The First Trimester - Dawn of the DadPregnancies, like most overwhelming, stressful but eventually worthwhile projects, are broken down into more manageable chunks called ‘trimesters’.
The first of these three blocks of time covers conception to the 12th week of the pregnancy. For your partner this first trimester is a time of adjustment – emotionally at least – as she gets used to the idea of having a life inside her. (There’s very little visible indication that a baby’s on the way at this stage.) For you, as the dad-to-be, expectant father, papa-in-waiting, etc, it’s a bit of a ‘Phoney War’. Nothing really happens… but you know there’s a hell of a storm on the way.
That’s not to say dads don’t have a part to play in the first trimester though. Fatherhood is already underway. That little boy or girl – or both – has started to take shape. They may not have your eyes, hair colour or paunch as yet but from just eight weeks they have bones, fingers, toes and ears. By 12 weeks the foetus is fully formed – but still only around three inches (80mm) in length.
It’s also the time to work on your empathy skills. Morning sickness can strike from early on in the pregnancy – and not necessarily just in the morning. The risk of miscarriage is at its highest during this time – so reassurance, support and ridding the home of a few bad habits such as smoking will be timely. Sex could be a temporary victim of this phoney war too as anxiety about the baby can override desire. Because this first trimester is such an uncertain time – up to 25% of pregnancies end in miscarriage during the first 12 weeks – you may want to avoid telling friends and family your exciting news until at least the first antenatal scan (12 weeks) or into the second trimester.
Instead keep yourselves positive and focused on the big change that’s happening with a little private planning. The pair of you can start thinking of names for your baby if it’s going to be a boy or a girl. Picking a few favourites out of a hat is one way. Other names may have a more sentimental link – eg; are there any rich relatives who might re-write their will if their name were thrown into the mix?
Also draw up a list of what you think you’ll need; cot, pram, Lottery win. Work out who you’re going to tell first and how; face-to-face or via Facebook? If you still want to make yourself useful at this stage begin looking into your workplace policy when it comes to paternity leave. A confidential chat with your HR department can help ease any thoughts that you’re not really pulling your weight at the moment, whilst also confirming how paltry the allowance is for new dads taking leave to look after the new baby and mum.
Second Trimester - Bump and GrindWeeks 13-27 of the pregnancy often get dubbed the ‘honeymoon period’. Sadly that’s not because you get to spend a boozy lustful week in Lanzarote wondering what to do with the second toaster you got among the wedding gifts.
This second trimester is a time when the risks to the baby reduce and there’s relatively little likelihood of your partner going into labour – though it’s certainly not a walk in the park for her. She’ll start undergoing a series of blood tests, scans and health checks from now right up to the birth and possibly beyond. Some of these can trigger a whole new world of worry – including tests to detect any serious birth conditions.
For expectant dads it’s a case of maintaining that supportive role and also starting to bond with your baby too. Yep, you read that right. During this stage the embryo develops key senses. It can hear voices and even recognise from outside the womb. Start talking to your partner’s belly and also get ready for a first glimpse of your baby – via the blurry but often blub-inducing 20-week scan. This is when reality of fatherhood begins to hit home. Many dads describe that first viewing of the little life growing inside their partner as an amazing experience – ideally one not to miss as it can’t be Sky-Plussed.
Dads-to-be can also begin the bonding process by taking on baby projects – decorating the nursery, investigating ‘gear’ such as travel systems and baby/child car seats, keeping blogs or just ensuring that any photos taken during pregnancy and the first few weeks of parenthood are printed and kept in a baby album.
In the latter stages of the trimester the ‘birth plan’ should be taking shape. Your partner and you should discuss – and ideally agree – on where your baby will be born, how (natural birth, in bed or in water, with or without drugs etc) and whatever extras will make the process easier for her especially.
Deciding how you’re going to bring baby home, who you’re going to call first with the good news and what the birthing soundtrack playlist will be are useful ways of wiling away the twilight hours, especially if you’re not having sex at the moment. On the work front, both you and your partner need to alert your firms as to how much statutory time you’re planning on taking off. You both have an entitlement to maternity/paternity or shared leave by law – subject to how long you’ve been working for the company – but need to inform the boss in advance. See https://www.gov.uk/paternity-pay-leave for your new baby’s T&Cs
The Third Trimester - All Systems Go!Entering the squeaky bum time of the pregnancy from week 28 onwards and the focus for you both should be on getting all you can in place before you’re both too knackered to do anything beyond basic functions.
You may know the sex of your baby by this point – which is handy for deciding the nursery paint colour if nothing else. Your partner will have a list of things she can’t do at this point including flying (some airlines will require a doctor’s certificate confirming she’s safe to fly) and certain forms of exercise – although swimming can be quite a relief for expectant mums.
It’s likely her libido may drop, but you can maintain a bit of intimacy and help with the additional weight she’s carrying by mastering your back-rub technique. In the final weeks before the birth, your baby will have eased up on the somersaults it’s been performing in your partner’s womb and begin taking up a position to become ‘engaged’ (dropped down into her pelvis area) ready for birth.
By around the 36tth week it’ll weigh about 5 and a half pounds (2.5kg) - gaining weight at a rate of around 15g a day. It’ll also be quite sensitive to light and noise from outside the womb. This growth and movement will manifest itself in your partner using phrases like ‘fed up’ and ‘want to get it over with’ a whole lot more.
Antenatal classes are offered to parents at this stage of the pregnancy by your local health authority including a session for ‘birthing partners’ (that’s you!). You can also book privately run classes specifically for dads (see Daddynatal.co.uk).
When these classes are run well, expectant dads can get useful tips on their role during the birth and immediately afterwards. (When they’re not run well you can be made to feel like a spare part.)
Either way it’s a useful time to swot up on the birth process, go over your partner’s plan, familiarise yourself with some of the processes and drugs on offer when labour kicks off. You may be given a chance to visit the hospital labour ward as part of the antenatal session – do take up the offer if only to find out the quickest route to the hospital and how much parking your car there will set you back. Spend the final weeks rehearsing your role, checking the overnight bag your partner may need is packed and panicking every time her name appears on your ‘incoming calls’.
Rob Kemp is the author of The Expectant Dad’s Survival Guide and The New Dad’s Survival Guide (Vermillion Books). He regularly writes on the subject of fatherhood for The Telegraph and his work on this topic has appeared in The Guardian, The Independent, Men’s Health and Mother&Baby. He’s the former editor-at-large for FQ (Father’s Quarterly) magazine and his new book on positive male role models, The Good Guys, publishes in Sept 2018.