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Finding out you are going to become a father can throw up a whole range of thoughts and emotions. Your role as an expectant father is a crucial one – whether you are in a relationship with the mum-to-be or not, your support can make a difference to how things turn out for both mum and baby. It has been shown, for example, that one of the biggest factors in whether a mum breastfeeds or not is whether the dad is engaged and supportive.
The mother of your child will be invited to choose a setting in which to have the baby, i.e a hospital, a birth centre run by midwives, or a home birth. You can find information on the options in your local area on NHS Choices website. The Mum-to-be will be contacted with details of appointments throughout the pregnancy. If you feel that you would like to attend these appointments, and the mum-to-be is happy for you to come along, then it can help you to feel part of the process to go along. Many of the appointments will be routine tests, but some may be particularly exciting, such as scans where you can see your developing baby and listen to its heartbeat. There may be occasions where the health professional will want to talk to the mother alone, and you will be asked to step out of the room. This is routine, and you shouldn’t worry – it’s not a reflection on you if it happens.
Pregnant women have a right to time off work to attend ante-natal appointments that is not part of any leave arrangements. Fathers and partners also have the right to take unpaid time off work to accompany expectant mothers to up to 2 antenatal appointments. The Government has recently made this change alongside Shared Parental Leave.
The mum-to-be will be encouraged to write a birth plan and choose a birth partner. She can choose anyone she likes, and can take up to two people with her. If you would like to attend the birth of your child, talk to the mum to-be about whether this is what she wants and if you both decide that it is the best thing, then there is plenty of information available so that you can make sure that you are prepared.
NCT have a wealth of information on birth and labour and can help you and the mum-to-be prepare a birth plan. This could cover what your preferences are for pain relief, any special requests and should make the health professionals aware of any particularly strong preferences you have for the labour and delivery of the baby. Things to consider are whether or not you would like to cut the baby’s umbilical cord when it is born – although you don’t have to decide in advance, you can write in the birth plan that you would like to be asked at the time.
Labour for a first baby lasts on average between 10 and 12 hours. It is physically and emotionally demanding and if you are a birth partner can take its toll on you as well as the mum-to-be. The most important thing is to keep calm and trust in the mum-to-be and the health professionals, and make sure that you have all the information you need to feel confident and to support your birth partner – she may go through a wide range of emotions and may even seem to completely change personality in labour. If she is normally very outspoken, she may become quiet and need you to speak up on her behalf and make sure that she is able to communicate her wishes properly to the doctors or midwives.
Make sure you have talked to the mum-to-be before the labour about what she wants and that if she has written a birth plan that you have not been involved in, that you know what is in it. You may be needed to massage the mum-to-be’s back, to physically support her so that she can stay active in Labour, or just to be there to hold her hand.
Pregnancy can involve a lot of mixed emotions for women, and whilst you may not be experiencing the same hormonal changes, your relationship with the mum-to-be may have high points and low points during the 40 weeks of pregnancy, and the period following the birth. Many women experience extreme tiredness, sickness, mood swings and natural fears and anxieties. Some women also suffer with post-natal depression. This all comes at a time where you may yourself be feeling increased pressure and anxieties about fatherhood, and can put a strain on your relationship, whether you are together or not.
Try to remember that the mum-to-be is experiencing physical changes that may influence her emotions, and be supportive of her needs. She may be feeling especially vulnerable, or be experiencing anger or confusion as her body and hormones change. Consider your own needs as well, and talk to someone if things are making you confused or anxious. You can always call or email Family Lives, or you can seek support from other dads who have been through what you have, for example on our internet forums.
The rollercoaster of emotions that many expectant dads experience can include feeling really excited about your child’s birth, to feeling anxious about whether you will be a good parent, whether you will make the same mistakes as your parents may have made, or whether you could possibly be as good a parent as your mum or dad was to you.
There are ante-natal classes that may be available through the NHS for you to attend to talk about your feelings about becoming a dad, or there is a wealth of information on parenting available online, including our free Parentchannel videos. There may even be a course in your local area - ask your GP, or the mum-to-be’s health professionals, or pop in to your local Children's Centre for more information. Parenting courses are becoming more and more popular and, as well as boosting your confidence, can also be a great way of meeting other local dads.
Remember that nobody is a “perfect parent”. The most important thing your child needs from you is your love and attention.
There is so much to plan when you are pregnant such as names for your child, what baby equipment you will need, paternity leave and work issues, etc. These issues can be quite stressful and the planning may feel overwhelming at times, as there seem to be endless choices and decisions. Your baby needs very little other than love and care and a few basics, but there are endless products targeted at mums and dads to be and the pressure to buy expensive gadgets can be intense. Seek advice from other parents who have been in your position, and if you don’t have family and friends you can ask then internet forums can be a great place to go to get handy tips on how to prepare for your baby without spending a fortune or wasting money.