How Can You Be A Supportive Dad During Pregnancy And Labor?

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supportive dad during pregnancy

(reading time ~20 minutes)

This post will discuss "How Can You Be A Supportive Dad During Pregnancy And Labor?" As with most posts on The Pregnant Father: The First Steps of Fatherhood, though they are written with dad in mind, mom will probably find the reading just as helpful.  

Being pregnant isn't easy. But there are many ways dads can step up and be fully supportive partners to moms. 

When Trying To Conceive 

The work begins when a couple hopes to conceive. Here dad can encourage mom to follow known medical advice. Alcohol use during pregnancy can cause congenital disabilities and behavioral and learning problems. So Mom needs to cut out all alcohol when she may conceive. 

The same goes for smoking which can cause birth defects and premature births during pregnancy. And mom may want to decrease her caffeine consumption as well.

Dads can encourage these efforts and show solidarity by quitting drinking and smoking or at least reducing alcohol intake and stopping smoking around mom. Secondhand smoke has been proven to cause birth defects and low birth weight. 

The First Trimester 

Though mom doesn't look pregnant yet, her body is quietly working overtime, undergoing significant physical and hormonal changes. Hormones can change mom's emotional and physical energy as well as her need for sleep.

Making Sure She Gets Rest 

Mom may be nauseous, exhausted, dizzy, and vomit frequently. You can help by pampering her as much as possible. Let her sleep in and nap on weekends. Make sure she gets enough rest by helping with more household chores. And let her know there's no shame if she needs to vomit in front of you.

Also, encourage her to do relaxation exercises and mindfulness meditations and join in with her. Many of these can be found online for free. 

Baby And Mother Development 

By the sixth or seventh week, the heart develops, and by week nine, the baby's hands, face, and feet are forming. That's moving along at a pretty quick clip. The rush of hormones coursing through the mom's body can create moodiness, nervousness, anxiety, and frustration. 

You may find mom getting upset or anxious about relatively inconsequential things and that's okay. Sometimes it'll just be the hormones talking. 

Being Nonjudgmental Of Mood Swings 

Being nonjudgmental of mood swings is just part of the territory. You can make things easier and more harmonious by listening to mom when she vents and being understanding. Ask if she wants you to problem-solve with her or just to listen. 

Cut her some slack. Remember that mood swings happen, and they will pass too.

When Mood Swings Become A Problem 

But if she's feeling sad or hopeless on more days than not and this continues for a couple of weeks, she may suffer from perinatal depression, and you should encourage her to see a doctor. Other depressive symptoms include sleeping, eating too much or too little, having no energy, and withdrawing from loved ones. For more, read this article. 

Morning Sickness

Morning sickness, which is just a name and can occur at any time of the day or night, is pregnant women's most common health complaint. Its main symptoms are nausea and vomiting. Certain favorite foods may now make her gag, and she may crave foods she never has before.

You can help by preparing meals since cooking smells can worsen her nausea. You can encourage her to snack on crackers, dry toast, or biscuits since hunger can intensify her symptoms. You can also encourage her to drink as many healthy fluids as possible or suck on ice cubes. 

Where To Give Birth? 

In the first trimester, you may want to explore where to give birth, whether a hospital, birthing center, or in-home delivery, and which healthcare providers make the most sense for you. 

Dads, become knowledgeable about your options and contribute your opinions to the discussion.

Helping Mom With A Good Diet 

Nourishing meal for pregnant mom

You can also help improve your partner's diet and nutrition. Eat healthy foods, which allow her to eat well too. Most pregnant women don't eat enough fruits, vegetables, dairy, and seafood and consume too many sugars, saturated fats, and sodium. 

Very often, moms also need to be eating more whole grains and less refined grains. 

Health professionals recommend up to 12 ounces a week of a variety of low mercury seafood, which have been associated with improved cognitive function in young children. Dark green vegetables, peas, beans, and lentils are all recommended during pregnancy. Try as far as possible to boost your meals with these foods. 

Most OB/GYN doctors recommend taking a daily prenatal vitamin and mineral supplement along with a healthy diet. This helps ensure the pregnant mother gets enough folic acid, iodine, vitamin D, and iron.

Exercising Together 

You can also help improve your partner's health by taking long walks together, swimming, or doing yoga as per her doctor's recommendations. Walks are especially beneficial for giving you time to talk together. All three of these exercises are safe. 

Educate Yourself About Pregnancy

Understanding what your wife is going through and how the baby develops is a huge step. These things should be as important to you as your partner.

So check out the Internet, watch videos, read books with detailed illustrations, listen to audiobooks, and study blogs. Be sure to attend as many prenatal visits with your partner as possible. 

Check out "A Partner's Guide To Pregnancy" from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, which steers you and your partner towards healthier habits during pregnancy. 

You may also want to download the WhatToExpect.com Pregnancy and Baby App, which gives you weekly and daily updates on your baby's fetal development. 

For instance, did you know that by the fourth or fifth week of conception, the egg forms into three layers – the breathing and digestive system, the brain and nervous systems, and the heart and blood vessels! And between the seventh and twelfth weeks, you can hear the heart beating on an ultrasound.

Sex During Pregnancy

supportive dad sex during pregnancy

Sex during pregnancy is entirely safe for your baby unless your provider advises otherwise. Your cervix and amniotic sac protect and keep your baby safe.

For many women, there is decreased desire for sex during the first and third trimesters and sometimes a spike in the second trimester, where there may be increased interest in sex. For many women, sex is more intense during pregnancy, so encourage your wife to speak up if she wishes to take things slowly. 

Especially as the third trimester approaches, certain positions may become uncomfortable for your partner. Have patience and be gentle as you experiment. If your wife isn't into sex as much, try to be understanding, don't take it personally, and don't make her feel bad.

It is very common for pregnancy and the few months after your baby is born to dampen your partner's sexual interest. In some couples, contrasting desires ignite conflict and shame. Moms judge dads for their sexual urges; dads feel rejected and shame moms for their decreased libido. The pattern is an intimacy killer. 

Instead, invite your partner to talk about his or her sexual feelings and listen empathically. Try to understand your differing desires and the frustrations they may generate.

Some women feel self-conscious about how their body is changing. So look for other ways to express intimacy, such as cuddling, holding hands, kissing, and massages.

Emotional Support For Your Partner 

Wouldn't it be somewhat strange for your pregnant wife not to be stressed, not to have emotional concerns? 

Think about it. Your partner's body is changing in ways she may not fully understand. The pregnancy may be challenging. She may be concerned about the upcoming birth and how her baby is developing and even questioning her ability to be a good mother. 

For more on supporting mom's emotional state, see Supporting Mom's Emotional Health During Pregnancy - Part 1 of 2 and Supporting Mom's Emotional Health During Pregnancy - Part 2 of 2

Listen closely to her concerns and encourage her to talk about whatever's bothering her. Be a shoulder to cry on and offer her your support and reassurances. Keep in mind the larger picture. Pregnancy is a big deal. Show her your affection or shower her with it. 

Let her see by your actions that you are supportive and there for her.

Taking The Initiative 

man deep cleaning house

Offer help without being asked. And then let her know to ask if there's anything else she needs. Make sure she has time each day to relax, whether taking a bath, reading a book, listening to music, or journaling.

Be sure she's getting plenty of needed sleep for her growing baby. And be sure that you're getting relaxation time and sleep every day as well. 

Be An All-In Partner. Help With Planning And Decision Making.

A lot of preparation and forethought goes into having a baby. Help decide upon a name for your baby. Plan and set up the nursery (you may need to do all the lifting here), and research and buy the best caretaking items and equipment for your baby. 

Perhaps you can take some pressure off Mom by becoming the research expert in baby gear and products. Discuss whether the baby will be breastfed, formula-fed, or a combination of the two, and then support mom's final decision.

Discuss your income situation. Will both parents work, or will one parent care for your child at home? Will you be looking into daycare? No conversational topic should be off the table.

Look Into Your Baby's Future 

Discuss what you want for your baby down the line. Talk about the challenges you will face in the upcoming weeks and months and what makes you a strong couple. How will becoming parents make you even closer and stronger? 

When parents support one another, they strengthen their bond and sense of being a team. And what you say or do does make one another feel better.

The Power Of Taking Initiative

There's no greater power to teamwork than taking action without being asked. It shows that you're attentive and you care. That's one of the reasons you've been educating yourself about pregnancy, so you understand what your partner is going through and can take proactive steps.

For example, pregnancy can significantly affect a mom's energy. She no longer has as many productive hours during the day.

So she may fall asleep as soon as she gets home from work. You can help by stepping up and taking on some extra chores so your partner can feel better about getting much-needed sleep without the house falling apart. 

The Power Of Open Communication 

the power of open communication

Pregnancy can be a challenging time emotionally. It triggers all kinds of emotions and can unleash feelings of fear and self-doubt.

You want to build goodwill and trust so that your partner will voice their feelings with an open mind and feel that nothing is off-limits, even or especially the stuff that's hard to talk about.

The bottom line is that nothing is off the table for discussion. Otherwise, you'll go round and round without dealing with major concerns that are at the forefront of your mind. Speak up if you're feeling upset before feelings build up and spill over. 

It's important to talk about your fears, excitement, and anxieties-- whatever it is-- until you both feel fully heard and accepted. 

For instance, dad may have his own parenting doubts, conflicting emotions about the pregnancy, financial concerns, or concerns about the mom's and the baby's health. Perhaps he feels left out of the pregnancy or that the baby is more important to mom than he is. Talk about it. 

Talk Out Your Differences In A Supportive Way 

In opening everything up for discussion, differing ideas about parenting may become apparent, which can cause tension. But the essential factor is that both people are heard.

Try to understand and accept differences of opinions and see if you can find a consensus. Remember, no one style of parenting fits all, and having parents with different approaches is healthy for a child. Very often, a middle ground can be found, and sometimes it doesn't have to be. Both of you may be fine just the way that you are. 

If you find particular topics disturbing, call a time out and try exercising, deep breathing techniques, yoga, muscle relaxation, or taking a walk to ease tension. If you find yourself angry, violent or speaking belittlingly or intimidatingly, take a break and consider talking to a friend or seeing a doctor or counselor. 

Helping Your Partner With Depression And Anxiety

A certain degree of depression and anxiety usually comes with pregnancy, but if you feel these conditions are getting in the way of mom or dad's ability to function, encourage your partner to talk with their doctor about treatment options.

For much more, see Mom's Depression And Anxiety During Pregnancy And After Birth

Your partner is more at risk for depression or anxiety problems if their health is poor; if it's been a difficult pregnancy, if there are relationship problems or if they've had these conditions before.

Dad's Emotional, Physical, And Financial Support Strengthen The Well Being of Your Partner And Your Expectant Child

It has been shown that a dad's emotional support, participation, and financial support are all linked to lower stress levels and greater satisfaction in mothers. And a mom's happiness directly impacts the baby's health.

A baby is exposed to everything the mom experiences, including what she eats and her emotional state. High stress and anxiety increase a mother's level of certain hormones, which affect her baby's developing brain and body. 

Perceived stress in mothers leads to adverse pregnancy outcomes that threaten both mother's and baby's mental and physical health. Better partner support leads to more easy-going and less stressed-out moms. This helps infants develop better too. 

Research shows that women with supportive partners have fewer complications in pregnancy and a better outlook on their bodies and emotions. As an example, a partner's participation in prenatal appointments strongly correlates to decreased stress levels among moms. 

And mothers with involved partners report higher levels of satisfaction with their overall pregnancy at three months. They are also more likely to breastfeed for longer. 

Conversely, a study that was published in the Journal of Women's Health found that mothers with poor partner support had high levels of depression and anxiety and were more likely to smoke. Another Scandinavian study found increased mood disorders among moms with less supportive fathers. 

less supportive dad for mom

Practice Self Care 

We've been talking about giving an awful lot to your partner. And while that's commendable, all this giving can become taxing and tiresome. So it's essential to practice self-care on your pregnancy journey. 

This includes the basics: eating right, exercising, and getting enough sleep.

But it also means feeling able to share any of your thoughts with your partner, as you would have her feel free to do with you. For instance, maybe you are experiencing financial stress, changes in your work/life balance, or concerns about your upcoming fatherhood. Talk it through. 

Taking good care of yourself also means finding time to do something that helps rejuvenate you, such as visiting a friend, going for a workout, playing a sport, or spending time on a hobby. Also, do your best to carve some time out each day to relax. 

This might be playing a game, meditating, listening to music, trying a guided meditation online, reading or writing, or anything you enjoy and find relaxing.

The Second Trimester 

  • In the second trimester, things often level out a bit for mom. Her nausea may be reduced or disappeared, her hormones tamer, her mood more settled, and her energy and appetite picked up. 
  • This is when she'll start eating more to compensate for the work of growing a baby, yet her body has not become too uncomfortable yet. 
  • Studies have shown that even with both spouses working, women still do more of the housework. Of course, this is not the case in your home, but if it is, it's time to reevaluate the division of labor. 
  • The second trimester may also be a great opportunity to get away on a "babymoon," one of your last chances to be alone together. Or maybe you'll want to spend a weekend just lounging around in bed. 
  • If you have other children, this could be a golden opportunity to shower them with attention, perhaps by going on a special trip. 
  • By this time, you'll have wanted to make healthy lifestyle habits routine. Cook healthy meals, go on long walks together and build in enough relaxation and sleep time. 
  • Remember that women with healthy pregnancy weights need about 340-450 additional calories daily from nutrient-dense foods during the second and third trimesters. 
  • You'll especially want to attend prenatal care visits with mom this trimester. The all-important ultrasound exam is at 18 to 20 weeks to check the baby's development. At this visit, you'll see your baby's hands, feet, arms, and legs on the sonogram. You may be able to tell the sex of your child. 
  • Take part in deciding what prenatal birth defects tests mom should have. 
  • Mom will probably have at least ten doctor appointments during the pregnancy. Remember that you are legally entitled to take time off from work to attend at least two prenatal appointments. 
  • Mom will naturally have the final say about what type of birth it will be, where it will take place, and what kind of pain relief will be used if any. Contribute your opinions, but as far as possible, support her birthing options. 
  • Study up and give your input about breastfeeding versus formula--breastmilk is best if you can do it-- but mom will have the final say about this as well. Support her decision. 
  • Discuss what your role will be in feeding, changing, and bathing your child. Even if breastfeeding, mom can pump milk so you can participate in feeding the baby. 
  • This may be the time when you paint and deep clean the baby's room before decorating and setting up the crib. Take care as you do, perhaps by wearing a respirator and keeping mom away from dangerous household products such as strong cleansers, paint products, and insecticides that can harm your baby. 
  • Also, don't let mom empty the cat litter box to avoid the possibility of toxoplasmosis, a parasitic infection transmitted through cat poop. 
  • This may also be when you discuss your role in labor and delivery. How hands-on will you be? Find out how involved your partner wants you to be. Will you be her labor and delivery coach, or would you prefer to hire a doula for physical and emotional support during and after pregnancy? A doula is a professional labor assistant who supports a mom during labor, childbirth, and the postpartum period. 
  • Help devise a birth plan with your partner, which is an intention of how you want labor and delivery to proceed. But remember that the best of plans often change and that your birth plan may be revised as your delivery proceeds. No one can tell exactly how things will go. 
  • Be sure mom understands you will be her staunch advocate in the delivery room. You will be her voice in ensuring her intentions are followed and a sounding board if the plan has to change. 
  • The second trimester may also be when getting sleep becomes more difficult for mom. This may happen around week 20 or so or whenever mom finds it difficult to change positions during sleep. A good investment to consider is a full-length pregnancy pillow, which relieves pressure on the spine while improving the alignment of the hip, shoulders, and back. Many pregnant women swear it's the only way they can get a good night's rest. 
  • This second trimester may also be a time of high anxiety for mom. Besides the upcoming 20-week ultrasound, there's the nursery, the upcoming baby shower, the prenatal classes, and a growing to-do list to consider. Here's where the emotional support skills you've been cultivating will pay off. Reassure her by what you say and do that everything will be okay. Then, roll up your sleeves and help out. 
  • You probably want to sing, talk and read to your baby once they can hear your voice from the womb, which begins around 24 weeks in. Not only will it expose your little one to words, which aids in linguistic development, but the baby will also be better able to recognize your voice after delivery. 
  • The second trimester is a good time to start planning finances, wills, and life insurance. Also, check out your employee benefits. You may be entitled to paternity leave. If so, how long does it last? And what are your company's policies about time off for prenatal visits? 

The Third Trimester 

unconfortable third trimester for mom

During the third trimester, things may start to get physically uncomfortable for mom again.

This is when her bump will become much larger. She may wake up intermittently during the night, use the bathroom frequently and find sex uncomfortable. Sleeping can become much more difficult as finding a good position is sometimes impossible.

Third Trimester Development 

By the conclusion of the third trimester, the fetus is approximately 20 inches long and weighs six to nine pounds. This weight can take its toll. Babies weight can pressure mom's spine, intestines, back muscles, bladder, and major blood vessels.

Common Women's Complaints 

Mom may experience decreased circulation, backaches, sciatica nerve pain, round ligament pain, foot swelling, leg cramps, heartburn, and non-labor Braxton Hicks contractions. The fetus radiates body heat, and there is increased urinary frequency due to greater bladder pressure and leg cramps.

Prenatal Visits 

Dad, be sure to go to prenatal visits if you haven't already. As the big day draws near, there will be many questions about labor and delivery.

Lines Of Communication

As a regular practice, keep the lines of communication open with your partner. Feel free to talk about anything. For instance, maybe you feel it's important to let your partner know you want to go to all doctor visits now.

Birthing Classes

Some couples prefer going to birthing classes at the beginning of the third trimester rather than during the second, so the material is fresher in mind but still early enough should there be a premature delivery.

Be sure to learn the caretaking basics like changing a diaper, bathing, holding, and comforting an infant. This builds up your confidence level as a parent. Also, make a few friends in classes to share experiences, feelings, and tips with. Tour the facility where the baby will be born.

Click here for more on the Benefits Of Prenatal Birthing Classes

Massage Classes 

This would also be a good time for dad and mom to take an infant massage class. Massage is a perfect way to soothe a baby, and it's a great bonding experience for you, your partner, and your little one. You can also find infant massage videos online.

Support Groups 

Dad may want to find a new father's support group online or in the community. This is a great way to share feelings and ideas with like-minded people.

Get Your Partner Off Her Feet 

Picking up anything heavy and giving your partner lots of time off her feet will be a great help to her. You'll also want to take on even more housework to help keep mom off her feet. 

Chances are mom will naturally start "nesting." You can help her by cleaning out the house with her or taking the job on primarily by yourself. 

Pregnancy Massage Techniques 

This time would also be a great opportunity to learn a few pregnancy massage techniques, which can be used now and during labor and delivery. Again you can take these lessons live or watch free online videos. 

Foot rubs, lower back rubs, shoulder rubs, and full-body massages will all be greatly appreciated. Massaging her legs can help relieve the effects of restless leg syndrome so she can sleep.

Maternity Pillow 

Do whatever you can to help mom's comfort level, such as bringing her pillows or a foot rest. Try to anticipate her needs. If you haven't already gotten one, this may be time to invest in a full-body maternity pillow to help her sleep more comfortably.

Exercising 

Continue exercising together, so mom stays encouraged to keep fit.

Tell Her She's Beautiful

Mom may feel out of sorts and concerned about her weight and stretch marks. Tell her she looks great, and make sure she knows how much you love her.

Practice Active Listening 

Your partner is likely to have some fears about birth and postpartum. Taking the time to listen and respond to her needs will help convey your love and concern.

Relaxation Time 

soaking in tub third trimester

Be sure your partner gets some time to relax every day. She may enjoy a soak in the tub every night if she's suffering from aches and pains. It may help her to sleep. While she's soaking, take some relaxation time for yourself as well.

If you have other children, give your partner a break by entertaining them or taking them for a day trip. Shower them with attention now before the big adjustment of a new family member.

Infant Car Seat

Make sure to install the infant car seat way early in case of a surprise delivery. Most infant car seats are actually installed incorrectly, so follow the instructions carefully. 

Hospital Bags 

Be sure to thoroughly pack your hospital bags about five weeks early and take a test run to the hospital or birthing facility to be safe. Be sure to have your doctors' numbers programmed into your phone.

The Birth Plan And Registration

Include a copy of your partner's labor and delivery intentions, called a birth plan, her insurance ID, and hospital paperwork in a folder in the bags. The best thing is to preregister with the hospital, so there is less to do on the big day.

Pamper Thy Partner 

Encourage mom to take a trip to the salon or spa. Her life is probably pretty uncomfortable about now, and she could use some pampering.

Sing To Baby 

Keep talking or singing to your baby. This is an opportunity to bond before birth.

Going Into Labor 

Hopefully, you've already discussed your role as labor and delivery coach at length. You and your partner are probably in agreement; and will want you to be very involved.

The Labor Coach 

You can help your partner by identifying what's happening with her body. Remember that Braxton Hicks contractions will come and go and may subside when your partner changes positions. They may last 30 seconds or up to 2 minutes. 

But true labor contractions have a definite pattern and grow stronger, longer, and closer together over time. During early labor, contractions are mild to moderate and spaced out around 20 minutes, though not necessarily consistently. This can last for hours or days.

But once contractions get more intense and last about 40 or 60 seconds, mom's likely entering active labor. This is the time to call her provider, who will probably tell you to come to the hospital or birthing facility. 

Your foremost priority is to keep your partner calm, so keep a cool head yourself. So far, everything is going according to plan, and you've already made a practice run to the hospital. So all is well.

Distractions And Interventions 

labor coach with mom in labor

During labor, provide distractions. Bring along her favorite DVD series, turn on music, and give her head or back massages if she lets you. You may also want to do some muscle relaxation exercises or mindfulness practices. 

Remind her to breathe slowly and help her to get more comfortable. Break out some games to keep her mind off things or take a stroll down the hall if she's into it. All these interventions help improve her tolerance to labor pain.

Don't Take It Personally 

It is a given that she may be pretty exhausted, frustrated, and easily annoyed. She may even snap at you. Humor her with goodwill and patience. If it doesn't get on her nerves, praise her efforts and sympathize with her. She's earned it.

Be Her Go-To Person

If her feet are cold get her socks. If she is cold – a blanket. If she asks for some ice chips, get them. Cool her down with a damp washcloth if she gets hot. Whatever she needs. 

Take Pictures and Videos. It'll be nice to start capturing the story here and now.

Be An Advocate For Her 

When you get to the room, give the medical personnel a copy of mom's birth plan so they can include it in her chart.

Just remember to be flexible about the birth plan. Mom may be planning on no pain meds or epidural, but this may change 14 hours into labor. Part of your job is to advise and support her choices along the way. 

You may need to speak on your partner's behalf during labor, so be ready to be assertive. Insist on speaking to the doctor or midwives if you or your partner feels uneasy with what's happening. Be firm but respectful in finding out why an intervention is being taken if the plan suddenly changes.

Give Her Your All When It Comes Time To Push 

What do you say to someone in labor? You can give encouragement and reassurances. Sometimes it's just giving her updates on how things are progressing, such as if the baby's head is crowning.

Sometimes it's saying nothing at all, just breathing through the contractions with her, mopping her forehead, and squeezing her hand. And always keep in mind that your birthing plan is not set in stone, and there may be better options ahead.

Following Delivery 

After birth, part of your job is to be a gatekeeper. Mom may want a lot of one-on-one skin bonding time alone with the baby, and when she's good and ready to take a break, it's your turn.

Hopefully, you have texted and let everyone know when you have planned "visiting hours" to be. Don't be afraid to remind your loved ones to come back later or entertain them in the waiting room.

Look for a future article detailing what to do with your little one in the first few weeks after going home.

I hope this post was helpful, and I look forward to your comments.

About the author 

Dan Sperling

I'm the proud father of two great children. They are grown up now, and although I would have preferred to be a stay-at-home dad, I had to work. Luckily, I could work out of my home so I was around a lot. I ran a video production company, had a couple of great guys working with me and it allowed me to be around the children a lot. I was the "fun guy" for my kids and fathering was something I just took to.
When my daughter became pregnant, I was glad to see my son-in-law was doing everything right--or as good as it gets--we're always winging it, right? It got me thinking that so many dads would like to be more emotionally involved and knowledgeable when it comes to their wives' pregnancy and the first year of their children's lives.

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