No doubt about it—pregnancy is a confusing issue for a man. If you've already made it through the first eight months, then you know what I'm talking about. But the first eight months don't really prepare you for the final month of your partner's pregnancy.
Here are a few ideas from dads who have, with their partner, successfully navigated that treacherous last month.
Appreciate Being in the Home Stretch
You have made it through the first greuling months of pregnancy. You have lived through cravings, mood swings, morning sickness, maternity clothes, readjusted sex patterns and more. And for you, it's fun to recognize that the process of pregnancy is almost over. For your pregnant partner, however, it is not such a simple matter.
Understand How Your Partner Feels
I talked with my wife and my daughter and tried to identify exactly how they felt during the last month of pregnancy.
- Huge. At this stage, the baby doesn't just keep growing, it also changes position. Your partner feels like her belly is going to pop. The skin is stretched tight; her maternity clothes won't fit as well; and she'll get discouraged looking in the mirror.
- Tired. Her body is working overtime at this stage. The baby is growing larger and consuming more of her energy. She will just be drained most of the time.
- Moving is an effort. The size and position of the baby will make every movement of her body a challenge. Getting up out of a chair, getting into bed, even walking from the bed to a chair can be a challenge.
- Moody. Sometimes she'll be so excited, she can't stand it, and she'll want to be close to you. Other times she'll be so miserable that she can't even handle being touched. Because she is tired, she'll often be a little snappy and impatient.
- Bathroom runs. The baby tends to push on her bladder more at this stage of pregnancy, so she'll need to go to the bathroom a lot — even more than just a week or so ago. So you'll need to plan ahead, especially if you are out of the house with her.
- Anxious. The reality of the impending birth is setting in for her (as well as for you) and she will tend to feel a little anxiety at that realization. She may want to clean a lot (known as the “nesting instinct”) to get the house ready for the new baby. She may be nervous about finances, about relatives, or about being a mom.
What To Do About All of This
Given all these feelings, a man can sure make some mistakes if he isn't sensitive. Here are some thoughts about responding to the mass of feelings your partner is experiencing.
- Follow her lead. Sometimes she'll want to talk and cuddle. Sometimes she won't want you anywhere around. Sometimes she'll just want her mom, or another woman to be with her. Your best bet is to follow her lead. Don't try to impose your attitude on her. And don't feel hurt or rejected if she doesn't want much to do with you at any given time. Listening a lot and responding to her needs will pay big dividends throughout the process.
- Don't try to fix it. There is very little you can do to make her feel better. The only thing that will give her relief is having the baby (they don't call it “delivery” for nothing). So just listen without trying to be Mr. Fix It.
- For physical contact, keep it gentle. She will appreciate little things like a foot rub, a gentle rubbing of her calves, a soft hug. But don't try to pour on the affection. The only real exception to gentle physical contact may be a good lower back rub to work the knots out. But again, follow her lead and listen to her along the way.
Labor and More
During the last month, your partner will begin to have contractions. The women in my life tell me that there is no way to explain what a contraction feels like to a man. Generally, these contractions of her uterus fall into one of four categories.
Braxton Hicks. These contractions are natural preparation for labor—kind of getting the uterine muscles ready for the big event. The tend to surprise your partner but they are generally more alarming than they are painful, and they are irregularly spaced, both of which differentiate them from other contractions.
Pre-Labor. During the last few weeks of pregnancy, these Braxton Hicks contractions will start to become a little more intense, and there will be times when they will be regular, a few at a time. This is the beginning of the process of softening the cervix in preparation for real labor.
False Labor. If these contractions start becoming painful in the lower abdomen, are irregular over time and eventually stop, then your partner is experiencing false labor.
True Labor. When the contractions are regular, rhythmic and painful or very uncomfortable, your partner is probably in real labor. At this stage, you should start timing the contractions. You will want to record how far they are from the start of one to the start of the next, and how long they last. Your doctor will tell you when he wants you to head to the hospital; he may say something like when the contractions last at least a minute and are ten minutes apart.
Some Practical Ideas.
For the last month of pregnancy, there are lots of things you ought to be doing as the expectant dad. Here are a few good and easy practical ideas.
Keep life simple. Lower your standards a little bit on meals, household chores, and other distractions. It is a full-time endeavor to be in the last month. Prepare meals early in the day for warming up later. You might want to discover the utility of a crock pot.
Go with her to the doctor. It's a good idea for you to stay informed about your partner's progress. Usually during the last month, she'll be visiting the obstetrician weekly, so plan your day so you can go along. It's also a great way to get your important medical questions answered.
Get your labor and delivery kit ready. Packing the bags you'll need at the hospital is a good assignment for an expectant dad. Your labor and delivery kit should include:
- The car seat to bring the baby home
- Your partner's overnight bag including her nightgown, toiletry supplies (toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, deodorant, etc.), a change of clothes, a nursing bra, and other items she needs.
- Some light snacks for her. Small cans of fruit juice, crackers, raisins, can be a welcome respite from what the hospital provides.
- Other goodies for you. Think energy bars, fruit, sandwiches.
- Music. Many moms like a CD player with some favorite soothing music for the labor process and for after the baby is born.
- Camera. Maybe not right during labor and delivery, but you'll be glad to have it with you right after the birth for a first family picture.
- Money. When our first baby was born, we were kind of in a hurry and besides, we were poor. I didn't bring money to eat, or even to get out of the parking lot at the hospital (I had to drive over the grass and the sidewalk to get around the parking arm in the parking lot because I didn't have any change).
- List of phone numbers. There are lots of people you'll want to call from the hospital. So bring your phone list.
- Comfort Items. Bring along massage items (my wife loves two tennis balls in a sock to roll along her lower back). Hot and cold packs can really help with her pain.
Plan the hospital route
Hollywood tends to glamorize or demonize the trip to the hospital. But if you have your route planned ahead, you can drive safely and sanely to the hospital when the time arrives.
The last month of pregnancy can be a very rewarding time, and a time when you and your partner share a very special and memorable time. Taking a little time to prepare and to listen to your partner will help it be a great experience.