During the last month, your partner will begin to have contractions. The women in my life tell me that there is no way to explain what a contraction feels like to a man. Generally, these contractions of her uterus fall into one of four categories.
Braxton Hicks. These contractions are natural preparation for labor—kind of getting the uterine muscles ready for the big event. The tend to surprise your partner but they are generally more alarming than they are painful, and they are irregularly spaced, both of which differentiate them from other contractions.
Pre-Labor. During the last few weeks of pregnancy, these Braxton Hicks contractions will start to become a little more intense, and there will be times when they will be regular, a few at a time. This is the beginning of the process of softening the cervix in preparation for real labor.
False Labor. If these contractions start becoming painful in the lower abdomen, are irregular over time and eventually stop, then your partner is experiencing false labor.
True Labor. When the contractions are regular, rhythmic and painful or very uncomfortable, your partner is probably in real labor. At this stage, you should start timing the contractions. You will want to record how far they are from the start of one to the start of the next, and how long they last. Your doctor will tell you when he wants you to head to the hospital; he may say something like when the contractions last at least a minute and are ten minutes apart.
Some Practical Ideas.
For the last month of pregnancy, there are lots of things you ought to be doing as the expectant dad. Here are a few good and easy practical ideas.
Keep life simple. Lower your standards a little bit on meals, household chores, and other distractions. It is a full-time endeavor to be in the last month. Prepare meals early in the day for warming up later. You might want to discover the utility of a crock pot.
Go with her to the doctor. It's a good idea for you to stay informed about your partner's progress. Usually during the last month, she'll be visiting the obstetrician weekly, so plan your day so you can go along. It's also a great way to get your important medical questions answered.
Get your labor and delivery kit ready. Packing the bags you'll need at the hospital is a good assignment for an expectant dad. Your labor and delivery kit should include:
- The car seat to bring the baby home
- Your partner's overnight bag including her nightgown, toiletry supplies (toothbrush, toothpaste, brush, deodorant, etc.), a change of clothes, a nursing bra, and other items she needs.
- Some light snacks for her. Small cans of fruit juice, crackers, raisins, can be a welcome respite from what the hospital provides.
- Other goodies for you. Think energy bars, fruit, sandwiches.
- Music. Many moms like a CD player with some favorite soothing music for the labor process and for after the baby is born.
- Camera. Maybe not right during labor and delivery, but you'll be glad to have it with you right after the birth for a first family picture.
- Money. When our first baby was born, we were kind of in a hurry and besides, we were poor. I didn't bring money to eat, or even to get out of the parking lot at the hospital (I had to drive over the grass and the sidewalk to get around the parking arm in the parking lot because I didn't have any change).
- List of phone numbers. There are lots of people you'll want to call from the hospital. So bring your phone list.
- Comfort Items. Bring along massage items (my wife loves two tennis balls in a sock to roll along her lower back). Hot and cold packs can really help with her pain.
Plan the hospital route. Hollywood tends to glamorize or demonize the trip to the hospital. But if you have your route planned ahead, you can drive safely and sanely to the hospital when the time arrives.
The last month of pregnancy can be a very rewarding time, and a time when you and your partner share a very special and memorable time. Taking a little time to prepare and to listen to your partner will help it be a great experience.