Dad's to-Do List: Getting Ready for Baby

Medically Reviewed by Traci C. Johnson, MD on June 08, 2023
6 min read

Your partner may be getting most of the attention right now, but when your new baby arrives, both of you will have your hands full. Use these lists to make sure you’re prepared.

Also, ask your doctor -- or your partner's doctor -- what else you can do to support a healthy pregnancy. For example, if you're a smoker, do everything in your power to quit. Chemicals in secondhand smoke can hurt your baby, before and after birth.

Thinking about your baby's delivery can be a bit intimidating. But there's a lot you can do to help it go more smoothly.

  • Learn the basics at a childbirth class.
  • Talk to your partner about pain management during delivery.
  • Learn massage to help your partner through delivery.
  • Take a tour of the facility where birth is planned.
  • Map the best route to the facility.
  • Preprogram important numbers into your phone.
  • If you have other children, arrange for childcare during the birth.
  • Make a list of family and friends to notify when baby is born.

Most likely, your partner will want you with them for support. Then you should decide together how active you will be. Consider both of your personalities, how you relate to each other, and your expectations for labor and delivery as a couple. Ideally, they should receive the support they need and you should help out at a level that's comfortable for you.

Here are some roles for dads these days. Any one of them is OK, as long as it works for both of you.

Be a coach. This is the most hands-on role. You'll help your partner relax and push, cheer them on, and be their advocate with the hospital staff. In some cases, you may get to lift the baby out and put it on their tummy.

At childbirth classes, you'll learn about each stage of labor, how your partner may feel or act during them, and how to guide them through breathing and relaxation exercises. No matter how involved you decide to be, childbirth classes can help you know what to expect and ease your mind about childbirth.

Share the coaching. Labor can be a long, hard haul -- for both of you. You may want to have a friend or family member there to assist. This person can help with the coaching and stay with your partner when you need to eat or take breaks. An extra person can provide emotional and physical support for both of you.

Be a teammate. If you want to be in the game but don't want to quarterback, you may like this role. You provide encouragement and help out when your partner asks, but you're content to let them or the nurses tell you what and how much to do.

In this case, you may want to hire a doula, an experienced labor "caregiver." Doulas usually act as patient advocates and hands-on coaches. A doula stays with you when the nurse needs to disappear for long periods of time. Having a doula can free you up to focus on your partner and the birth.

Cheer from the sidelines. Many couples choose this option. You're there to hold your partner's hand and rub their back. You may snap pictures or take videos of your baby's birth. You may even cut the umbilical cord. But you're happy to let others do the hands-on work.

Wait outside. In some cases, a woman doesn't want their baby's father there. If you haven't been involved in the pregnancy or are estranged from them, there's a good chance they won't. Whatever the reason, if your presence in the room makes it stressful for them, it can make labor and delivery more difficult. Then it's better for you to be elsewhere.

For most dads, though, being with their partner is a good choice. In one study of how new fathers viewed the experience, 81% said it was rewarding and enjoyable. Regardless of how involved you choose to be, witnessing that final push that sends your child into the world can be an experience like no other.

Your partner may be lower on energy these days. You can be a big help by getting the house and car ready for your baby.

  • Set up the nursery.
  • Baby-proof the house.
  • Cook some meals and stock the freezer.
  • Install the car seat for your baby.
  • Look into childcare or housekeeping help, if needed.

You can set your mind at ease by putting your financial ducks in a row. It's ever too early to start planning for the future.

  • Look into paternity leave.
  • Line up family health insurance coverage.
  • Consider talking with a financial planner.
  • Start a college or special fund if you can.

Your baby will be lucky to have the two of you. Now is a great time to learn what you can about this brave new world of parenting.

  • Attend parenting classes with your partner.
  • Learn how holding and feeding helps with bonding.
  • Learn to change diapers so your partner can rest.
  • Pick up your favorite childhood books to read to the baby.
  • Ask about well-baby visits.
  • Read up on child development for the years ahead.

Your partner probably feels a bit fragile after the rigors of childbirth. Whether they gave birth by C-section or vaginally, they will be sore and  may have some bleeding and vaginal discharge for several weeks. They may have painful urination or involuntary leakage of urine, called urinary incontinence. On top of all that, they may have problems with constipation or hemorrhoids from the strain of delivery. If they delivered vaginally, bleeding could last longer if they had a vaginal tear. Recovery from a C-section requires that they limit their activity for a few weeks. It's enough to shorten anyone's fuse.

What you can do:

  • Pitch in as much as possible.
  • Help out by doing the household heavy lifting: grocery shopping, laundry, and meals.
  • Be patient, especially when it comes to physical contact. It may take anywhere from 4 to 6 weeks for them to heal completely, and even then they may not be ready for sex. Let them take the lead, and show affection with your hugs and kisses. They also may appreciate the occasional foot rub.

Breastfeedingmay not be a breeze. While it seems like it should come naturally, breastfeeding isn't easy for all moms and babies. Your partner may get frustrated if your baby has trouble feeding. They may have sore nipples at first while your baby learns to latch on properly. Some women get clogged milk ducts, which can be a painful problem. And because the baby needs to eat every 2 to 3 hours, mom isn't getting a lot of sleep either.

What you can do:

  • Encourage them to sleep when the baby sleeps.
  • Make it your job to handle nighttime diaper changes.
  • If they are using a pump, learn how to clean it.

Emotional changes. Some new moms have bouts of sadness and anxiety, known as the "baby blues." Feeling sad, anxious, or down can be a normal part of adjusting to motherhood. However, if these feelings get worse, are severe, or last more than a couple of weeks, they may have postpartum depression, and they should talk about it with their doctor.

What you can do:

  • If you notice they're been a bit down, ask them how they're feeling. Just talking with you may help a lot.
  • Encourage them to take breaks and get out of the house while you watch the baby, even for just a short time.
  • If you notice that they have symptoms of postpartum depression, encourage them to get help. They may not realize that they're depressed.

Remember that this is temporary. Before you know it, your partner will feel more like their old self again, your baby will start sleeping more than 2 hours at a time, and you'll all settle into a comfortable routine as a new family.