For the first few weeks after you learn that your partner is expecting, it may seem hard to believe that you're actually going to become a parent! While you anxiously anticipate baby's arrival, your baby is undergoing miraculous changes at astonishing speed.
Although your partner has the awesome responsibility of supporting the baby's growth and development over the next nine months, there are plenty of important ways you can participate, too. One of the most important is to understand what is happening both with your partner's body and the baby's growth and development. Understanding these changes will allow you to anticipate and participate in important decisions along the way.
The 1st Trimester 0-14 weeks
Pregnancy is divided into three periods of equal time called "trimesters." During the first trimester, make it a point to pamper your partner. Encourage her to take naps, eat well and practice a healthy lifestyle. Many women are troubled by nausea and/or vomiting in the first trimester. Help her avoid morning sickness by encouraging her to eat small, frequent meals. Be aware of things such as noises or smells (cologne for example) that trigger her nausea. Don't worry if she can't eat very much, the pregnancy is well protected and very unlikely to be harmed at this stage by not eating enough. Don't make her feel bad or guilty if she can't eat. One of the worst things you can do is to try to force your partner to eat when she is nauseated.
Your partner's doctor or midwife will be glad to have you attend her visits, especially if you have questions. While busy schedules may prevent you from attending many visits, you may want to make a special effort to come at 10-14 weeks when they should be able to first hear the heartbeat and at the time of any scheduled ultrasounds. Later visits may be briefer and less exciting, but you will always be welcome.
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The 2nd Trimester 14-28 Weeks
The second trimester is a good time to enroll in childbirth classes and choose a pediatric care provider (pediatrician or family physician) for your baby. If you are both working and have insurance benefits, you may also want to decide under which policy the baby will be covered. One of the first and most important decisions facing the two of you in the second trimester will be deciding whether or not to have screening for birth defects or genetic disease. While birth defects may be identified in as many as 3 percent of all newborns, many are minor and have no effect on a baby's long-term health and well being. Some birth defects, however, may be of greater consequence: heart conditions for example. Genetic diseases include conditions like Downs syndrome in which the baby's cells and organs have an extra chromosome. Chromosomes are clusters of DNA our body's blueprints found in every single cell in our body. Normally, we have 46 chromosomes, 23 from our father's sperm, 23 from our mother's egg. Rarely, too many or too few chromosomes are found in a pregnancy. Having a pregnancy with an abnormal number of chromosomes becomes more common as women get older. This, for example, is the reason why women older than 35 are usually offered an amniocentesis a test in which a needle is inserted through the mother's abdomen to remove some fluid from around the baby and allow doctors to count the number of chromosomes.
Unlike amniocentesis screening tests are not designed to tell you for certain if a birth defect or genetic disease is present, but rather to help you decide if the risk of such a problem is higher or lower than the risk estimated from your age and medical history alone. Screening tests include ultrasound, which may see differences in your baby that make those caring for you concerned about pregnancy problems, and analyses of a mother's blood to look for subtle chemical differences from carrying a pregnancy with a birth defect or genetic abnormality. A "positive" screening test, however, does not mean that there is a problem with the baby. It is important to remember this. A positive screening test just means that you and your partner need to consider other tests such as amniocentesis or specialized ultrasound to help determine if a possible problem is in fact present. Many pregnancies in which a blood test or initial ultrasound raise concern, will prove to be uncomplicated after later testing.
There are lots of factors to consider in deciding to proceed with tests like ultrasound or blood marker screening (often known as AFP or triple or quad test). Some couples want to know of problems in advance so they can prepare themselves and their families. Others will want to consider whether pregnancy termination seems best to them if a pregnancy is found to have a severe birth defect. On the other hand, some couples, based on experiences, beliefs and religious values, will choose not to have these screening tests because they know that pregnancy termination is not an option for them, and that they would continue a pregnancy, no matter what the abnormality found. There is no "right" answer, just answers that work best for different individuals. All these decisions are likely to be among the most difficult you and your partner have ever faced together. Your doctor or midwife will be glad to guide you as the two of you talk and reach your decision.
The second trimester may also be a good time to talk to your partner about her changing sexuality. Some women feel more sensual during pregnancy, while others find that their sexual desire diminishes. Sex during pregnancy is normal and healthy for most people, as long as it's enjoyable for both of you and your obstetrical care provider hasn't cautioned you against it. In fact there are only a few rare conditions or complications of pregnancy in which having sex is a problem.
If sex is uncomfortable for your partner, experiment with different lovemaking positions, or place greater emphasis on kissing, hugging or touching rather than intercourse. Most of all, be supportive and understanding of your partner's changing needs.
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The 3rd Trimester 28-40 Weeks
The third trimester is the time for preparation. The third trimester is a good time to enroll in childbirth classes and choose a pediatric care provider (pediatrician or family physician) for your baby. If you are both working and have insurance benefits, you may also want to decide under which policy the baby will be covered.
As your partner passes 36 weeks (four weeks from the expected due date), make sure you have your obstetrical care provider's phone number by the telephone and know the right time to call. Find the best route to the hospital or birthing center and learn the procedures for admittance. If you travel, your partner should know how to contact you at all times.
This is also a good time to review the "coaching" responsibilities you learned in childbirth classes. You will be putting these skills into action very soon!
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Does your back ache? Are you experiencing nausea, fatigue, weight gain or unusual cravings? If you are, you're not alone. Studies show that many expectant fathers experience symptoms similar to those associated with pregnancy.
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Pregnancy is a time of enormous physical and emotional change for both you and your partner. In fact, most people find it very stressful. It's important to remember that you are responsible for your own behavior regardless of the circumstances and it is never acceptable to physically, verbally or sexually harm or threaten your partner. Doing so could threaten not only your partner, but the pregnancy and the health of your child. If you feel you might harm your partner, get help immediately. Concerns about these issues should be treated as an emergency. Call your doctor, a friend, or contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline at 1-800-799-7233, which can direct you to resources available in your area. Other sources of information are 1-800-363-2283, the Family Violence Prevention Fund and Men Stopping Violence .