Congratulations! You’re about to be a new dad—and you’re swirling through intense emotions ranging from mind-boggling joy to anxiety to insane fear. That, and wondering what sort of role you’ll be playing as your wife labors and delivers your new baby.

Here’s your answer:  You’ll be the chief of your partner’s support system before, during, and after birth. “My hubby did awesome for me yesterday. Back rubs and telling me ‘you are a natural at this’,” shared one of our mom on Twitter.

Docs agree. When it comes to labor advice for new dads, “the best thing you can do is be there the whole time, offering support and motivation before and after she’s giving birth,” says David Ghozland, M.D., an OB/GYN in Santa Monica, California. “Get familiar from the beginning—go to prenatal classes and write a birth plan together so you’re both on the same page.”

Being involved during the pregnancy is a big help and your partner will be extra grateful when you carry that encouragement into the delivery room.

Pack smart

Ask any mom-to-be about her hospital bag, and she’ll probably point to the packed suitcase that’s been sitting by the door for weeks before her due date. Still, there’s bound to be stuff she forgets (blame it on the pregnancy brain!), so make sure to bring these items along:

  • Camera As a new dad, you’ll be taking snapshots of your kid’s milestones for the next 18 years. Don’t forget about the biggest one of all.
  • Massage lotion or oil Makes quick back or foot rubs for your partner that much more soothing.
  • Family photos and a mirror Both work as focal distractions to help moms-to-be cope with labor pain.
  • Notepad and pen Helpful for recording contractions—both the time that they start and how long they’re lasting.
  • Baby car seat No brainer, but it’s smart to install this before you head to the hospital to make the first journey home smoother.
  • iPod dock or CD player Music therapy’s another tool for dealing with labor pains.
  • Important documents Picture IDs, insurance card, and any important hospital paperwork are a must.
  • A pillow, for you You’ll likely be spending the night at the hospital. Might as well be comfy!

Go with the flow

Maybe you and your partner had planned for a natural birth, but now she’s requesting an epidural, or being prepped for a C-section. It’s essential to remember that birthing plans can change, says Ghozland, and it’s important to respect your partner’s wishes and go with the flow.

More labor advice for new dads: Know your limits. If your knees turn to jelly at the sight of blood, it’s best to stand closer to the head of the bed so you see less of it, Ghozland says. Ask the nurse where your best position is, so you don’t get queasy, or worse, faint.

Be a distraction

Labor—and the pain that comes with it—can last for a couple of hours to a couple of days. Your job as a new dad is to help your partner get through the worst of it by helping to take her mind off the discomfort. Look at photos together, listen to her favorite music, or offer to massage her legs, feet and lower back when she’s turned over on her side.

Little things, like wiping her forehead with a cool cloth and offering ice chips make a difference too, says Ghozland. And if you’ve gone to a birthing class, encourage her to use the breathing techniques you learned—or best of all, breathe along with her.

Be her biggest cheerleader

Essential advice for new dads all throughout pregnancy, but especially important for when the pushing starts. Since your partner’s legs will be positioned upwards, it’ll be a big help for you to support them and massage a little whenever she gets a cramp.

Tell her how great she’s doing and keep asking the doctor questions like, “How’s she doing?” Give her updates, like “You’re doing great, only a few more pushes!” It’ll keep things positive and remind your partner of that the agony she might be feeling will end.

Keep it up post-birth

After the baby is born, the doctor or nurse might ask if you’d like to cut the umbilical cord. If you feel comfortable, go for it! Cutting the cord symbolizes your child’s first moments in the world as his own person, which is pretty cool.

And while mom is feeling over the moon, she’s also pretty exhausted. Filling out the necessary hospital paperwork, like the birth certificate, will be a huge help.

Then, onto the really exciting stuff: Sharing the big news—you’re a new dad!

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