It should come as no surprise to hear that some things about birth and newborns are going to leave you totally shocked no matter how prepared you are.
I know that I was surprised about certain aspects of my birth, the difficulties of processing it emotionally, and ways we could have prepared our home better.
But today, I want to share a different perspective on these life changing events.
I sat down with my husband during our latest date night and had him share some of the most surprising aspects of birth and life with a newborn for him.
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It was interesting to hear his perspective on things. So much of birth surrounds the mother. For me, life with a new baby was consumed by learning how to breastfeed, healing physically and emotionally from birth, and of course, sleep.
Hearing my husband’s take on things, especially so long after the fact, was a great way to see what really stood out to him during the experience. By reading the ways my husband was surprised, you’ll have a different point of view to help better prepare yourself, and your husband, for the reality of life with your growing family.
1. Figuring Out Paternity Leave
Paternity leave is the time that a father takes off work after the baby is born to help care for their new baby. While only a few states in the US have laws requiring paid leave for fathers, most employers are required by federal law to offer 12 weeks of unpaid leave under the Family and Medical Leave Act.
This means that you can take leave (unpaid) and be guaranteed your position back. Generally, you are entitled to this right if you work for a company with more than 50 employees and you have worked there for more than 12 months. There are some exceptions to these rules so definitely look up the laws in your state and consult your human resources representative to be sure.
Why is it important that my husband take paternity leave?
Before your baby is born do your homework to figure out what leave you and your husband are entitled to. Having your husband stay home, even for a limited time, after baby is born is so beneficial to your new baby. It’s also important for the overall tone it sets as you transition into parenthood. By taking time off right away, the tone is set that you are a team when it comes to the new baby, and your husband will be able to learn in “real time” with you.
How can my husband get the most out of his paternity leave?
Contact the human resource person at your company. Find out what you might be entitled to. Get creative with your sick time and vacation days to try and get as much of your time paid as possible. If you are only eligible for unpaid time, see what you can work out budget-wise to at least spend a few days home after the hospital stay as a family.
2. How Long Labor Lasted
I think for many partners, and even birthing mamas, we think of labor and delivery the way it is portrayed in the movies. A dramatic incident of having your water break, rushing to the hospital, and pushing out a baby. Births, especially first births, tend to come on rather slowly and are a lot more like a marathon than a sprint.
By having realistic expectations and an understanding of what labor is like, your husband will be better prepared to support you throughout the entire process. Labor consists of three phases: early labor, active labor and pushing.
What to expect during early labor
The early labor phase typically lasts between 6 and 12 hours. Most sources agree that “early labor” is the process of your body dilating to 3 cm. Some sources consider it up to 6 cm dilated. Basically, it is the time of your labor where you are having regular contractions, but they are not yet at the point where they are coming regularly enough to time them. And definitely not regularly enough to warrant going to the hospital.
Early labor is a time to be at home, ideally sleeping and hydrating, or at least resting. Many expecting mothers use this time to watch movies and bond with their partner. Some moms find it difficult to relax and rest comfortably and find going for a slow walk or doing light chores around the house to be a beneficial way to pass the time. N’s birth had a very long early labor, and then active labor in my back.
What to expect during active labor and pushing
The active labor phase is generally considered to be going from 3 cm to 10 cm dilated. Active labor means that your contractions are now more intense and coming at regular intervals. Once your contractions are happening every 4 minutes, lasting for 1 minute, for over an hour it is time to head to the hospital to get checked and possibly admitted.
This is the part of labor that most people envision. The “go time” from house to hospital, so to speak. But, there still might be a lot of hours left to log on this birth journey. Make sure your husband is aware of when it will be time to head to the hospital and where your hospital bag is located.
You can also review how to help you track contractions ahead of time. You and your partner should both know that just because contractions are this close together it does not mean birth is necessarily imminent. This can be especially true of your first birth which tends to have longer labors than subsequent births.
When does pushing happen?
Pushing happens once you are full dilated, at 10 cm. Baby will be here soon, but pushing for some women can last over 2 hours. Again, I think it’s important to have a realistic understanding of how this might all play out. You can read about Trina’s experience with a long active labor and push time in her birth story.
3. How to Handle Seeing His Wife (me!) in So Much Pain
As someone who has been lucky enough to not experience pain as intense or acute as the pain associated with labor, we had no idea how I was going to react and cope with labor pain. My husband, and many other partners of loved ones, have shared how difficult it was to watch their wives experience such intense pain. The worst of it, is that they often do not know how or what they can do to help.
How can I help my husband prepare to support me in labor?
Let your husband know what your birth wishes are ahead of time. By preparing for your birth as a couple, they will know about options available and options you are interested in trying. Having your partner be there to guide and suggest can go a long way. Let them know that by simply being present and actively participating in suggesting solutions they are helping a lot.
To help get your partner involved in your birth plan, check out the Nesting Planner. It includes a 5-page birth plan to complete with your partner. It also has an entire section dedicated to becoming new parents. You’ll find checklists and interactive worksheets to prepare as a team.
Are there any specific resources out there to educate partners about childbirth?
Knowing how to handle active labor, tracking contractions and having your husband really prepared to be involved in supporting and helping you manage pain during birth is difficult. I know many partners report feeling at a total loss.
There is an educational and informative birth class designed just for dads that teaches all of these things and more! Supporting Her is full of action items and is presented in an online video format, making it super accessible and easy to fit into your schedule. You can find out more information and watch the first lesson in this unique childbirth class by heading here.
4. How Immediately Bonded He Felt
So much of pregnancy and birth preparation surround the mom. It can be difficult for dad to feel bonded before the baby arrives. While there are a lot of ways to get your partner involved in your pregnancy and start the bonding, it really is a lot harder for them. They don’t feel the baby’s every movement and have that connection that you do while baby is growing in your body.
How can I help my husband bond with baby before they are born?
To help promote bonding between dad and baby before baby arrives, try going on some expecting date nights. Aim for at least two per trimester to keep the excitement alive. These date nights should have more of a focus on baby than typical dinners out and might include a fun activity or baby prepping goal.
You can also read about, 7 Ways Dad Can Bond with Baby, which is written by a dad and includes some things to do before baby is even born!
The bond between dad and baby will come!
In the end though, don’t fret. Even if your husband might have had a hard time being involved in your pregnancy and feeling connected to baby, chances are, as soon as he holds his new son or daughter for the first time he will be instantly connected.
5. How Much Time is Spent Breastfeeding
File this under things that shocked both my husband and me about life with a newborn. You seriously spend so much time feeding the baby. In order to build an adequate supply and ensure that baby is gaining properly it is advised to try and nurse 8 to 12 times in a 24-hour period. This means you should be nursing roughly every 2 hours, and that clock starts at the beginning of every feeding.
Think about the amount of time in the day, factor in some sleep, and you’ll quickly realize that the first 6-8 weeks will be spent largely nursing. This was pretty surprising for my husband because it meant that I mostly had the baby. He had to figure out how to best help me and still find some time to sneak in bonding with N.
To set yourself up for breastfeeding success during this critical window of time, I invite you to enroll in our course designed especially for expecting mamas!
6. His Role After Baby Was Born
On the note of the surprising amount of time spent breastfeeding, I know that many husbands are surprised about what that means their new role is in the first few weeks and months of being a dad. It is now the job of your partner to handle household chores, pet care, and errands.
We spent a lot of time prepping our freezer before baby arrived, so Pat oversaw taking out food and getting dinner going in the morning. This was an absolute life savior in the early weeks. Having healthy meals ready to be popped in the oven or crock pot meant we were eating healthier and saving money.
Additionally, He kept our dogs well exercised and the house tidy. He kept track of things we needed at the store and allowed me to really focus on postpartum healing and nursing.
He should be your number one breastfeeding cheerleader
He was also a huge support with breastfeeding. He helped by making sure my water cup was full, bringing me the nursing pillow, snacks and more. We made sure to have an open line of communication and ask explicitly how we could help each other.
We had a lot of productive conversations before N was born about what our strengths, weaknesses, hopes and fears would be as new parents. I know this really helped us transition into our new roles with more confidence and prepare our relationship for a baby.
7. Baby Poop and Diapers
This is definitely a surprising thing about new babies and not something I really read or learned about ahead of time. I’m glad that my husband thought to highlight it in his 10 most surprising things because I forgot that it was such a thing for us!
The Progression of Poop
For the first two days, baby will likely have only one poop per day and it will be black or greenish-black in color. This is a meconium stool and thick and sticky. It is easiest to clean this stool with a cloth and plain water instead of a traditional wipe. Your hospital will likely supply this for you.
After that, your breastfed baby’s poop will gradually start to change from greenish, to brownish, and ultimately to yellow and seedy. This yellow, seedy poop resembles mustard and indicates that baby is getting enough breastmilk and that the breastmilk composition is a balance of fore and hindmilk. The stools will be loose and watery but do not indicate diarrhea, they are supposed to look like this.
By day 5, your baby should be passing between 3 and 8 stools per day!
The frequency was a surprise for both of us, and when they poop, you will know it. For such a tiny human they sure do have some power and sound behind their bowel movements. If I can be candid for a moment, some of N’s poops were what really made us laugh and bond in the first week’s home. This is probably why Pat remembered this so clearly. Things are challenging, and there’s nothing like some bathroom humor to really lighten the mood.
Tracking Wet and Dirty Diapers
Be sure to track wet and dirty diapers during the first few weeks of life. This can be especially helpful for troubleshooting breastfeeding issues, and problems with weight gain in your new baby. It will also help you to notice signs of possible dehydration and more. You can find trackers to help with this in our Breastfeeding Handbook.
In general, baby should be having between 6-8 wet diapers per day by day 5 of life. Please consult your pediatrician for more specific guidelines and discuss this in the hospital with the nurses before you leave. You want to make sure that you have an accurate idea of how to track diapers and what is normal. Always call your pediatrician if you have any concerns about diaper output.
In addition to this information, you can read more specifics about diapering and other things to learn and do before bringing baby home.
8. How Little Sleep You Need to Function
When my husband mentioned this, I wanted to make sure to include it on the list not to scare you, but to give you hope. The bottom line is, you will be tested immensely as new parents, but just like every human before you, you will survive! We are literally designed, if for nothing else, to raise small humans.
You will be amazed at how much you can get done on such little sleep. The amount of patience, strength and perseverance you find within yourself will astound you. Both you and your partner will get through the newborn phase together.
There is no love as intense as the one for your new baby. Always remember that you will be the perfect parent for your baby and you will rise to the occasion with tremendous passion.
9. How Our House Could Have Been Better Equipped
When we talked about this specific thing, my husband was referring to both the way we prepared our house for the few weeks after birth, but also for our immediate arrival home from the hospital. When we left for labor and delivery, we left the house cluttered and did not have our bedroom set up for a new baby.
This meant that in the first hour home, Patrick was running around getting clean sheets on the bed, making our bedroom calm and relaxing, positioning the bassinet and running the vacuum. This was 100% stuff we could have done during my early labor to make our arrival back home way less hectic. We also could have had better nursing stations prepared, baby swings and bouncers in place, and more to be ready to bring baby home.
The bigger picture is in ways to prepare your home for the first few weeks and even months at home. This includes things like stocking your freezer, buying paper products and household goods in bulk, scheduling cleaning services and more.
10. How Quickly Your Baby Changes
I know, I know, everybody says this, but it is just so true! Each phase is so fast and short lived. The days feel long but the weeks, months, and years are short. For my husband to mention this in his top 10 means it really struck him.
Soak up those baby-snuggles, memorize their newborn profile, sleepy faces, and expressions. Take lots of pictures while still doing your best to live in the moment. Spend time together as a family. Relish in breastfeeding. Those quiet peaceful times will soon be gone.
No phase is any harder or easier than the last. They are all different, and you don’t want to fall into the trap of wishing for the next one to come. Each has its own unique challenges and moments to love. It all goes so fast, if you blink you might miss it.
Now that you know what the most surprising things about birth and life with a newborn were from the perspective of the husband, you have some concrete ways to get prepared for them.
Looking for even more ways to get prepared? Enroll in our Bump Smart email series. Each week you’ll receive an email that matches your week of pregnancy. You’ll find a unique and specific way to prepare, relevant information and articles and more.
Keep the ball rolling by reading ways Trina wished she had prepared in her article, 17 Ways I Should Have Prepared for Baby.
To get ready for the big day read about The Essentials of Being Prepared for Birth and How To Prepare Emotionally for Birth and Being a New Mother.
For more great articles about being a new dad and preparing your relationship check out, 6 Date Ideas for the Expecting Couple and Preparing Your Relationship for Baby. You can also read two articles written by Trina’s husband Cole, 7 Ways to Bond with Baby and Dad’s Guide to a New Baby. Both of these articles provide that alternate perspective, like this article, which can be really helpful for both parents to be better prepared.
What are some things that you anticipate being surprised by as a new parent? Leave a comment below, we love to hear from our readers.
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Alli Wittbold is a wife, mama, blogger, and online teacher. She feels passionate about connecting expectant mothers with childbirth class educators, and supporting them to achieve the birth they desire. After having her first baby delivered by a Certified Nurse Midwife, Alli is an advocate for midwifery prenatal care. She has learned so much about labor and delivery by attending and reviewing dozens of birth classes to help mothers learn and explore options. Alli co-authored the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook, resources she is proud to share with as many expectant and new mothers as possible. Read more about Alli.