Most aspects of having a baby rest solely on the mother. One of the biggest things I hear from partners during pregnancy, labor, and after their baby arrives is that they don’t know what to do. They feel useless and like they can’t help. Or they feel like there is nothing for them to do. There are so many things partners, and dads can do to support mom and baby. This article gives you a solid idea of your partner’s role and the many ways they can support you during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum.
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What is Your Partner’s Role?
Some aspects of having a baby rest solely on the mother. It is up to you to carry a baby for nine months. You are responsible for learning about pregnancy and birth. You go through labor and give birth. For most mothers, this is the most physically and emotionally challenging event you will experience in your life. After birth, it is the mom who will be physically recovering from childbirth for weeks or months. Your newborn relies on you to produce breastmilk and for nourishment around the clock.
Where does that leave partners? First, you have to remember that some mothers have babies without the luxury of a partner. If two of you can navigate this together, you are fortunate. The entire process of having and raising a baby is exponentially more difficult alone. If you don’t have a romantic partner or a co-parent, I encourage you to lean on friends and family, so you are not going through this phase of your life without support.
One of the biggest things I hear from partners during pregnancy and after their baby arrives is that they don’t know what to do. They feel useless and like they can’t help. Or they feel like there is nothing for them to do. Let’s start with setting the record straight that there are so many things partners and dads can do to support mom and baby. This article explains the different roles dads and partners can play and how they can support you.
Partner’s Role During Pregnancy
Dads obviously play a role in making a baby, and dads and partners play a crucial role in raising kids. While they aren’t the ones carrying a baby and giving birth, there is so much they can do and many roles they can take on to support you while you are pregnant.
Support Mom in Being Healthy
How a mom takes care of her health during pregnancy is one of the biggest influences on a developing baby. A partner can support you in being healthy. The basic building blocks of taking care of your health are eating healthy whole foods, staying hydrated, getting adequate sleep, and exercising. It can be challenging to do these things if your partner isn’t.
Partners can support eating healthy whole foods by cooking meals at home or grabbing healthier options when you eat out. Your partner can let you sleep in or encourage you to go to bed earlier if you are tired. If you need support to be active, an invitation from Your partner can invite you to go on a walk or encourage you to do something active together can be helpful. If you are having a hard time with healthy habits and your partner is not supportive and encouraging, it can be even more challenging.
One role your partner can play during pregnancy is being an empathizer. All kinds of symptoms can pop up during pregnancy. Some of these are bothersome or annoying, and others can be signs of a more severe condition. There are separate podcast episodes and articles that examine the evidence of many pregnancy symptoms like constipation, heartburn, fatigue, headaches, morning sickness, hemorrhoids, gestational diabetes, swelling, and skin changes. You can mitigate some of these symptoms with remedies. Unfortunately, some conditions are out of your control and will persist until your baby is born.
Your partner may not be experiencing the same things you are, but they can empathize with you. Sometimes it is nice to know that someone is by your side, even if they cannot relate and don’t have any solutions.
Your partner can be an excellent study partner and take some of the workload of learning about pregnancy, birth, and preparing for a baby. If you are reading books about pregnancy, birth, or breastfeeding, you can flag pages or highlight text to share with your partner. If you come across an online article or a study, you can cut and paste the text into an email with excerpts that you want your partner to read. Podcasts are a great resource, but your partner may not be into listening to podcasts. You can shoot them a link to a specific episode, like this one. Or give them time stamps of the episode section you want them to hear. Many podcasts, including the Pregnancy Podcast, offer transcripts if your partner prefers to read.
The most significant benefit to your partner educating themselves about pregnancy and birth is it allows you two to have educated conversations and make informed decisions together. I have done thousands of hours of research, and there are a lot of episodes in the back catalog. Chances are, if you have a question about something, I have already done all of the research and hard work for you. Pregnancy Podcast Premium members have access to the entire back catalog ad-free.
Support at Prenatal Appointments
If your partner can attend your doctor or midwife appointments, please encourage them to go with you. COVID-19 changed many practices, and hopefully, more care providers will be supporting partners to join expecting mothers for appointments. If your partner cannot be there in person, consider having them participate on Facetime, via video chat, or even on speakerphone.
You can expect to have around 14 appointments throughout your entire pregnancy. For 14 days, you will see a doctor or a midwife; that’s it. Your partner should prioritize being there in person or virtually for all of them. Or at least as many as they can. This gives your partner a chance to be included, have input in any major medical decisions, ask questions, and hear everything firsthand. If any complications come up throughout prenatal care or you get some unfavorable test results back, those appointments can be tough to go through alone. Having your partner by your side can be a fantastic source of support.
If your partner cannot be present for all appointments, a few may be more important than others. The first appointment is when a doctor or midwife confirms the pregnancy and sets expectations. The other significant appointment is the anatomy scan ultrasound. This happens at about the halfway point. It is exciting to see your baby on an ultrasound, and this is when many parents find out about the baby’s sex. In the last month, before your due date, appointments are weekly, and there is likely more conversation around birth which can be beneficial for your partner to participate. The priorities are the first appointment, the midway anatomy scan, and those in the last stretch. Check out these tips to make the most out of every prenatal appointment.
Plan for Paternity Leave
There is a counterpart to maternity leave for dads and partners, which is paternity leave. I urge your partner to take some time off when your baby arrives. It is such a special time for your family, and the first few weeks are a significant adjustment period.
Your partner needs to determine how much time they can take off and whether they will be paid during paternity leave. If your partner is employed, they can start by checking with their employer. Next, they can look into the policies in your state if you are in the United States. If you are in another country, they can check with government agencies.
Self-employed partners need to look at putting systems in place to spend some time away from their business. At a minimum, hopefully, they can cut down on hours. It can be challenging to take a big chunk of time away from work, especially if that means losing income. This is such a short window of opportunity for you and your partner to be with your new baby. I urge both of you to explore your options and get creative to try and find a way to spend as much time as possible with your family in those first few weeks.
Partner’s Role During Labor and Birth
There was a time when birth was an event attended by females only. In the U.S., in the early 1900s, birth shifted out of homes and into hospitals. Men were excluded from the birth process, except, of course, for doctors.
With the medicalization of birth, hospitals banished fathers to waiting rooms called “stork clubs.” Where they sat around with other soon-to-be dads waiting for news of their baby, eventually, a nurse came in and told them they were a father, at which point they could pass out cigars and celebrate with the other men in the room. As the natural birth movement picked up steam in the 1950s, women spoke out more about wanting choices and control. This was around the time that birth classes started becoming popular, which was the start of allowing men back into delivery rooms. By the 1980s, it was pretty standard for men to be present, and today dads are more present than ever during the birth of their baby. Of course, this also extends to partners who may not be in the traditional dad role.
Before your baby is born, a lot of focus is on preparing for labor and birth. This may seem unnecessary to someone who expects that when a woman is in labor, they go to a hospital, and a doctor delivers the baby. For a lot of people, this is how babies are born. Since you listen to the Pregnancy Podcast, I’m guessing that you want more say in your birth experience. You have so many choices regarding where you give birth, who is there, the environment you are in, and what happens. There are a couple of things that are key to preparing for labor and birth. Your partner should be involved in both.
Birth Class Partner
You and your partner should attend an in-person or online birth class. A comprehensive birth class will prepare you for what to expect in labor and help you navigate your options. Your partner needs to attend to build the knowledge and tools they need to support you. This is also a great crash course to get your partner up to speed with everything they need to know.
Most comprehensive in-person birth classes are once a week for six weeks. This allows you and your partner to make this a fun weekly event. Go out to dinner after your class and make it a date night. Creating the space to debrief after each class allows you to talk about what you learned and your plans for your baby. Making it a date night also will enable you to carve out quality time with the two of you before you have a baby tagging along on your dates.
Birth Plan Reviewer
The other powerful tool in preparing for your birth experience is to create a birth plan. A birth plan is your plan of how you envision your birth and what happens directly following the birth of your baby. A birth plan is much more than a piece of paper you hand to your care provider. It is the process you go through to prepare for the birth experience you want. This process will lay the foundation for you to be prepared for the scenario in which everything goes exactly as planned and for what should happen in the event things do not go as planned.
As you create your birth plan, you should communicate with your partner about how they can support you. Do you prefer they just offer encouragement and hold your hand? Do you want them to play an active part in the labor process and remind you to try different positions or help you with breathing techniques? Your partner may have the opportunity to cut your baby’s umbilical cord or catch your baby when they are born. If there is anything specific you want your partner involved with, include it in your plan and let the hospital or birth center staff know ahead of time.
There is an episode with step-by-step instructions on creating your birth plan and additional resources on the website:
- Creating Your Birth Plan
- Why Birth Plans Fail
- Get a copy of Vanessa’s birth plan
- Your Birth Plan book
- Become a Premium Member for access to the entire back catalog of episodes ad-free and a FREE copy of the Your Birth Plan book
Your partner can be an invaluable advocate for you during labor and birth. They can only be an effective advocate if they know your birth plan and understand your requests. Labor is challenging, and when you are preoccupied with coping with contractions, your partner can help advocate and make sure doctors, midwives, nurses, or doulas are working with you to honor your requests.
Your partner can speak up in the event you are having trouble speaking up. They should know what procedures you want and what you want to avoid. (This is where your birth class and birth plan come into play.) For example, if you want an epidural as soon as you get to the hospital, your partner can speak up and make sure that happens. If you two are planning for an un-medicated birth, your partner can support you by making sure medications aren’t being pushed if you don’t want them.
Labor is a marathon. It is one of the most physically and emotionally challenging you will ever go through. Your partner needs to expect to be there both physically and emotionally too. They need to be rested and prepared to be present for the entire thing. There may be times during labor when you are physically and emotionally drained. Your partner may feel like they can’t do anything for you in these moments. Simply being by your side, knowing you are emotionally supported, can help you get through those challenging moments.
Labor and Birth Coordinator
When you go into labor, your only focus should be on managing contractions and meeting your baby. Other tasks need attention, and your partner can take care of these so you can focus on your labor. If you are married, you may have had a day of wedding coordinator that took care of all the details on your wedding day. A doula can also fulfill this role for the day you go into labor. If you do not have a doula, your partner can act as the labor and birth coordinator. This may sound like a big job. While it is important, it is very simple.
Your partner should have contact phone numbers for anyone they may need to communicate with when you go into labor. This includes your doctor or midwife to notify them you are in labor. If you have other children or pets that someone needs to care for while you are at the hospital or birth center, your partner can coordinate with them. If you want to let any family or close friends know that you are in labor, your partner can make those calls.
Your partner should also be prepared to get you to the hospital or birth center. Make sure your partner knows where your hospital or birth center bag is. They should know how to get to the venue where you are having your baby or have the address to plug into a navigation app. They should know what entrance you should go in and where to park the car. If you have a home birth, they can greet your midwife or other support when they arrive. These are details you do not need to think about and that your partner can handle.
Another great role for dads and partners is the role of gatekeeper for the birth and directly following it in the first few days and weeks. Dealing with visitors can be exhausting, especially when you are healing from birth and the two of you are bonding with a new human. It is okay to say no to all or some visitors or to set rules for visits. The only people who need to be present and be with the baby are you and your partner. If you two decide you are not ready for visitors or keep visits short, you are entitled to dictate that. Your partner can communicate with family and friends to ensure you are only getting visitors when you are ready for them.
The postpartum period is the days, weeks, and months following birth. This period comes with its challenges, many of which new parents do not prepare for. It is important for your partner to be there for you, not just physically but emotionally too. Recovery after birth will look different for every mom based on whether they had a vaginal birth or a cesarean and the particulars of their labor. There are articles that can help with what to expect postpartum and planning ahead. There are a few things your partner should know about birth recovery.
Right after labor, you will probably be exhausted. Your only job is to relax and spend time with your baby. If your partner can take care of anything so you can relax and rest, please ask them. Another side effect of labor is that you will be physically sore and healing. A cesarean section is a major surgery, and it takes time to heal the incision. A vaginal birth is often accompanied by a tear of the perineum. According to the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, the rate of some type of laceration during all vaginal births is between 53-79%. Even in birth with an intact perineum, the area will be sore. Your partner can help by minimizing the moving around you have to do. That could mean anything from walking the dog to getting you something from another room.
Be on the Lookout for Postpartum Depression
Many new mothers will experience the “baby blues” after their baby arrives. You have a massive decrease in hormones following birth. Baby blues generally include mood swings, crying spells, anxiety, and difficulty sleeping. Some other signs you may see are sadness, irritability, feeling overwhelmed, reduced concentration, and a reduced appetite. Baby blues are common and typically begin within the first two to three days after birth and last for about two weeks. The good news is it generally disappears pretty quickly on its own.
Some new moms will experience a more severe, long-lasting form of depression known as postpartum depression. Postpartum depression can be mistaken for the baby blues at first — but the signs and symptoms will be more intense and last longer. Eventually, it can interfere with her ability to care for her baby and handle other daily tasks. Symptoms generally develop within the first few weeks after birth, but they can take longer to show up, in some cases even up to six months after birth.
Your partner will likely spend more time with you than anyone in those days and weeks after birth, and they can be on the lookout for warning signs. If at any point you have difficulty coping emotionally, please contact your doctor or midwife and seek help early on. Ignoring it, not acknowledging it, and hoping it will go away on its own is not a great strategy. Your partner can help by checking in on how you feel mentally in those early days and weeks and encouraging you to reach out to your care provider if you are having trouble.
Breastfeeding is arguably the best thing for a new baby. Breastfed babies are at a lower risk for ear infections, intestinal upsets, respiratory problems, allergies, and dental problems, and their immune system will be stronger. Breastfeeding also produces hormones that foster a chemical connection between mom and baby and helps mom recover from birth better. Your partner can make a world of difference in your breastfeeding journey by supporting breastfeeding.
If you are supplementing with formula, your partner can assist with feeding the baby. This can be especially helpful for feedings in the middle of the night. If your baby is exclusively on breastmilk, your partner may feel like there is nothing they can do. While they cannot nurse your baby, there are many things they can do to support your breastfeeding.
While nursing may come naturally and easily for some moms, it can be physically and emotionally challenging for many. If you have any breastfeeding issues, your partner can encourage you to go to a support group, reach out to your doctor or midwife, or seek a lactation consultant. The first few days or weeks may be challenging, but breastfeeding will keep getting easier. Encouragement and support from your partner go a long way.
When nursing, you can get stuck sitting or lying down with one arm holding your baby. That means you may not be able to get up easily, and you only have the use of one hand. Your partner can help by getting you something to drink or something you can easily eat with one hand. Breastfeeding can be lonely, especially in the early days and weeks when it feels like you have a baby constantly attached to your breast. Your partner can hang out and spend time with you when breastfeeding. Having someone sit with you and chat or watch a show can make a big difference. If you are outside your home, your partner can support you in breastfeeding wherever you are comfortable. That may mean finding a private secluded place or keeping you company in a very public space.
While you are taking care of all the breastfeeding, your partner can take care of diaper changes, do the dishes, make dinner, clean the house, or go grocery shopping. There are many chores required to keep a house running. If you are generally the person in your relationship who tackles these tasks, please ask your partner to step up and help out.
There are a couple of episodes of the podcast geared towards dads and partners that may be helpful:
If there is any subject you want more information on, there is likely a podcast episode covering it. Check out the Episode Guide on the Pregnancy Podcast website to browse by topic.
One of my favorite tools for dads is the Daily Dad. This is a daily email with one piece of timeless advice to help you become a better dad. Although I am a mom, I have been a subscriber for years and enjoy reading this every morning. 10/10 recommend this daily email for every parent.
Thank you to the amazing companies that have supported this episode.
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