A short while ago I was asked if I would like to pose some questions to none other than Dr Penelope Law, a consultant in obstetrics and gynaecology based at the famed Portland Hospital in London. While the questions were primarily aimed at expectant dads, I think expectant mums might also find it very useful.
For those interested, Dr Law recently published a book for expectant parents called Expecting a Baby? It’s part of the One Born Every range and covers pregnancy, birth and baby’s first six weeks.
I will be publishing a further set of Q&A expertly answered by Dr Law in the month or so. For now, however, I give you Dadbloguk’s print off and keep guide to pregnancy and birth for expectant dads, Volume 1.
Why can symptoms differ so much from one pregnancy to another?
As humans are unique so is each pregnancy. Symptoms will vary according to how well/fit/old/stressed women are at the beginning of pregnancy and during the three trimesters.
Early bleeding is common and in most cases does not signify a miscarriage, sickness in pregnancy is also common. It does not preferentially happen in the morning and for some women can continue throughout their pregnancy.
Headaches are actually more common at this time. This is thought to be due to the increased levels of eostrogen .
Emotional lability (change) can also vary from pregnancy to pregnancy. Often partners bear the brunt of this, but it will pass!
What changes can I expect in my partner while pregnant (tiredness, diet changes, changes to libido sickness etc)?
There will be a whole host of changes happening. Just as you have adjusted to one, more will occur .
Initially your partner may feel incredibly tired. We think this is to do with the adjustments being made in her blood sugar levels, and having got over that, she may experience sickness and breast tenderness. This may make her less keen for sex at this stage .
During the second trimester though women are relieved that the pregnancy is continuing, less tired and actually feeling well and excited about the baby and you.This may change during the last few weeks before the baby is born though. This is because of difficulties in sleeping due to the large bump and getting comfortable. Mum may also be woken by needing to pass urine more frequently as the pregnancy presses on her bladder, and may just feel generally less mobile and uncomfortable .
In terms of diet, you partner may no longer want to eat the same things that she did before she was pregnant. She may suddenly take a dislike to her previous favourite food, but this usually returns once the baby is born. Many women go off caffeine and foods which have a distinctive smell. If your partner is feeling nauseous the most helpful thing you can do is not to cook in the kitchen, maybe eat out or order in as the cooking odours undoubtedly make the nausea worse.
How should dad behave in the delivery room and what can he expect in there?
I am not sure there is a right or wrong way to behave; apart from nipping out for refreshment and cigarette breaks every few minutes which will never be forgotten !
This is your day too, but you will be relied on to try and keep calm and encouraging, even when progress may be going slowly! Some men find the site of their partners in pain very distressing. Labour is painful, but your partner does not need to be in pain for longer than about 40 minutess once she has chosen the right analgesia for her.
Cold flannels on the forehead are popular, as is soothing/ favourite music. That said, be prepared for her suddenly to hate it and want it turned off!
Also this process, especially if it is your first baby, can take over 24 hours if you include the early part of labour which usually occurs at home. You will both be tired, not so good if you go to sleep in the recliner while she labours on.
The only thing that has been reliably shown to shorten human labour is one person with the delivering woman all the way through. Yhis is your job. You don’t need to know all the medical details, just be with her and remember; today she probably is right!
Just a word about what to expect; firstly not much room! Potentially a monitor with a fetal heartbeat. Some dads find it reassuring, some worry when the heart rate changes even for a few seconds.
There will also be blood, mucus, and potentially urine and faeces from both mother and baby. I think a less alarming first delivery for dad is best achieved by keeping close to your partner’s head end of the bed. For some the excitement is too much and they cannot help but look as the baby emerges. This is not for everyone and nor does it need to be .
Some Dads are also concerned at the appearance of the baby initially. The baby may have a pointy shaped head – even with a bulge on the top if there has been a ventouse delivery , or some red marks around the cheekbone with a forceps delivery. All of these will go in a few days, and the blueish colour of the hands and feet takes only about 24 hours to change to pink . This is all due to the change over from maternal to neonatal circulation.
Many babies need a little help in achieving their first few good breaths. This is because they are a little shocked in the huge change to the environment. It does not mean there is a problem.
You may be surprised at how emotional you find this whole process. So are we, even after we have delivered hundreds of babies it is still amazing .
I’ve never been through this before. What’s the difference between a nurse, midwife, consultant, registrar and who am I likely to meet during the pregnancy and birth?
You are likely at some stage to meet all of these if you and your partner are planning a hospital birth.
Nurses are skilled in looking after people when they are ill, but do not necessarily have the specialist knowledge of normal or complicated pregnancy. You may meet them on the post-natal wards or in the operating theatre or in the recovery bay. For pregnancy related concerns you will see a midwife.
Some midwives are also trained as nurses which is particularly helpful when things do not always take the normal route.They are the best people for uncomplicated pregnancies and for recognising when your partner may be unwell. The registrar is a qualified doctor who has chosen to continue his/her training in the specialist field of obstetrics and gynaecology and as such has been working as a qualified doctor for at over four years. They will oversee your partner’s delivery with a more experienced obstetrician; the consultant.
If your partner is delivering in a hospital, the consultant will do a ‘round’ of all the women on the labour ward at least four times a day. You may not see them each time if your partner’s labour is straightforward but for decisions like converting to a caesarean section the consultant will be involved.In some hospitals a consultant will be present overnight, in others they will be contactable by phone and the registrar will contact them if a situation arises that need a consultant decision.
At all times you should ask questions of any of the team if plans are not as you would wish or not clear. They are all there to ensure that all of you have a safe labour and that you are fully informed throughout the delivery.
What should dad do following the birth to help mum?
Probably just be yourself; but the best yourself you can be. Confidence with small babies takes time to arrive and particularly in the early days of establishing breast feeding.
Your partner will, in most cases, be unbelievably tired. Any practical help with daily living activities is really welcome.
If you are staying in the hospital with your partner, picking your baby up out of the cot when they cry, or going to fetch a midwife if required is such a bonus for mums recovering from delivery. Reassurance mum she is doing the right thing when changing /feeding/winding the baby is helpful and reminding her to take regular analgesia so she can move about without pain also will help her recover more quickly.
There is much talk about presents after delivery. The Americans like to call them ‘push’ presents, a term which seems slightly crass. This is an entirely individual and personal decision, but mum will appreciate a good few hours sleep as much as anything.
If at all possible (probably only achievable until the point you return to work after your paternity leave) you should try to get up for one of the night feed/changes, even if it is only to bring the baby to your partner and then put them to sleep afterwards.
Patience with emotional outbursts may be required in the first few weeks, these are due to hormonal levels returning to their pre- pregnancy state. As is sleep deprivation, but it will get better!
Like this blog post? You might like my recent contribution to the Portland Hospital blog; what should first time father expect in the delivery room?
Photo published under Creative Commons agreement.