Parenthood is an incredible journey but an emotional one too. For mums who have just given birth, a little support can go a long way as they recover.
As part of our Body Proud Mums campaign, we spoke to Dr Arun Ghosh to find out ten ways you can support your partner after birth. If your family has just welcomed a new addition, we hope his tips will help you to help mum as she finds her feet.
1. be understanding
Remember that there are a whole host of new emotions, hormones and bodily changes that your partner will be going through. Mixed with a lack of sleep and increased anxiety, this can sometimes mean that women become very emotional. This is absolutely normal and doesn’t need to be fixed. It is important that you allow her to have this time but also understand and reassure her that she is not going crazy and you are there to support her through these times.
2. be ready
Helping with preparations before your baby arrives is just as important as supporting your partner after birth, so you know what is needed to make sure everything is in place for the baby. Keep an eye on stocks of nappies, baby cream and nappy rash cream. It also helps to make sure you have plenty of snacks in the house, as well as favourite meals that your partner may have missed if she was unable to eat them during pregnancy. Keeping on top of these will help to support her as well as take a weight off her mind, knowing everything is in place.
3. be there
It is important that you take time to be present after your baby is born. It is completely understandable that mum may be super protective of your new arrival and do most of the caring, but your presence is a valuable support. No one is asking you to swoop in and take over control of the baby but knowing that you are there in case anything happens will help. Getting up during feeds, even in the middle of the night, to make a warm drink or a snack may not seem to be appreciated at the time, but it shows that you are a hands-on parent and are aware of what she is going through.
4. be positive
One of the most important things you can do is to help mum bounce back if she’s struggling with her confidence. Stretch marks and post-baby belly may leave her feeling unattractive but you can help her to take back control of how she’s feeling. Complimenting her, telling her that she is still attractive and sexy, and even romantic gestures can all help improve her self-esteem and will help reaffirm your connection together.
5. be involved
Try to learn as much as you can about how to look after your newborn baby, even if your partner is breastfeeding. It’s a tricky one, but knowing how to use the sterilizer, connect the car seat and even how to correctly dispose of nappies can make a massive difference. There will be lots of new experiences for you and your partner but if you’ve done the learning then you can provide suggestions that might help, especially with the early morning feeds when mum is likely to be tired.
That being said, it is important to remember that you are involved and not simply dictating what to do, as that won’t go down well either. No one wants to be man-explained about breastfeeding (especially by someone who is never going to do it) but often you may not be as tired and your hormones may not be changing as much. Reassuring your partner and helping her with baby’s positioning may be all that she needs to find that perfect latch or to help continue with feeds. However, making sure the baby sling, Moses basket and bouncy chair are all set up and ready to go may be equally as useful (and also help both of you get some extra sleep).
6. be helpful
Part of supporting your partner means making sure they don’t feel isolated. Every mum who is left alone in a rocking chair while baby feeds for the twelfth time that day may feel a little alone despite how close her phone is. Offering a fresh glass of water, snack or warm drink - even moving the TV remote closer to her - all of these may seem like small things but in the mountain of feeds that are yet to come, this will make a huge difference.
7. be surprising
Simple gestures can make a huge difference; flowers from the store, a bottle of wine that she may not have been able to drink for the last nine months, her favourite magazine which you may hate. Or instead of the usual brew, bring her a coffee shop drink which she likes. All of these tiny gestures are important and will show her that you’re thinking of her and making considerations about what she is missing out on. Buying presents can be thoughtful too. They don’t need to be expensive, but they let her know that you think she is doing an amazing job. Which she is.
8. be humble
Your opinion may not always count, especially when it comes to the health or wellbeing of your child. She may want the reassurance of her mother, her friends, her NCT or mothering group, GP, midwife, health visitor and others that have experience with children. Don’t take this as a personal insult though; her instinct to protect and make sure baby is fine is paramount. That’s why it’s important that you hold your tongue and a quick “I told you everything would be okay” may not be as helpful. A mother’s instinct is a powerful and overwhelming presence so, if you can, be humble. You’ll find your partner will appreciate that you’ve not thrown anything back in her face, even if you were right, and you’ll be glad you didn’t mention anything if you were wrong!
9. be attentive
Over time, your partner will develop her own routine and it’s worth taking time to watch what she does. It’s also important to respect her way of doing things and follow the same routine when you look after your baby. This helps mum to feel that you understand why she does things a certain way and reassures her that she can take a break while you take over.
Being attentive is also about your partner’s emotional wellbeing as new mums can feel low, especially in the first few months. Lack of sleep and low mood may be a sign of something more. If this is the case, it is important you mention this to the health visitor, midwife and GP. There is also plenty of support available from charities such as NCT and PANDAS, and your help can save her low mood from getting worse.
10. last but not least, be loving
Working on your relationship is important but this can be difficult when you are both exhausted, especially when it comes to talking about things like sex. That part of your intimate relationship may return in due course, but it is important that you show your partner that you love her. This means hugs, date nights and time together, and being helpful with arranging babysitters. Planning these events will hopefully give her time to feel like herself again and time for you to reflect on the experience that you are going through together. When you love and support your partner, even the emotional days will be easier.