Lately, my Facebook newsfeed is filled with beautiful, precious new humans. Personally, I understand how many of my friends have struggled to have their babies. Years (and partners) have passed since siblings got added or friends became parents for the first time. It is, by and large, a joyous time around my newsfeed.
That said, being a mother myself, I understand that the first year of being a parent is rarely all family selfies and Christmas photoshoots. I also understand the tremendous strain that a new baby can put on your relationship. In addition, everyone loves a good pregnancy and newborn story, but the novelty wears off quickly and most couples feel isolated, overwhelmed and disconnected.
If your partner has recently given birth, you might find yourself struggling with the dramatic changes in your spouse and family dynamic. Here are three ways to “show up” for your partner after she has a baby. Remember that this too shall pass (I promise), and your support will have lasting positive effects on your relationship.
1. Be supportive without having to be asked: growing a human being is an all-consuming, nearly year-long extravaganza that ends with a real “bang”. Whether your baby was delivered vaginally or by C-Section, a woman’s body has undergone a momentous amount of growth, effort and energy. Recovery, despite what the media may suggest, takes months (not a few days).
Here is how you can help: do practical stuff, like making (or buying) meals, feeding other children, grocery shopping, doing the laundry and cleaning. If your partner is getting up in the nighttime to feed, encourage her to let the household stuff go and then try to take care of it.
You might have to both agree that things will be messy for a few months, but her rest and mental health are worth it for everyone in the long run. Don’t ask if you can do anything. Assume yes, and go.
2. Give reassurance that she is doing a good job: becoming a new mother or a new mother again can really mess with a woman’s mind. Body changes, hormones and sleeplessness can distort a woman’s reality, making her anxious, angry and depressed. Reassure her if she shares concerns about her body, the baby, being a mother, feeding and all the other insecurities that come along with being a mom.
3. Understand the warning signs of postpartum depression (she likely won’t) and call for help if you see it: Let me be clear- postpartum depression and/or anxiety is the most common complication of pregnancy. Unfortunately, information about the warning signs and resources available are scarce. Symptoms of postpartum depression may include:
– sadness and crying that seems excessive
– high preoccupation with the safety/health of the baby in ways that interfere with her normal activity
– inability to sleep or sleeping too much
– not feeling that she is bonding with the baby (or feeling that the baby “doesn’t like” her)
– thoughts of harming the baby
– thoughts of harming herself
If these symptoms go on for over two weeks or seem more severe than the “baby blues”, seek help from your family physician, OB, midwife or emergency room.
In serious cases, a woman may have postpartum psychosis, which includes visual or auditory hallucinations and having trouble identifying what is “real” and “imagined”. This requires emergency help, so call 911 or proceed directly to the ER.
Dads/Other moms: it might seem like you are putting your needs on the backburner right now, and you are. But it will not always be like this, and as cliché as this is, you really won’t be able to believe how quickly it goes by (once it ends). By taking care of your partner right now and showing your willingness to be supportive, you will be setting your new family up for long-term success.