Support from your midwife and GP

For Mums:

When you first learn that you’re pregnant, get in touch with a midwife or GP as soon as possible.
This first appointment is a chance to make sure your maternity healthcare takes into account any special medical needs or vulnerable circumstances and will help you to make informed choices.

At this first visit, you will be given information about keeping healthy, such as nutrition, dietary supplements, hygiene, lifestyle factors (such as smoking, drug use and alcohol) and antenatal screening tests.

You will probably have a lot of questions and it often helps to write down what you want to ask in advance. They should give you information in writing or another form that you can easily understand

The midwife will enter your details in a record book and add to them at each visit, which you should bring to all your antenatal appointments and take with you wherever you go in case you need medical attention. Always ask about anything in the book you don’t understand.

Later in your pregnancy, you should be given information about your birth plan, preparing for labour and birth, how to tell if you’re in labour and induction if your baby is overdue. Your midwife will also start to give advice about after the birth, such as postnatal depression and feeding your baby, healthcare and looking after yourself and your baby.

For Dads:

Although maternity care is obviously focused on the mother, dads still have an important role to play and government has introduced measures to make sure you’re fully involved. That means the midwife talking to you personally, offering you specific information, taking you into consideration when drawing up a pregnancy plan, addressing your concerns and inviting you to antenatal classes.  A dad who is closely involved so he knows how to provide effective support is better for the health of mother and baby. You should also be offered advice about your lifestyle and health, access to help with any personal or substance-related problems and any local services that you may benefit from.

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For Dads:

Planning for birth

Every birth is different but planning ahead will help you feel more in control and ensure that you understand all the options available throughout your pregnancy.

Following a birth plan will help you understand what is happening to you and your baby at every stage throughout pregnancy and know that everything is progressing as it should.  It will also help dads understand what you are going through and know how they can be of the most use help.

As well as information about the stages of childbirth you can think about the environment you might be most comfortable giving birth. Based on what’s best for mum and the baby’s health, and their availability in your area, there are likely to be a variety of options, including at home, in a midwifery unit or a birthing centre at a hospital. There are also options about the type of birth – you may be interested in having a water birth for example. Your midwife is there to consult and advise you about the pros and cons to every option.

One of the most important things to consider will be the different forms of pain relief, how they will affect the birth experience, which are medically suitable for you and what will be available depending on where and how you choose to give birth.

Midwives should also offer dads professional guidance on their important support role during childbirth and beyond – for example coaching you to be a really useful birth partner, and helping you play your part in getting breastfeeding established.

Whether you give birth in hospital or at home, midwives will guide and support you in the first few days afterwards, helping you to breastfeed as well as checking that you’re recovering properly.

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Information for dads

Flexible leave and working

If you are an expectant mother or father and are working, you have maternity or paternity rights. As soon as you inform your employer that you are pregnant they have a duty to protect your health and safety, and you may have the right to paid time off for antenatal care including attending antenatal education groups. You are also protected against unfair treatment.

If you are an expectant dad you currently have no legal right to time off for these appointments but rights to unpaid leave for prospective fathers to attend two antenatal appointments will come into effect from 1st October 2014. Your employer may give you unpaid leave or allow you to work flexibly. You also need to know about and plan for your paternity leave.

To take maternity leave you should inform your employer no later than the end of the 15th week before the week the baby is due (or as soon as is reasonably practical) that: you are pregnant; when the expected week of childbirth is; and when you want your maternity leave to start. You can also make an appointment with your employer to discuss and request flexible working, if it is appropriate for you.

Parents can now share maternity leave entitlement

It is worth planning how you might organise your working and caring schedules once baby has arrived. Both mums and dads, like any other employee, now have the right to request flexible working.  In addition, for those mums who return to work before their maternity leave ends, dad can now use the rest of the allocated leave – this is called shared parental leave.

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Finding an antenatal group

Antenatal classes are a great way to find out plenty of information that will help you prepare for labour, birth and looking after and feeding your baby.

As well as having professionals on hand to show you how to stay healthy, they can be an informal and fun environment to meet people going through the same experiences as you. Sometimes solid friendships are founded on these shared experiences. It is also a good chance to find out what equipment you may need for your home to make your new life as a family easier.

Antenatal classes tend to start eight to 10 weeks before the birth but it is advisable to book early in order to secure your place on your preferred course. There are free NHS courses or private ones offered by groups like the NCT, which are usually in smaller groups. Some of these offer more specialised preparation such as active birth classes that employ yoga and relaxation techniques or Bradley Certification classes if you opt for a natural childbirth.

Nowadays the majority of dads attend some antenatal classes too, after all, it is not just breathing exercises but practical instructions to help support your partner and to prepare for your life together with your newborn.

There are also children’s centres that can offer childcare while you go to classes if you already have children under five, as well as advice, support and health services.

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Parenting support

Sometimes mums and dads need extra help to prepare for parenthood and extra support is available.

If parenting is a complete mystery and you are afraid of doing the wrong thing, don’t be embarrassed. There are professionals who can help you through this period of change in your life, and lots of informal networks where you can link up with other parents and share experiences.

For young parents, Family Nurse Partnerships is an NHS programme that provides young first-time parents with ongoing support consisting of visits from a highly trained nurse that address relationships, psychological preparation, adopting healthier lifestyles, providing good care, and planning their futures; while Gingerbread’s fact sheets offer a range of advice for single parents.

Below are links to other sources of support, such as friendship and practical help from HomeStart, expert support for families with a disabled child from Contact a Family, and in depth information about postnatal depression, as well as pages that explore some of these issues specifically from a dad’s point of view.

Family Lives offers a wealth of information on these and many other related topics and also have their own helpline. It is worth visiting the netmums website to link up with other parents in your local area.

If you have any areas of concern, feel like you won’t be able to cope or need any other special help, contact your midwife, health visiting team or GP.

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