From day one, you'll be there watching as your partner's body performs the miracle of developing and giving life.
Dads sometimes feel like they have been relegated to the sidelines, but taking an interest and playing an active role from the very beginning has a positive impact not only on your future child, but also on your relationship with your partner.
Getting educated on pregnancy and babies
Even the most well-educated gentleman will be a fish out of water when it comes to pregnancy; from understanding what's happening physiologically to deciphering hormones or deciding which must-have baby items are really necessary, it's a whole new world.
Read baby books
We know it seems rather rudimentary, but those baby books on your partner's bedside table are a good place to start. Be realistic - don't over commit, but choose one book and agree to read it, cover to cover.
Remember, every expert has slightly different advice so this won't be definitive, but it will give you a good basic knowledge of what's happening, when, and what to expect next!
Attend antenatal classes
To prepare, it's a good idea to attend antenatal classes run by your local midwife, health visitor, or the National Childbirth Trust (NCT in the UK) with your partner. Antenatal classes set out to prepare you for labour, birth, and early parenthood.
We also suggest that, where possible, you attend prenatal appointments with your partner. Not only will you have a chance to ask any questions you might have, but it's a good chance to support your partner - seeing a scan of your child can be a very emotional experience.
Planning for the inevitable - or the surprise!
Take time to consider a 'birth plan', a short document expressing you and your partner's intentions for the birth itself - including medical options and pain relief preferences. Discussing it together means you will be knowledgeable about options during labour, and you can agree in advance what you will do to be supportive.
Remember that not everything goes to plan and there may be some decisions you need to make quickly, so when you're looking at your ideal birth plan, also consider some alternatives if your baby decides to arrive in a less predictable fashion.
Think about time off
Plan in advance the time you will take off when your baby is born. Look into your rights and find out if your company offers any added benefits, like an extra week off.
Starting in April 2015, you and your partner will be able to discuss whether you will be partaking in any allocation of Shared Parental Leave. While history has seen children staying home with their mums, we've noticed a real shift in who is staying home and the law is finally following suit!
Staying relaxed and connected
It's important for both you and your partner to get lots of rest and stay healthy in the lead up to the birth of your child. There will be sleepless nights, so be prepared - and don't wear yourselves out before you've even started!
Nutrition is key
Eat proper meals and make sure that you're helping out in the kitchen - your partner will be tired in the weeks and months leading up to giving birth. If you don't already pull your weight around the house, now is the time to start.
Find a support network
Having a network of support is one of the key success factors in being a parent. It is vital to have others we can turn to: for conversations on how your child is developing, to help out when childcare arrangements don't work out one day, or just to have a chat about lack of sleep and worries about whether we can really 'have it all'. A network of other parents is a great source of support.
Learning to ask for and accept help may be a new skill you learn as a parent. The people who might be able to help you in your network of support will be wide-ranging and cover different areas; perhaps there is someone who can help around the home in a practical sense, or someone you look up to for parenting advice! Remember the saying "it takes a village to raise a child" - this is sound advice, even today.
The baby is here - what now?
In the first few weeks after the birth, you may feel like a bit of a spare part, but you can be of great emotional support to your partner.
Here are a few ways that you can help out:
- Learn how to change nappies and how to give your baby a bath
- Comfort a crying baby. For example, singing and walking around the room with the baby's head snuggled under your chin may send them off to sleep
- Try holding your baby against your bare chest with their ear over your heart. The skin-to-skin contact will help them get to know your smell, plus the sound of your heartbeat and your breathing action will soothe him/her to sleep
- If your baby is bottle-feeding, whether it is formula or expressed breast milk, you can feed them
- It is also important for you to spend time alone with your child, so encourage your partner to relax and have a break.
Make time for your relationship
With a new baby, it's often easy to focus all your attention on them and forget that you had a life with your partner before you became a father. Try to set aside some time to spend alone with your partner.
In the first couple of months, babies are easy to carry around, so there is no need to become a social recluse; simply strap your baby into a sling, car seat, or pushchair, and off you go. You'll soon find that life as a father is an exciting and enriching adventure.