As the father of five and the grandfather of seven (as this is written), I have had a little experience when it comes to the process of pregnancy from a father’s perspective. While it is clear that I can’t speak to dealing with cravings and active fetuses at 3:00 a.m., I have always thought that the pregnancy process, when most successful, involves both the prospective father and prospective mother as active participants.
And supporting a pregnant partner is an investment as fathers we need to make.
But husbands of a newly pregnant mother don’t seem to be wired in quite the same way as their partners. My wife would tell you that I was always more worried about the money associated with a pregnancy, at least at the outset, then I was about her and her body’s process. But after the initial worry about dollars was over, I wanted to be involved as much as I could with the process. The miracle of pregnancy and birth are absolutely awesome, as difficult as the process of getting the baby here can be.
So I asked some moms and dads that I know and love to help me identify the biggest things that a prospective dad can do to help support his pregnant partner, and share in the experience of pregnancy (to the extent that is possible).
- Help your partner with the physical demands. Pregnancy is incomprehensible to men in terms of the toll that it can take on our partners’ bodies. While it is a natural process (after all, someone was pregnant with all of us, right?), it can still be a challenge. Moms told me that one of the big things that their partners can do is to try to relieve some of the physical symptoms of pregnancy. Lower back pain as the fetus grows is a big one, and just some heating pads and back rubs can make a big difference. Often, our partners’ feet and legs are just exhausted at the end of a long day, and a can make a big difference.
- Take over some of the household chores. As our partner's bodies adapt to the rigors of pregnancy, some of the household chores get impossible for them. The fumes of cleaning solutions can be nauseating if not toxic, so cleaning toilets and tubs may need to fall to dad. Vacuuming and mopping can be really hard when mom’s body is already tired or the baby bump gets in the way. Offering to take this off our pregnant partner (especially before she has to ask) can help alleviate a lot of stress and anxiety.
- Learn about the process with her. Many dads find themselves detaching from the pregnancy process, in part because they haven’t taken the time to learn about it. Go with your child’s mom to prenatal classes and doctor’s appointments. Read books or watch videos about the process of pregnancy. Learn about the labor and delivery process and talk with other fathers about their experiences. Getting more involved in becoming educated about the pregnancy process will help be a support to mom through her experience.
- Support her emotionally. Hormones you didn’t know existed will begin to manifest themselves in strange ways during pregnancy. Your partner may cry a lot or have moments of total exhilaration. Things that used to be simple and routine now are laden with emotions, both positive and negative. Recognize that these are all natural and to be expected, and that, for the most part, they will not last beyond labor and delivery. Patience, understanding, active listening and just holding her when she wants to be held are big things that will sustain her emotional needs during her pregnancy.
- Help her get ready for the baby. There is no way to fully grasp what it takes to be ready for a baby, and some moms I know were concerned that their husbands were not able to get a handle on all of that. Babies spit up and poop on clothing, crib sheets and more, and they need many changes of each daily. There are cribs, cradles, changing tables, car seats, high chairs and more - all of which are essentials to being parents of a new baby. So work with her to get ready, and help her find the things she needs. Don’t panic all the time about how much things cost or make her feel guilty about having basic needs on hand. We all know it is expensive, but it is part and parcel of being a new parent.
Pregnancy is challenging at best, but it brings with it a sense of awe and wonder if we work hard at making it a process where you can feel those things. Being supportive physically and emotionally, learning all you can about the process, covering the needed bases and focusing on preparation will help keep your relationship strong and help you have a sweeter experience together as you anticipate expanding your family circle.