Your wife's belly is burgeoning, baby furniture has maxed out your credit cards, and you haven't had sex in weeks. Somehow, pregnancy isn't exactly what you or your wife had envisioned. Your once loving, carefree wife has become cranky and constantly nauseous. Welcome to the world of expectant fatherhood.

Any type of adjustment is stressful, and preparing for a baby is an enormous change in one's lifestyle, mindset, and physical environment. If you find yourself wondering how you or your spouse will make it through the next nine months, you're not alone.

The First Trimester: Hormones, Exhaustion, and Morning Sickness

Your wife may feel fine during the first few months of pregnancy, or she may be exhausted and need two naps a day. Her hormones are hard at work, shaping the new life she carries within her. Sad movies, baby clothes, or even a minor disagreement may propel her into a crying spell. Remember that hormonal shifts are temporary and eventually your wife's moods and emotions will return to normal.

Morning sickness, or queasiness, affects only some women and most find that this annoying symptom disappears in two to three months. Unfortunately, "morning sickness" is a misnomer, because many women are sick all day and night. Food odors or other smells may trigger a bout of nausea, as may eating certain foods. Some men find that the sight or sound of their spouse getting sick is enough to send them running to the bathroom as well.

Scott Dornan, an expectant father recalls, "We must have called Jane's obstetrician a hundred times during the first trimester. Her doctor was an enormous support to us and was able to put us in touch with the right resources for most of Jane's needs. We also surfed the get updated information on 'our' symptoms."

Here's what you can do

For your wife:

  • Help her find "safe" foods. Ask her physician for recommendations; some women find that crackers, ginger ale, or lemonade help. Many women agree that an empty stomach causes extreme nausea.
  • Give your wife support. Believe it or not, there are books about morning sickness and how to conquer the symptoms. Ask a nutritionist or physician to help guide you through this time.

For yourself:

  • Stay active. Stick to your weekly physical fitness routine and activities. Find a friend who enjoys the same sports or hobbies and get out of the house.
  • Talk to a trusted friend, particularly one who is also a new dad. Or maybe even your own dad. You will be surprised that your apprehension and fear are extremely common.

The Second Trimester: Sex? What's That?

Your partner's body will begin to change dramatically during this period. She may gain weight quickly and the baby will suddenly make its presence known. During this trimester, you will hear your baby's heart rate and get a glimpse of your child via ultrasound.

Some expectant fathers note that their partner's sexual appetite changes during the second trimester. Each woman responds differently to the changes taking place inside her. Some women are easily aroused and want sex more frequently; others may simply be too tired or worried that sex will harm the baby. Every couple experiences this trimester differently—there are no right or wrong approaches to your sex life.

"Don't try to read your wife's mind," says new dad Kevin Bennett. "I kept thinking I knew how my wife felt and what she was thinking, but I was clueless. It's best to talk about sex when you are both rested and feeling refreshed—not after a long day or an argument."

Try to talk openly about the changes that are taking place. A woman may fear that her body is no longer sexy; this is enough to dampen her sex drive. Be honest with your spouse about the changes that are occurring and communicate your needs to her as well. Learn to compromise now; it will be great practice for the upcoming challenge of parenting!

Here's what you can do

For your wife:

  • Help with chores or housework. There is nothing worse than being sick and having to look at a messy house.
  • Encourage your spouse. Give her positive feedback, even when she looks horrible and is too sick to change out of her pajamas. Tell her how excited you are about being a dad and that you know she'll be a terrific mom.

For yourself:

  • Join a "dad's group." There are many types of support groups for new fathers; you don't have to talk, just hearing other dads share similar problems is a great relief.
  • Write down your expectations of being a father, of what type of parent you want to be, and discuss your thoughts with your wife. It helps to talk about parenting styles and discipline techniques before situations arise.

The Third Trimester: Preparing for Labor and Delivery

The final weeks of your wife's pregnancy may seem eternal, and you may begin to wonder if the baby will ever arrive. At this point, your spouse's complaints may range from an aching back or major heartburn to restless, sleepless nights. The final weeks of pregnancy are an emotional time. Last minute nursery preparations, increased discomfort and carrying the weight of a full-grown baby begin to take their toll.

A childbirth class can help at this point. Contact your local hospital or obstetrician's office to discuss your options. There are many types of classes available and fees range from $25 to $85, depending upon the class content and the instructor(s).

The class offers an excellent opportunity to interact with other new parents. Ask as many questions as possible. The instructor may be a registered nurse or certified labor assistant, so he/she will be equipped to answer all types of questions. Don't be embarrassed by your questions; the teacher has usually assisted at multiple births and has witnessed a variety of situations. You may have the option to view videotape of a live birth. Although these videos are educational, they do tend to be explicit in nature.

Last Minute Concerns

When asked about their biggest concern during the last weeks of pregnancy, our interviewees had a unanimous response: "I worried about our baby being okay and how I might react if something was wrong with my child." This is a normal concern and one that every mother and father thinks about throughout the pregnancy.

Another area of concern was the increased financial responsibilities that accompany parenting. "I always think about my child's future because I don't want him to struggle financially," says Jake Halloway. Talk to your partner about your financial resources; assess your obligations and financial assets.

Fear of Birth

Your wife may begin to express a great deal of fear about giving birth, including fear of the pain. Reassuring her may not seem to help. Show her that you care by offering your support and reassurance. Ask her what you can do to help before and throughout the birthing process.

Here's what you can do

For your wife:

  • Prepare a "birth plan" with your spouse—an outline of how you want the childbirth experience to progress. Think of a birth plan as more of a wish list that may or may not come true, since neither of you can control the events during childbirth.
  • Help your wife pack her hospital bag. Include support items for both of you. Bring snacks, money, magazines, distraction material (a favorite hobby or a deck of cards). Many fathers wish they had remembered basic things such as cameras, chewing gum, breath mints and a change of clothes. Don't forget to bring clothes for the baby!

For yourself:

  • Be prepared. Pay close attention in the childbirth classes and be an active participant. Read as much as you can about labor and delivery.
  • Realize your limitations. It is important to understand that no amount of preparation, reading or support can prepare you for the enormous responsibility associated with childbirth and parenting. Know your limits and keep in mind that it may be very difficult to see your wife experience the pain of labor and delivery.