To this date, the biggest disagreement my husband and I have ever had took place weeks after the birth of our first child. I felt like I wasn’t recovering well from pregnancy and childbirth and it was largely because I was doing most of the newborn care.
I remember angrily telling him how alone I felt as a new parent; that I thought we were partners, but it hadn’t felt that way since our daughter was born. I didn’t understand why he wasn’t taking more initiative.
What amazed me was that my husband seemed unaware that I was struggling. He said I seemed to be so good at being a mom. He assumed I preferred to care for the baby than have him clumsily try to learn the basics and that I would speak up if I needed help.
It seems ridiculous in retrospect to think my husband ever believed that parenting was easier for me than it was for him. We have three kids now, and he can skillfully handle all three while I work or if I’m out with friends. He’s so much better at putting babies to sleep than I am and has much more patience for the chaos of bedtime.
I don’t think his experience as a brand-new dad is unusual, however. It seems that many men hold certain beliefs about childbirth and parenting a newborn that are complete misconceptions. They believe it comes more naturally to the women or assume their partner is gracefully handling each and every hurdle pregnancy throws her way.
The truth is, men could do themselves and their partner a favor and make sure they actually understand what’s happening during pregnancy.
These eight crucial things every father-to-be needs to know about pregnancy are a great place to start.
1. Handle with care?
Although pregnancy is certainly a physically challenging experience, pregnant women aren’t fragile. Moms-to-be don’t need to be handled with kid gloves and they definitely don’t need their partner restricting their activities.
“Women should be encouraged to stay active throughout pregnancy. Physical activity does not increase the risk of miscarriage, small birth weight, or preterm birth. Continuing to care for small children is safe. Additionally, most employment is acceptable in all trimesters,” says Michael Haydon, MD, medical director of obstetrics, perinatology, and maternal–fetal medicine at MemorialCare Saddleback Medical Center in Laguna Hills, California.
Additionally, Haydon emphasizes that women can and should continue to exercise through their pregnancy. He recommends 20 to 30 minutes as often as seven days a week.
2. Appearances are deceiving.
Even though the pregnancy may not be obvious from the outside, there is plenty going on during the first trimester, and it’s exhausting!. Partners should know that the first trimester can be the most difficult part of pregnancy for some women, and it shouldn’t be surprising that they need more rest.
“I wish my partner realized that while it doesn’t look like much is going on in the first trimester, it’s the most exhausting part of pregnancy,” shares writer Kelly Burch, who is pregnant with her second child. “Sure, I don’t have a big belly yet but my body is producing more blood, stretching and changing, and helping to grow the most important parts of our future child. Yes, I really do need to go to bed at 8 p.m., even if I already had a nap.”
No matter what the pregnant woman in your life is experiencing, the best approach is to be exceptionally empathetic and go above and beyond to make her life a little easier, suggests Haydon.
If there are other children, Haydon tells dads-to-be to “care for other kids whenever possible as naps or pregnancy massage can promote well-being and relaxation. Taking over some of the cooking or shopping throughout pregnancy will allow pregnant patients to sit down and alleviate pregnancy-related back pain.”
3. It isn’t like the movies.
When the movies portray pregnant women, it seems like they default to the most talked-about and extreme symptoms of pregnancy. Partners should know that pregnancy is different for every woman and you should never, ever doubt what a woman says she is experiencing.
Just because you’ve never heard of it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
“There are pregnancy symptoms besides the ones that you hear about and see in movies. Just because you’ve never heard of it, doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.
“I didn’t have this issue with my husband, but my brother didn’t believe me when I told him I couldn’t look at the computer without getting sick,” shares Shana Westlake, a writer and mom of two.
Even the smallest symptoms can make life difficult for pregnant women. It is helpful for partners to work to understand these symptoms and to respond with empathy.
Pregnancy changes a woman’s body inside and out from head to toe.
“Pregnancy changes a woman’s body inside and out from head to toe. A supportive spouse should acknowledge that fact. While constipation, heartburn, insomnia, swelling, low back pain, anxiety, or the many other effects of pregnancy may not seem to be much of an inconvenience when considered individually by a spouse, he should try to imagine having all of those issues simultaneously for months while continuing to go about business as usual,” says Amy Peters, DO, OB-GYN at Saddleback Medical Center.
4. You’re both beginners.
First pregnancies are a brand-new experience for both parents involved.
It’s easy to assume that the mom-to-be knows what she is doing simply because she is a woman, but the belief that motherhood just comes naturally to women is mistaken.
The truth is, each day is a new experience when you’re pregnant with your first baby. Pregnant women have fears and questions, just like their partners, and how they experience those fears can vary widely.
Remember this is a new experience for your wife too.
“It’s unknown territory for her too. Remember this is a new experience for your wife too and she also doesn’t know what to expect. Have empathy on the different feelings and stages she may go through during it,” suggests Boulder, Colorado–based marriage counselor Wyatt Fisher, PsyD.
5. Intimate Expectations
Although some women may experience an increased desire to be intimate with their partner, expecting this from all pregnant women is a good way to create tension in your marriage. Pregnancy is different for every woman, and things can change greatly from day to day within each pregnancy.
Exhaustion, discomfort, and emotions all play a role in a pregnant woman’s desire (or lack of desire) to be intimate. It is perfectly normal for women to experience extreme fluctuations of their libido, according to Fisher, who says men should prepare themselves for these changes.
6. Two-Person Job
It is certainly accurate to say that women do most of the work during the pregnancy, but that doesn’t mean men don’t have an important role. Conceiving a child is a two-person job, and growing a child should be as well.
Of course men can’t carry the baby, but they can help by offering emotional support to their partner and remaining involved in the decision-making process.
“When we talk about what is the partner’s role in pregnancy, it is to support the pregnant woman,” says Kenneth James, MD, OB-GYN at Saddleback Medical Center. “Partners should be partners. Support, love, and shower their partners with praise, and remind them how special they are. Trust me that it is easier than pushing out a baby!”
Having a baby together can be one of the most bonding experiences to have together.
Staying engaged emotionally will also help men to feel involved in the process and remain connected to their spouse, which is important preparation for becoming parents.
“Keep in the journey together. Having a baby together can be one of the most bonding experiences to have together. Therefore, stay actively a part of it by regularly checking in with her, her feelings, her needs, and share yours as well so the experience can bring the two of you closer together rather than further apart,” advises Fisher.
7. Mental Health Awareness
We don’t hear much about it, but depression isn’t limited solely to the postpartum season. Even if you’ve been trying to conceive and you’re excited to become a parent, depression during pregnancy is a real risk.
Although nailing down firm statistics on prenatal depression hasn’t been easy, a study published in the Industrial Psychology Journal estimates that between 4 and 20 percent of pregnant women will experience prenatal depression.
Some pregnant women may speak up when they feel depressed, others may keep their symptoms to themselves. This is why partners should remain aware, watching for symptoms of depression or anxiety. It’s crucial for the well-being of both mom and baby. These symptoms can include frequent crying, difficulty sleeping, or not enjoying things she previously loved to do.
Pregnancy can have great effects on the newborn child, not just medically but emotionally.
“Pregnancy can have great effects on the newborn child, not just medically but emotionally. We know that anxious, angry, and depressed mothers can make anxious, angry, and depressed babies. This may set their baby up for difficulties in life starting from childhood throughout adulthood. By helping the mother stay happy and healthy, this can have a positive impact on children,” explains Fisher.
8. Preparing for Fatherhood
Moms-to-be spend a lot of their pregnancy preparing to be a mom, but men should also be aware of the things they need to do before becoming a dad. We’re not even talking about parenting books or classes. These things are important, but there are more basic preparations to be made.
Do not rely on her to do everything.
“Get your own medical check-up, vaccinations, and newborn CPR classes. Do not rely on her to do everything,” says Fisher.
Specifically, there is a whole list of vaccines parents should have to protect themselves and their fragile newborn. Some of these vaccines cannot be given to newborn babies, so it is crucial that their caregivers do their part!
Additionally, all parents should know how to perform CPR, and fathers should plan to attend both childbirth and breastfeeding classes to learn how to support their partner.