Did you know that both parents’ brains physically change between the periods of pregnancy and postpartum? While mom experiences changes beginning immediately, your brain will begin changing around the sixteen week period and will continue for up to two years. Thus begins the magical period of your dad superpower development. Studies show that while the core of mom’s brain changes (the area involving care, nurturing and risk detection), the outer sectors of dad’s brain change (the area involving thought, goal orientation, problem solving and planning). This happens for a reason! Biologically and psychologically, moms have a lot going on in the first few years after conception. To put it into perspective, her hormonal changes are so strong that they are causing your body to have a hormonal reaction that changes your brain. That is intense. The good news is that you can use your awesome new brain growth to help mom move smoothly through pregnancy, birth and the postpartum period. Here are a few ways to do that!
Before Baby is Born
Support her emotionally: This is the most important thing you can do. Pregnancy hormones can be a crazy experience, and between physical and emotional changes/discomfort, some mamas can feel unrecognizable to themselves during this immense transition. A woman’s estrogen levels during pregnancy are equal to taking 100 birth control pills per day. Remind her that what she is experiencing is normal and that she is amazing for making these sacrifices to create life and grow your family. Be patient with her. Tell her she’s beautiful. And more than anything, remind her that all of this is temporary.
Learn about the process with her: Outside of supporting her emotionally, trying your best to understand the physical and emotional changes she is experiencing, and being active in helping her prepare for her birth will make a huge impact on both of your experiences. This will give you the opportunity to better understand her experience, understand her birthing wishes and rights well enough to advocate for her if necessary, and physically and emotionally support her during her birth. I cannot over-stress the importance of educating ourselves about our bodies. An intensive childbirth education course is an invaluable part of the experience. And if a class is just something that will not work for you, I have so many reading recommendations. Reading together can be a new way to bond through the experience.
Attend care provider visits as much as you can: During checkups you will be able to hear your baby’s heartbeat and hear about his/her development first hand. This can help you feel a stronger bond with your baby during the pregnancy process and is another way to help your partner feel supported.
Support her nesting process: Nesting is some serious stuff. We are biologically hardwired to begin preparing the “nest” for baby, and there are so many aspects involved — lists of things you will need. Do what you can to help her prepare physically and emotionally for baby’s arrival. It is just another opportunity to bond during the pregnancy experience.
During the Birth
Birth is one of the most beautiful and difficult things that we do. As the birth team, we will all be doing a lot of work helping mom through the process of birth, and your job is the most important. You know mom better than anyone in the birthing room. Let her know that you think she is a magnificent goddess for doing the work she is doing. She will need to hear those things and see your awe. Hiring a doula and taking a childbirth education course will help you learn more about how you can physically support your spouse, but the best thing you can do during this birth will be to help her see that you believe in her and to help her keep the oxytocin flowing. What’s all this about oxytocin, you ask? Oxytocin (a.k.a. the love hormone) triggers The Endorphin Effect: it stimulates the production of beta-endorphins, which are 18-33 times more powerful than morphine. That means that your love can actually improve her pain management. That’s pretty amazing, right? But how do we create oxytocin during labor? I’ve included some ideas below.
Laughter: fill your brain with funny stories that you know will make her laugh before the big day. You’ll know when to use your jokes, and they’ll likely keep a good vibe in the room as well as encourage labor progression.
Creating a calm environment: this will be something that your doula will help with… lighting, candles, music etc… your doula will be the one making sure that happens, hopefully without notice. But I like to stress this importance because you will play a huge role in maintaining that environment. As her birth partner, you will be her voice when she is unable to use it. If things seem crazy at any point don’t hesitate to ask for a moment to yourselves — and you bet your doula will be making that suggestion and clearing the room if you guys need some space.
Kissing, nipple stimulation & sexual intercourse: try treating the early labor experience (if it’s not late at night when you should both be resting/sleeping) as a romantic date night. Light some candles, turn on some relaxing music and profess your love to her. It could possibly help her progress faster, and it’s also a great way to pass the time.
Making sure she is eating and drinking: mom will be working very hard to open and release her baby, and eating and drinking may be far from her mind. Studies show that even hunger, which also causes the body to go into a “fight or flight” response, can stop labor from progressing. This is something we can work together to keep up with. I just like to make note of why it is important.
During the Postpartum Period
The early postpartum period can be crazy. This will be the biggest paradigm shift you experience in your lifetime. And if this is not your first child, you already know this, but you will still experience a period of transition while you integrate a new member into your family. Mom will be experiencing a hormone flush like no other while healing physically from her labor experience and creating a maternal bond with your new baby while she and baby learn their breastfeeding relationship. There are so many things you can do that will help her in this process.
Be sure she is eating, and drinking plenty of water: there are some things I mentioned above (like emotional support) that will be universal through the entire process. Being sure she is given plenty of nutritious food and water will be at the very top of your list along with the others. Breastfeeding is hard, and is a full time job. She will need reminders to take care of herself, and will greatly appreciate not having to think about it. Create several breastfeeding stations around the house (and keep them filled) for her so she never has to think about finding food. Get her a giant water bottle. She will use it.
Keep the peri bottle flowing: The best thing my husband did for me during my early postpartum period was maintain the peri bottle tea. We used a healing herbal tea in my peri bottle and having warm tea in my bottle at a moment’s notice made a huge difference in my comfort levels, and in my healing.
Pay close attention to mom’s emotional health: ask her how she is really feeling, and give her “touch breaks” whenever you can. The postpartum period can be the most difficult part of the entire experience for some moms. January Harshe couldn’t have said it better:
“Because the truth is this — the first few years postpartum are going to pull you so far away from who you used to be — and then they’re going to put you back together as the person you’re meant to become.”
Patience and empathy is so important during this period. If you feel like she is (or both of you are) in over her head, reach out for help. You will be her sounding board during this period. If you feel like things are too intense for too long, voice that. There are so many resources. Your doula can lend an ear and offer suggestions, and finding a support group with others who relate to your experience can make all the difference.
Give her some me-time: When mom isn’t nursing, give her an opportunity to do something for herself. When you have a tiny human attached to your body, regular touch breaks are a godsend. As a new mom, me time is food for the soul.
The most important thing you can do at this point is listen to your instincts. You’ve spent nine months bonding with your partner on an entirely different level. Your doula will have educated you and your spouse about the postpartum period and you will be physically prepared. You will know what to do. And if you ever feel lost, talk about it. There are so many resources. Your doula and childbirth educator will be great points of contact in the coming months. Just remember through the entire process, the more you connect and support your partner throughout your entire experience, the more prepared you will both be as you step into parenthood.