What Dad Should Know About the First Trimester

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Congratulations! You’re going to be a dad. You may not think there’s much to do in the first trimester—that’s the time when your partner is zero to 13 weeks pregnant. Luckily, there are ways you can support the pregnant person in your life, while also preparing for your own journey to parenthood. Read on for some things you should know about the first trimester.

But my partner doesn’t even look pregnant yet! That may be true, but there are a lot of changes happening in a pregnant person’s body in the first trimester. After fertilization happens, a rapid series of events unfolds in a viable pregnancy, and most of them center on hormones. Hormones are messengers that the body releases that send signals to let other parts of the body know how to act. Hormones stimulate so much physical change that by the time a woman is just eight weeks pregnant, she may already be having aches and pains.

One of the first hormones of pregnancy is human chorionic gonadotropin, the hormone detected by most pregnancy tests and one that may contribute to morning sickness. Some pregnant folks aren’t sick at all, but for some, morning sickness can last all day. In severe cases, nausea and vomiting can progress beyond morning sickness to hyperemesis gravidarum, a potentially life threatening complication of pregnancy. If your partner is experiencing any type of nausea, do what you can to help them be comfortable. Bring them hydrating drinks and cook bland food. Try to minimize smells in your home and keep everything as clean as possible—including yourself. There’s little that’s worse than smelling someone else’s morning breath or body odor when you’re sick and pregnant.

Progesterone and relaxin are other hormones that kick in during the first trimester. These hormones relax your smooth muscle and your connective tissue to make room for baby. Relaxing smooth muscles can also disrupt digestion, so even if your partner isn’t feeling nauseated, she might be experiencing other digestive upset or increased urge to pee even though baby is still tiny. Another thing that hormones can throw off is sleep. Encourage your partner to take care of themselves by staying hydrated, resting as much as possible, and exercising in ways that will keep their body healthy without being too taxing, even if they don’t have tummy troubles or insomnia. Growing a baby is hard work!

Changes in hormones can also make for big mood swings. Maybe your partner is weepy one moment and irritable the next. These emotional shifts are all within the realm of normal, but they’re often unpleasant, both for the pregnant person and the people closest to her. Plus, there is so much to consider as a pregnant person: choice of care provider, how to eat, and questions around her work, just to name a few. Do your best not to take mood swings personally, and if it seems helpful, reassure pregnant folks that nothing lasts forever. It also never hurts to do sweet things for your partner—whether she’s pregnant or not. This The Pulse blog post has some great ideas for soon-to-be dads.

There are plenty other things you can do in the first trimester to get ready for the rest of pregnancy and eventually a baby. Logistical and planning items to think through include when to share the news with family and friends, what baby gear you need, who will take care of the baby if both you and your partner work, birth plans, and baby names. Check out this blog post from The Pulse for more in depth considerations for approaching fatherhood, this one for thoughts on when to contact a medical professional during the first trimester, and just for fun, here is a list of things you should never say to your pregnant partner.

While this final topic is not fun to think about, you should be aware that the risk for miscarriage—that is, the loss of the pregnancy—is highest in the first trimester. While it may not happen to your family, miscarriage is surprisingly common. If it does occur, support your partner however she needs and expect that her grief might take many forms. Different people process miscarriage differently, and the best thing to do is to make sure that your partner knows that you are there to listen, say the right things, and help her in whatever way is best for her.

Abby Olena
Dr. Abby Olena has a PhD in Biological Sciences from Vanderbilt University. She lives with her husband and children in North Carolina, where she writes about science and parenting, produces a conversational podcast, and teaches prenatal yoga.

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