Having a child can be an exciting new stage in one’s life, but it can also be isolating and scary for new parents. In this blog we explore how to be the best partner and support yourself and your relationship.
Expert relationship therapist John Gottman found that one of the top reasons for divorce and/or separation for newlyweds was couples becoming dissatisfied with the relationship during the pregnancy period. Gottman found that 67% of couples have described that they felt that their relationship with their partner worsened in the first 3 years after becoming a parent. But, why is that the case? And, perhaps, more importantly, how can you and your partner protect your relationship from becoming complicated during a potentially special and unique time in the parenting journey.
In this blog, we will be focusing on 5 practical steps that fathers-to-be can take to support their partner during pregnancy and after birth. Research finds that fathers’ involvement with their new baby is not only crucial for the mothers mental and physical health but is greatly important for the developing baby. For example, it can also influence aspects such as the level of foetal growth (Alio et al., 2013).
1. Flex your empathy muscle
A first step would be to read up on pregnancy, but as well as informing yourself, you can practice empathy with your partner. Some dads are naturally empathetic, and for others it is a skill to be honed and perfected. Empathising with your partner can take different forms. You can emotionally empathise where you aim to stand in her shoes and understand what she might be feeling (emotional empathy). It could be cognitive, where you aim to understand your partner’s thoughts and feelings (cognitive empathy).
Sometimes your partner might not want to talk or may also be new to what is taking place. In order to support your partner in the best way, it’s also helpful to read up, and there is some fantastic literature available that consider both the needs of new mothers and fathers. You can do this by reading pregnancy books and blogs (Check out our previous blog: Top 10 pregnancy and after birth books for dads).
For advice on what not to say and that risks infuriating your partner, check out this blog here.
2. Get ready for a new stage of your relationship
It is true that your relationship will change after the baby is born. You have gone from being two individuals brought together by love and shared interests and suddenly you both have the responsibility for a tiny fragile new baby. One of you, often the mother (not necessarily in same sex relationships) will likely have a substantial role immediately after birth in caring for the baby and will not be able to have just as much attention and time for you in this period. It’s important to remember that this is a temporary phase and there is less intensity as time goes on, as well as more scope for you to have involvement. It’s really important that you feel involved in a way that fits with mother and baby and mother feels supported. Some dads we’ve talked to discussed an approach where in the middle of the night they would go to get the baby when the baby wakes up to the feed, so that mum can nurse the baby and then turn over and go back to sleep and then both parents have the same experience of a broken nights’ sleep in the early months. Any strategy that helps your partner to feel supported in her mothering will strengthen your relationship and may help you to feel more involved in the early days.
3. Build your support network
Another great way to support your partner is by surrounding yourself with family and friends. Particularly, speaking to family members who have recently had children and asking them about their experience. It can often be comforting to hear about others' experiences and make this journey less isolating. Support from friends and family have also been reported to improve mental health and reduce stress during pregnancy in women, so keep your loved ones close (Kim et al., 2014). Choose people that you trust and that you can speak openly with.
4. Plan your financial future together
Often undermined, research suggests that money worries are one of the biggest reasons for conflicts in pregnant couples (Belsky & Rovine, 1990; Tavakol et al., 2017) and stability of income can really help with new couples’ wellbeing. Although financial situations cannot easily be changed, it is important to have open conversations with your partner about your worries and how you will budget for the new baby. In any budgeting decisions, consider what you need but also what’s good for you and your partner's mental health. Managing your finances well and making realistic financial plans for the future can help reduce the financial strain for new parents.
NCT have a baby budget tool that you can find here.
5. Practice open communication with your partner
Communication may seem like an easy step on the list but it is often the most challenging for new parents. Lending a non-judgmental listening ear to your partner as well as opening up to her about your worries and problems can drastically improve the relationship quality (Alyson & Gottman, 2005). It’s important to actively make time to have key conversations with your partner and approach these conversations with care. Many couples have more time before the birth so if you can try to have some chats about what’s important to you both before the baby is born.
Important conversations to have include:
What are your hopes and dreams for your life as a family, what rituals and traditions (family or religious) that you grew up with are important to you?
Discuss and be open about your physical, mental and sexual wellbeing and needs.
How will you manage household tasks as a team in the first few months
Talk about each of your expectations are about involving your family and friends and how you want to manage visits and extra support when baby comes home from the hospital.
6. Plan a babymoon!
Going on holiday when the baby arrives is not quite as straightforward as pre-birth, and so many couples jet off on a last hoorah before the baby arrives. What is a babymoon? Just like a honeymoon, a babymoon has become a popular trend for couples that want to have a holiday together before the due date. The purpose is to have rest and relaxation and potentially mark the milestone as the last time as a duo, or last time before the family grows in size. Many people choose to go on a babymoon if they are travelling abroad in the second trimester. For same sex couples this could be anytime up until the birth. Some babymoons might involve staying home and getting quality time and decorating, whatever feels right to the couple.
So here are the 5 hacks you can use straight away to help your partner throughout pregnancy and after birth! Wishing all the father-to-be lots of luck for their new journey into fatherhood.