When Your Partner Gives Birth: What You Can Do to Help.
Jean Merrill, Maryland
To new and expectant parents out there: Your partner needs you! Pregnancy, childbirth, and breastfeeding can seem to be focused on the mother and baby. After all, mothers and babies are the stars of the show. And, while you may not have given birth, your support “from the wings” is what makes the whole parenting show work.
Pregnancy and birth are miraculous, transformative, difficult, and astonishing. It is a physically demanding and ambitious function of the female body. Your inspiration and encouragement can make it all feel more possible.
How can you support your partner through pregnancy, birth, and the early days of mothering? What can you actually do to help? Here are a few road-tested tips:
Snacks make you a hero! Food cravings and the need for extra calories are very real desires during pregnancy. While movies and television shows have created caricatures of a pregnant woman needing ice cream and pickles at 2:00 a.m., be aware of the foods that your partner prefers during pregnancy. Make sure they are readily available. Will you be available to go to a store or restaurant and buy ingredients or a specific meal? Carry some healthy “emergency” snacks with you—stash them in the car or by the bed.
If you are able, attend prenatal doctor visits. Really listen to concerns your partner may mention. Ask questions. Be involved.
Listen with love. Whether it’s about physical complaints such as trouble sleeping, heartburn, or the never-ending amazing changes that occur throughout pregnancy, you help your partner feel loved and cared for when you take time to focus on the conversation.
Attend childbirth preparation classes together. Be prepared. Educate yourself. Learn what to expect during labor and birth. It can make all the difference whether things go as planned and if they veer off the expected course.
During labor and delivery
Be informed so you are an effective coach. Reassure your partner when progress is normal. If unexpected hurdles occur as labor progresses, consider available choices and discuss the options with the health care provider.
Advocate. Ask questions on behalf of your partner so you can make informed decisions together. You know her wishes better than anyone. Communicate with your health care provider about your birth plan and preferences that are noted on her records.
Listen patiently and act swiftly. Sometimes comfort measures we think we want during labor (back massages, family present, music playing, etc.) end up not helping. Some women find that they’d prefer no touch at all, or the music becomes distracting. If your partner has a change of plan, honor the requests, and if you hear sharp tones from her, don’t take it personally.
Bring snacks for yourself. Labor and birth are physically demanding for the mother, as well as being intellectually, emotionally, and physically challenging for a partner, too. This time, the “emergency” snacks are for you! Labor, especially with the first baby, can be long. Try not to skip a meal. Stay nourished to maintain your energy.
Monitor visitors. Some new parents love immediate visitors. Others may need time to settle in and prefer a few weeks before showing off baby to visitors. Decide the right “visitor flow” together; then be the gatekeeper. In the early days of breastfeeding, babies nurse often.
Keep food and drink nearby, and keep it coming! Both pregnancy and breastfeeding require additional nutritional needs. At every nursing area, keep a supply of water. Stock up the refrigerator with healthy foods that can be eaten with one hand while nursing (sandwiches, fruit, cut up vegetables, trail mix, etc.)
Encouragement. Mothers need cheerleaders in the early days of mothering. They can be tired as they heal. Hormones are changing. Be as supportive as needed.
Ask how to help. Asking might seem basic but is so important. It might be something simple. Your partner might want lip balm Or an extra set of nighttime hands to change baby’s diaper during the night when she needs to use the bathroom before the next nursing session. When your partner is more comfortable, everybody wins.
Pregnancy, birth, and post-partum days can be tiring and fraught with uncertainty. Mothers are learning about this new role and baby’s personality. Support and encourage your partner to help the whole household thrive. Your contributions will help both of you feel more confident. You are learning together to care for your little one. That is a gift you can give not only to yourself and your partner, but also to your baby. A baby who starts life off with parents who trust their instincts and are solidly united is a lucky baby indeed.