Having a supportive partner during pregnancy and birth is more crucial than ever, given the complexities of maternal health in the United States during COVID-19.
Restrictions on doula care, greater limitations on provider-patient interactions during prenatal visits, and the uncertainties of shifting hospital rules during birth have negatively impacted new families. In addition, pregnant individuals, who may have relied on the help of family members or a hired birthing professional in the past, may find it more challenging to access the postpartum support they need to make the transition to life with a new baby less stressful.
All of these challenges emphasize the important role of the partner. While the partner may want to be supportive in most cases, they may not know what to do. The dearth of concrete, task-oriented guidance and trustworthy information can leave partners feeling disengaged.
When pregnant individuals are left unsupported during this vulnerable time, it can lead to poorer birth outcomes, greater incidences of postpartum depression and anxiety, challenges with breastfeeding, and resentment in their relationship with their partner.
In contrast, the right support from a partner is associated with better birth outcomes. According to a 2012 study by the National Institutes of Health (NIH),1 “Mothers who perceived stronger social support from their partners mid-pregnancy had lower emotional distress postpartum...and their infants were reported to be less distressed in response to novelty.”
The best insurance to a positive birth experience is to take proactive steps to engage the partner in learning about their new responsibilities. Here are three steps your partner can take to ensure they are prepared to support both you and the baby:
Actively educate yourself with your partner
Taking comprehensive childbirth classes can be very valuable to achieve this goal. The term “childbirth education” can be a little misleading – in other countries, it’s called “prenatal education,” which more aptly points to its true intention. Your classes should not just focus on what’s happening during the labor and birth process as that’s just a small sliver of the many changes unfolding during this life transition. A truly comprehensive education ensures that you and your partner are prepared for many different facets of your parenting journey. Your education should prepare you physically, mentally and emotionally for the path you are on.
Classes and educators can vary greatly based on their training and methods; my favorite is the Bradley Method because it trains your partner to know how to best support you during pregnancy, birth, and postpartum with a focus on working together as a parenting team. The Bradley Method has been the most influential for me as a parent, personally. I chose this method for my training and teaching because it allows me to work closely with new parents and to help each family enter into new family life fully engaged and prepared. There are other schools of birthing education with differing philosophies, so devoting time to researching different methods will be beneficial down the line.
Make sure your childbirth classes are spread out - over time
Courses that take place over weeks or months, rather than a weekend intensive or a several hour seminar, have major benefits for you and your partner. Taking a course over time helps you integrate the new reality that parenting is a full time job that you cannot squeeze just into your schedule; make it a family priority to find time for your child now.
On a practical level, taking classes over time allows you and your partner to integrate and apply the information learned, generates discussions about what’s important to you both in the process of becoming parents, and reminds you both to focus on aspects of preparation that could be left by the wayside otherwise.
Take time for you and your partner to engage weekly to prepare for your child’s birth
Discussing the various needs during this time of life, taking action on the steps that need to be done, and actively practicing the skills you both need for the birth experience leads to greater confidence and a sense of safety for both parents. Weekly childbirth classes allow you and your partner to integrate and apply the information learned, generates discussions about what’s important to you both in the process of becoming parents, and reminds you both to focus on aspects of preparation that could be left by the wayside otherwise.
If you do not have access to a birthing class, you can do this on your own by designating a specific time and place each week to discuss what you are experiencing and feeling, and plan for the upcoming weeks. For both parties, going into this conversation with forethought on what to discuss will increase the chances of a productive discussion.
Encourage your partner to connect with your baby during pregnancy
According to the 12 Guiding Principles, developed by the Santa Barbara Graduate Institute Center for Clinical Studies, the relationship between a parent and child begins during pregnancy. You are not waiting to become a parent as a pregnant individual - you already are one. So is your partner. Your baby wants to connect with you and to feel loved and wanted. Connecting with your baby is just that - connecting and being in a relationship.
Sometimes partners need encouragement to do this because they may not realize that the connection happens in the womb. Some ideas for partners to connect with their baby during pregnancy: touching the pregnant belly and responding to baby’s kicks and wiggles, talking to the baby, singing to the baby (a baby will recognize a particular song that has been repeated during pregnancy at birth!), reading a book, and playing music for the baby. A connected parent is more likely to take the actions necessary to assure the wellbeing of their child and the birthing individual.
The changes brought about by the pandemic highlight the need for a supportive, consistent, and educated partner: a need that was often neglected even during our pre-pandemic world. As the person who is bringing a baby into the world, you deserve support! Receiving the right education as partners will help you create a smoother start to your new family life.
Susan Martin, the founder of Natural Beginnings LA, is a childbirth educator and doula based in Los Angeles, CA.