When you welcome a new baby into the world, there is so much emphasis on self care, support and love for mums (and babies). Rightly so. Mums have birthed this human being, experienced profound changes to their bodies, have had a huge shift in their sense of self and most often are primary carer to this new little human.
Unfortunately, partners slide a little under the radar and don’t always receive the care, support and attention they need and crave during this time of transition to parenthood.
Up to 1 in 10 Dads experience postnatal anxiety and depression in the first year after their baby is born. Up to 1 in 5 new Mum’s will experience postnatal anxiety and depression. Whilst the prevalence is lower for Dad’s (or so the statistics show anyway…), we know that men in general are not as likely to talk about how they are feeling and may ‘bottle up’ their emotions.
This highlights the importance of supporting partners during pregnancy and postnatally.
Providing opportunities to debrief after the birth experience they have witnessed, having support and education in those early newborn days and empowering Dad’s to build confidence and be as involved as possible are a few key factors that can REALLY help the transition to parenthood for partners.
Here are my suggestions for how to support our partners in the transition to parenthood:
Knowledge is power. Getting educated about birth and beyond makes a world of difference for parents. I honestly believe that if partners can receive some education about the birthing process, how to support their partner during labour, see a birth video, understand some different scenarios that can happen during labour and birth - this can empower partners and remove some of the unknown and ‘fear’ leading up to to birth of baby.
Often this is where the education stops.
I wish that all parents had some education around caring for a newborn, sleep basics, feeding, how important self care is (and how to fit it in!) and what to expect in those first months as a parent. This knowledge can make the world of difference for partners that are supporting a new Mum and baby.
My antenatal/newborn package was designed just for that reason - click here to check it out.
2. Debrief after the birth
All parents should be provided with the opportunity to debrief after the birthing process. It is a HUGE experience no matter how your birth unfolds. A partners experience of the birth of their baby is completely different from Mums. A partner witnesses the love of their life in quite immense discomfort and can feel helpless as they can’t take that pain away for them. If there is an unexpected turn in the labour such as needing an emergency caesarean, this can create some additional stress for partners and is often a completely unknown environment for them.
Debriefing with a health professional or a trusted friend or family member after the birth of baby can help partners to begin to understand what happened in the birthing process, discuss how they felt and what they saw. This simple chat can prevent those emotions from bubbling under the surface.
3. Get your partner involved early on
When baby is born, quite naturally the baby and mother spend majority of their time together - especially if baby is breastfeeding. Baby is feeding frequently and having lots of cuddles with Mum. In the moment, it’s not always easy to step back and reflect on how your partner is feeling and adjusting.
Providing opportunities for your partner to build his or her confidence with baby from those early days will help to strengthen and nurture that Mum, partner and baby triad. Involving your partner as much as possible is not only wonderful for their relationship with baby but also provides Mum with some time to herself (even if its just 20-30 minutes a day to begin with). Try your best to allow your partner some space alone with baby, make small suggestions if they need some help but try not to hover (after all, we all learn by trial and error!)
Some ideas for how your partner can be involved regularly from those first few days and beyond)
Skin to skin
Settling baby for a sleep while Mum has a shower/dinner
Offering a bottle of expressed breastmilk or formula (if breastfeeding, always express with a hand or electric pump if your baby is having a bottle, this will help to protect your breast milk supply)
Take baby out for an assisted nap in the pram, carrier or car
Change nappy and dress baby
Bath baby or have a shower with baby skin to skin
4. Words of encouragement
Those first few months with your new baby can be tiring, stressful and amazing all at the same time. Every day, I challenge all new Mum’s to reflect on something that your partner has done to support you and baby. I then would highly encourage you to share that with your partner. These small comments each day can help to build confidence for partners, make them feel appreciated, involved and needed. Positivity and kindness go a long way. Some examples might include:
’it was so great when you gave Max his bottle today and had cuddles with him afterward’
‘thank you for cooking us dinner tonight’
‘it was so helpful that you brought the washing in off the line today’
‘Max loved having a nice warm shower with you tonight’
I hope that these suggestions resonate with you and positively impact transition to parenthood. Our partners are so important. There is something pretty special about seeing your partner with your baby and nurturing that relationship.