time," Woods advises.

Things will be different in the bedroom, too. The bed you share may seem less cozy as she becomes more uncomfortable and sleeps fitfully, making frequent trips to the bathroom in the night. You can help by accommodating her graciously -- for example, by making room for her gigantic body pillow. You may even lose your bedmate for a while, because some pregnant women prefer to sleep in a reclining chair. Sex during pregnancy is a whole other matter on which plenty has been written.

Remember also that all smoking inside your home has to stop right away. Secondhand smoke is very bad for the baby.

Prenatal Visits and the Expectant Father

A generation or two ago, it was unusual for an expectant father to be present during labor, let alone hang out with his pregnant wife in the exam room when she saw her doctor. Now dads are encouraged to go to prenatal care appointments.

Assuming that all goes well, there will be about 15 routine prenatal visits scheduled with varying frequency: once a month until 28 weeks, three or four times up to week 36, and once a week for the last month.

If you can make time to join your partner at all or most appointments, she will likely appreciate it, and you'll benefit from knowing what's going on. Two visits in particular are especially worthwhile: the first appointment, and the prenatal ultrasound exam. "As a physician, I want the dad there for the first appointment to talk about what will happen, and to determine parents' preferences," Woods says.

During the exam, the doctor should give both of you some general advice on having a healthy pregnancy and address any specific medical issues. You can help by paying close attention and asking thoughtful questions. The exam typically involves simple things like collecting urine and blood samples from the mother, taking her blood pressure, measuring around her middle, and weighing her.