Support Your Partner
This post assumes your partner is a woman who has given birth
Growing and getting a baby out of a body requires a certain degree of work and trauma to the human body involved. If your partner has just gone through this process your job for the next several weeks is going to be all about providing her and your new baby with support, especially if your partner is breastfeeding.
Here are 17 tips on how you can support your partner.
Hopefully you are able to take parental leave or vacation time to be home for as long as possible. This time will be a great benefit to you in learning how to be a parent. It will also give you time and space to be a strong support to your partner as she heals and give you both time to adapt to parenthood and the change in your family life. Use this time to get involved and engaged in the life of your kid. It will set up a solid foundation for life as an involved dad.
Be the Gatekeeper
There are going to be people who want to help you and who would also really like to see and maybe hold your new baby. You and your partner need to decide when you are willing to see other people. You need to protect your partner’s space and give her time to heal. That means you might need to be the bad guy and say no on her behalf to eager family and friends who want to descend on you in the days after birth. When you do allow people to come for visits, set limits. Limit how long they come for and the times of day when you will accept visitors. An hour of visiting is usually lots in the early days so tell people up front what the rules are and kick them out when the time is up. They can come back another time with more food and gifts.
Do All the Things That Need Doing
Your partner needs healing time, more so if she had a c-section. Do the dishes, laundry, clean the bathroom, clean the kitchen, sweep/vacuum the floor, get the groceries, buy more diapers, do more laundry, etc. Generally look after all the household tasks. It doesn’t need to be perfect, especially since you are going to be fairly dysfunctional yourself due to sleep deprivation. You just need to keep things clean enough that nothing start growing, keep your partner fed and wash the laundry before you need to start wearing underwear inside out. That will get you through the first month or two while you adapt as a family and your partner physically heals.
Bring the Food and Water
If your partner is breastfeeding she will be 1) thirstier than you can imagine and 2) hungry. I stashed water bottles everywhere that she regularly sat. There should always be water within arms reach. Refill the bottles and glasses as often as necessary. Add ice chips if you’ve got them. Ice cubes take too long to melt and you can’t drink frozen blocks of water. Make the food and bring the food. It’s alright if she drops some spaghetti on on your kid’s head while she is eating and breastfeeding. Your kid is going to be dropping food and spitting up on you for the rest of your life, you might as well get some pre-emptive payback while you can.
In addition to the feeding and watering of your partner, you can support breastfeeding in other ways. If she is breastfeeding, help her get set up for each feed- especially in the beginning when she is figuring out the best way to hold the baby. Bring the nursing pillow – my partner was a big fan of the My Brest Friend Nursing Pillow. She used it through three kids and we loaned it out to my sister-in-law and at least one friend. It was great because it has a strap and buckle to keep it in place while nursing. In addition to helping get the pillow set up, make sure she has whatever entertainment she needs to make feeding (especially in the early days) more tolerable.
In spite of what all the books say, breastfeeding can be a terrible painful experience for some women. I’m not talking about the mild discomfort that you read about in the promotional materials that encourage breastfeeding, I mean, toe-curling, tear-inducing pain. With our first kid, this pain did not go away in spite of meeting with a lactation consultant. My partner opted to switch to pumping and then we added in formula feedings and then switched completely as she found it harder to pump enough breast milk.
This is where you can practice lots of ‘yes dears’. Your partner will experience some big hormonal swings and mood changes. These are normal. Be supportive while her body and hormones adjust to post-pregnancy and into motherhood. She will say things she doesn’t mean or even understand in retrospect. Just go with the flow. Sleep deprivation and hormonal swings can be a dangerous cocktail. It will be better if you just do what is required of you and help her through this period of adjustment.
Monitor Her Mood
The hormones will balance out in a matter of weeks and her mood and emotions will even out as well. Sometimes the mood changes are outside of the range of normal and suggest more significant needs. Keep any eye out for persistent depression or anxiety. Talk with your partner about how she is feeling and if you both agree that something is not right, then you need to help her get the support she needs. She can talk to her family doctor about possible solutions, and in some communities there are support groups for postpartum anxiety and depression.
Change the Diapers
There will be diapers that need changing, lots of them. Get in their and change them. Especially the ones that need changing at night. If you haven’t changed diapers before, this guide will help.
Feeding Your Baby
If you partner is breastfeeding, she my decide to pump breast milk from time-to-time. Pumping has three useful outcomes:
You may wonder why a woman would put all the effort into making breast milk only to go to the additional effort to pump it out of her body and then throw it out. The answer is alcohol. Your partner has in all likelihood been avoiding alcohol for the past nine months. Now that the kid is cooked and out of the oven, she might like a drink every now and then. Since alcohol travels easily in breast milk and because it is generally a good idea to avoid getting your baby drunk, your partner can pump out her alcohol-infused milk and dump it out so that the next round is clear for the kid.
If your partner is returning to work outside the home and wants to continue breastfeeding she can pump milk and bottle it for your child. She may also choose to pump and bottle a few feedings worth in the fridge so that you can bottle feed your baby. This is an especially good idea so that you can share the night feeding duties and to give our partner’s chapped nipples a break between feedings to allow them to heal.
If your partner is experiencing the kind of pain my partner experience, pumping can provide an alternative to the painful breastfeeding and still make it possible to feed your baby with breast milk. As our doctor pointed out at the time. The benefits are the same regardless of the container used to feed the baby.
Whatever the reason, if your partner chooses to pump breast milk – it is your job to look after the pump. disassemble it according to instructions and wash it after every use and reassemble it when dry so it is ready for the next use. You also can take on the role of chief bottle washer at the same time.
You may also opt to exclusively or partially feed your baby using formula. This is also ok. Our doctor pointed out that there were many Nobel prize winners who were formula fed when we decided it was time to stop breastfeeding as a result of the pain my partner was experiencing. If you are formula feeding bottles also need to be washed and formula needs to be mixed. Bottle feeding in general gives you an opportunity to also feed your baby – which is an awesome experience nearly every time. The burping and spitting up isn’t always so great though.
This exists on many levels and has many benefits for you personally and the state of your relationship. As referenced above, your partner is going through some hormonal shifts and her body has been through some significant change and trauma over the past year. So it is in everyone’s best interest if you keep your mouth shut whenever any thoughts come into your head about her physical appearance, the last time she bathed, or the latest hormone-driven comment. Feel free to let out the comments about how awesome she is, how amazing it is that she just produced a human and how impressed you are by that feat. Everything else needs to be bottled up and thrown away.
Help Her Heal
You can help her to heal in a number of ways.
- Give her time to nap while you are taking care of all the things or taking your baby for a walk
- Help her to bathe, either by drawing the bath or bathing together – not as foreplay, but as an opportunity for some intimate time as a couple o help her feel like a regular human and not just a milk factory.
- Encourage her and help her to get up and out of the house. Go for walks together with your kid. They will need to be short in the early days and gradually longer as she heals. Getting out of the house will be good for her physical and mental health.
It is likely that neither of you know what you are doing as new parents. Be patient with one another and figure it out together. Be patient while your partner’s body heals and the hormones sweeping through her body settle down into a degree of balance again. Be patient in your desire for physical intimacy and sex. It will take some time for her to feel comfortable with the idea of intercourse and just to find herself in the craziness of becoming a parent and all the changes that have taken place in her body.
Take Lots of Pictures
You’ll both be pretty tired in the first few months. There will be lots of things and moments that you forget as a result. Take lots of pictures to remember those moments and look back through them together when you are a little more alert. You can play the guessing game on who was actually alert enough to have taken each specific picture.
Be A Dad
Step up, get involved, do whatever needs doing and make sure you take time to enjoy the changes happening in all of you.
What other advice would you provide to new dads?
Moms, what else do you need from your partners?
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