As we are currently in the second trimester of our second pregnancy, I’ve found myself increasingly surrounded by other pregnant family members, friends and colleagues. From the first-time fathers, I usually get an immediate request for pregnancy tips and advice on their newfound vocation as a dad. Since I am now considered an expert, I thought I would jot down some of the things I learned. As you read this, it’s important to remember the greatest secret of parenting that you will discover as soon as your child is born: We’re all just making this up as we go along.
1. Don’t read a book.
Pregnancy manuals and parenting textbooks are a major industry these days. Don’t fall into that trap. I know this is all new to you, but those resources will only give you the best practices and experiences of their authors. Your baby is going to be completely unique, and no book has been written that can predict what you’re about to experience. Once you’ve met your baby and you start to have specific questions, these resources will become a little more relatable and your research will have more of a purpose. For now, spend your time on more practical preparations and enjoy the final months before you’re permanently a party of three. If you really want to do some research, peruse the thousands (millions?) of personal Mom and Dad blogs (like this one) to get a sense of what lies in store for you. Unlike a book, you’ll get a variety of perspectives and experiences. Just remember that yours might not be anything like what you’re reading.
2. Take a babymoon or other couple getaway.
Once your bundle of joy arrives, it’s going to be all about the baby. Your every waking moment (and plenty of waking moments that were previously sleeping moments) will be spent in service to your new helpless infant. This is your last chance to take one more trip as a couple or to do the things that are much less practical with a baby — and while you still don’t have to find a babysitter. Go to the movies. Go out to dinner. Treat yourselves to a last-minute vacation. It will be quality time with your spouse that you can sock away in your memory and rely on for strength when you’re sleep-deprived and rocking a baby at 2 a.m. in a few months.
3. Make a plan at work.
Depending on your work’s leave policy for fathers (hopefully they have one!), you may be away from work for an extended period of time. Do your coworkers a favor and start prepping for this now. Putting in some extra time in the office during the pregnancy is a great way to build goodwill among the employees you will be ghosting when the baby arrives. When the joyous event occurs, you won’t want to stop staring at your newborn to answer a work-related email, so make it as easy as possible for your coworkers to leave you alone by having a plan ready to go.
4. Get the right stuff.
It goes without saying that the first few weeks after a baby’s birth can be stressful. You’re entering a new stage of life and learning all the rules. Your baby is entering a whole new world and doesn’t even know that there are any rules. The best way to make this transition as smooth as possible is to make sure that your baby’s new habitat is ready and adaptable to whatever scenario your new little one might bring. This is where research is important. Talk to your parent friends about what worked for them. Get crowd-sourced recommendations from your social networks. If there are baby showers in your future, make sure that you register for things you will actually use. Every baby is unique, but some baby items are universal and essential. Experienced parents can help guide you toward the best brands of those things or at least explain your options. You want to walk into Babies R Us with a plan, instead of simply saying “I’ll take one of each.” That said, keep your receipts so you can take back the stuff that ends up not meeting baby’s needs.
5. Survive the first trimester.
If your wife’s morning sickness is anything like my wife’s was (twice), the first trimester could be one of the most trying times of your marriage. She needs you now more than ever — to hold her head over the toilet, to prepare snacks that she can graze on at various points in the day, to rub her upset stomach and massage her aching back. She mostly needs you for the mental and emotional support required of someone who is living through all the trials and tribulations of human life while also growing another one. Be patient, be thoughtful and be proactive.
6. Thrive in the second trimester.
Did you go on that babymoon yet? Now is the time. Your wife is feeling better, your baby isn’t baby-sized yet and you’re basically back to being a married couple for a few months. Now is also a good time to take care of other odds and ends that your wife won’t feel up to in the third trimester. Shop for baby furniture. Figure out which room will be the nursery and redecorate it. Get out of the house. Live the life that you won’t know that you can’t once the baby arrives. (Did you follow that?)
7. Wait out the third trimester.
There’s a podcast about pregnancy called The Longest Shortest Time, and that title aptly summarizes the third trimester. (Word to the wise: Don’t listen to the podcast unless you are ready to hear mostly fear-inspiring or tear-jerking stories about pregnancy.) By the time you reach the third trimester, you’re probably starting to get impatient for the baby to arrive. If you’re not, your wife definitely is…and that’s probably reason enough for you to want it, too. This is where the nesting hits full force, and suddenly your house is cleaner than you ever thought it could be and your Netflix watchlist is nearly empty. Explore a new film genre, binge on an unknown TV series or find some favorite board games to help pass the time. All you can do is wait. I recommend talking to your wife’s belly and coaxing the baby to hit the due date (or maybe come a few days early).
8. Share your feelings.
Make the pregnancy a shared experience with your wife. You both have feelings…share them with each other. The prospect of fatherhood — like any life-changing milestone — can play with your emotions even when you’re not the one whose hormones are supposed to be out of whack. This is a big moment in the life of your family and it needs to be discussed. Practical questions about childcare and existential questions like “Am I ready to be a Dad?” should not be tabled or ignored. If the lines of communication remain open, the pregnancy can bring you closer together as you tackle fears, hopes, dreams and details as a couple.
9. Be involved.
I often joke that whenever we go to the obstetrician’s office, I turn into the Invisible Man. The nurses all seem to say hello to my wife and ask her questions or give her instructions. People rarely seem to look my way, much less act like I’m at all involved in the pregnancy. Rather than take it personally, I do my best to get involved. I ask questions. I crack jokes. I marvel at the ability to hear my baby’s heartbeat each month. Outside of the doctor’s office, it’s important to keep the same level of involvement. Most of these tips involve doing something and being an active part of the pregnancy. This kid has half of your DNA, so don’t take a back seat to the process, preparations and planning.
Congratulations! You’ve read through 10 items in this post, so I’m pretty sure going to make a great Dad. It’s not always going to be easy — especially the first few months and whenever your baby hits a sleep regression (heard about that yet?) — but you’re embarking on the wildest, most rewarding ride of your life. Be confident in your ability to roll with the punches and take up the mantle of fatherhood with grace. Your baby can’t wait to meet you, Dad!
Any other veteran dads reading this? Leave your own tips in the comments! You can also check out my #40Days40Dads project to find more pearls of wisdom.