When dads accompany their partners to prenatal appointments, midwife Alice Carlisle, CNM, Ph.D., tries to impart more information with every visit.
She also encourages men to take the free classes that hospitals offer in order to understand what is happening to a woman’s body during the birth process and how fathers can be supportive.
“During the third trimester, the last 12 weeks of pregnancy, a lot of things are going on, including many hormone changes,” says Carlisle. “A woman can be really happy one minute and crying the next. Men want to know what’s going on, but when they ask their partner, she says, ‘I don’t know!’
“The baby’s movements are also stronger,” adds Carlisle. “A woman can be irritable because she’s not getting enough sleep, as the baby’s movements are waking her up and she’s also getting up to pee. She may complain more because she’s uncomfortable; her joints are starting to relax in preparation for birth, so there is hip and pelvic pain.”
Ah yes, sex. It’s what got you here in the first place, but, as Carlisle points out, men always want to know when they can have it.
“Unless the woman has a medical condition like bleeding, placenta previa or a history of pre-term labor and birth, or unless your health care provider advises you not to, you can have sex throughout the whole pregnancy if the woman is comfortable with it,” she notes.
And so you know, if your wife breastfeeds your child, this may decrease her sex drive. Just realize this is hormonal and won’t last forever.
There’s no other way to put it: Labor and birth are painful and messy. This, however, is also normal and natural. Women’s bodies are designed to give birth.
Most first-time dads don’t realize how long and messy the whole process can be. (Watch a few YouTube videos if you want a reality check.) And don’t take offense if your wife says something mean about you during labor; this too is normal.
Television shows present a false idea of what labor entails and how long it lasts. For a first baby, 12 to 14 hours is the norm (but it can be much longer), and for second and third babies, six to eight hours is the average time in labor.
Doctors and midwives usually encourage the father to be as involved as he would like, such as cutting the umbilical cord. Even if a Cesarean birth is necessary, the dad can still be actively involved.
It seems almost criminal that the hospital lets you leave with a brand-new little person and no owner’s manual. Try to relax. If you know the basics, you’ll be less nervous.
For starters, it’s very important to support your baby’s head and neck when holding him or her those first few months. Keep a good grip; as babies get older and more squirmy, they can flail right out of your arms if you aren’t paying attention.
“Newborns sleep a lot! On average, a newborn may sleep 16 hours per day, two to three hours at a time. The safest way for a newborn to sleep is flat on their back with nothing else in the crib or bassinet. Make sure the face is not covered by a blanket or clothing,” says Erin Clymer, ARNP, CPNP, a pediatric nurse practitioner at Pediatric Associates of Ocala with Dr. Stephanie Harrell.
New babies should eat every two to four hours.
“If they’re not waking up on their own in the first few weeks, it is important for parents to wake them to feed in order to assure proper weight gain, hydration and maintain blood sugar levels,” says Clymer, herself a mother of three. “Diaper changes should be just as frequent. We monitor wet and dirty diapers to assess hydration and assure that a newborn is getting enough to eat, especially in breastfed babies where it is hard to quantify how much volume a baby has taken.”
Amazingly, newborns can often recognize their parents’ voices right away, as they’ve been hearing muffled versions of those voices while in utero. Newborns can only see about eight to 12 inches in front of them, which happens to be the face-to-face distance when you’re holding them.
Mom has done most of the “heavy lifting” to this point, but dads can be involved in many ways once the baby arrives.
Taking time off from work to stay home those first weeks is ideal, if your situation allows. New daddies can change diapers, take a “night shift” and help with feedings (if Mom’s not breastfeeding). Providing extra help around the house is a simple, but huge, way dads can ease the transition of having a newborn at home.
“There’s a learning curve for all of you, including your newborn,” says Clymer. “Be patient with yourself and your family. Take time to enjoy every minute because babies change and grow so quickly.”
For an in-the-trenches perspective, we spoke with three young fathers in Marion County.
Dhruv Patel, 33, and his wife, Alpa, are the parents of 3-year-old Radhika and 2-year-old Ohm and are expecting their third baby in early July.
Brian McElfresh, 31, and his wife, Natalie, are the parents of 2-year-old Lyla Anne and Gunner Charles, who was born on March 8.
Bobby Young, 26, and his wife, Christine, have a 4-year-old daughter, Julissa, and are expecting their second child this fall. (Late in 2014, little Julissa was diagnosed with leukemia and has been undergoing chemotherapy, which is set to end in March 2018. “Thank God, she’s doing well,” says Bobby.)
HL: What was the biggest surprise for you during your wife’s pregnancy?
Dhruv: “She never had any of the crazy food cravings I heard about. I was expecting a lot of mood swings. All my friends told me, ‘Dude, she’s going to go pregosaurus or she-devil on you.’ That never happened. There were a couple times she started crying out of nowhere, and when I asked what was wrong, she said, ‘Leave me alone, I just want to cry.’”
Brian:“I expected the crazy cravings and late-night snacks, but those never came. I was genuinely surprised at how short nine months was; it seems so distant in the beginning of pregnancy.”
Bobby: “You don’t know what to expect and have a lot of different emotions. Just watching how my wife carried our baby throughout the pregnancy took me by surprise.”
HL: Did you take classes/read/talk to other dads to help prepare?
Dhruv: “I think it helped that I was 30 when my first child was born. My wife and I agreed we wanted to be a little older and more mature when we started a family. We didn’t want to be kids having kids. When Alpa was pregnant the first time, I read some blogs online, and I read a book about newborns. I listened to advice from people, but every pregnancy and child are different, so you can’t know exactly what to expect.”
Brian: “Just prior to Lyla’s birth, I remember walking through the hospital and seeing future first-time moms and dads in a training class for newborns. At that point, I was slightly nervous wondering if I should’ve taken classes or read the books people gave me. I was feeling unprepared, but the ingrained ‘daddy instincts’ do kick in.”
Bobby:“We took the class at Munroe Regional that was recommended by our doctor. I learned about delivery there. A lot of dads I knew were also expecting around the same time, so we were encouraging each other.”
HL: How does reality compare with your expectations/hopes/fears?
Dhruv:“Reality was much better than I was prepared for and not as hard. My wife and I were scared the first time. We ‘over-expected’ everything, so we wouldn’t be surprised. Everybody told us we wouldn’t sleep much anymore, so a month before the birth, I started preparing by setting the alarm several times to wake up during the night. But our firstborn never woke herself up during the night; we actually had to wake her up to feed her. After our son was born, I expected to get peed on when I changed his diaper because people told me that would happen, but it never did.”
Brian:“I knew this life-altering, benchmark day was approaching with my first child, but I didn’t have many expectations or fears. Honestly, my hope was just to get home with a healthy wife and baby. I hear friends talk about a baby like an inconvenience, which is never how I felt. They talk about a baby hindering their career goals or free time. I understand that concept. However, it’s impossible to understand the love within a parent-child relationship until you go through it. Priorities immediately changed when Lyla was born, and it was 100 percent better than before, unexplainably good. She and Gunner have brought so much joy and laughter into our home. Natalie and I hardly remember what life was like prior to having children.”
Bobby: “I’m a person who thrives in the moment, so as life took its course, I’ve adjusted to it and kept my mind open. Life-learned lessons go a long way compared to what you’d learn from a book. It’s been great.”
HL: What’s the most surprising part of being a new father?
Dhruv:“My friends tell me I’m a tough guy, but when I held my daughter for the first time, I felt like ice cream melting. I can’t describe the feeling. There are no words. All my preparation didn’t prepare me for that emotion.”
Brian: “Leaving the hospital with another little human. That probably sounds odd, but it was weird.”
Bobby: “That my wife and I have created this being in our likeness who shares different traits we have, and just being able to love, care and ‘do life’ with her.”
HL: What’s the best part of being a dad?
Dhruv:“When my daughter and son call me Papa and run to give me hugs and kisses. That right there is the best part of everyday life.”
Brian:“Daily life. It’s the hugs, smiles, laughter and all of the firsts. The first bite into a lemon, first time crawling, walking, going to the beach, drinking sweet tea, etc.”
Bobby: “I’m a firm believer that childhood is probably the most important part of a human being’s life, because it shapes and molds them into who they are when they grow up, so the best thing is just being part of that. I’m also kind of reliving my childhood; things I might not have done as a child, I get to do now.”
HL: How has your relationship with your wife changed since becoming a father?
Dhruv: “On our days off together, we try to put the kids to bed early and have our own time together. We make that time as good as possible.”
Brian: “Natalie and I have become much closer. We understand our new responsibility and have to give each other breaks sometimes. We talk strategy. It certainly takes a team. I have to admit, Natalie does the brunt of the hard stuff when it comes to middle-of-the-night baby needs. She’s the most selfless person I know.”
Bobby: “We’ve grown more mature and stronger as a couple, but it’s been challenging just because your full attention isn’t on one person; you have to share it now. You still have to give your wife 100 percent, but now you have this little one who needs your attention. It’s an interesting balance you have to find every day. You have to choose where to put your time and energy.”
HL: Any advice you’d pass on to other expectant/new dads out there?
Dhruv: “There are curve balls to everything, but when it comes down to it, just do your best. That’s all you can do.”
Brian: “Don’t miss any moments. You hear all the time that kids grow fast; it’s ridiculously true. Do your best. Everyone gets stressed out. It’s all worth it, and being a perfect parent is impossible. Pray endlessly for patience and self-control. Smile at the tough times. Give your wife a break as much as possible, especially the first couple months after birth.”
Bobby: “Know how you want to be as a husband and father. Really be there, care for and nurture your wife and baby. Don’t allow circumstances to take over. It can be overwhelming at times, so just take it day by day. You have to be conscious of the future, but be there in the now.”
HL: Is there anything funny about fatherhood you want to share?
Dhruv:“Until you’ve been through it, who would know there are different levels of nipple gauges for bottles?”
Brian: “My sister-in-law, Sadi, trained Lyla that the FSU logo is called ‘poop.’”
Bobby:“When Julissa asks for something and you don’t immediately give it to her, she’ll make a sad puppy dog face, complete with puppy whining noises.”