First off: Congratulations! Whether you’re here because you searched “wife pregnant help” or you just stumbled upon the link, the fact that you’re seeking out information is a sign that you’re already rising to the occasion.
And if you’re semi-terrified, that’s to be expected. No one knows what they’re doing before they have kids, but eagerness and willingness to learn are some of the most important qualities in a parent (probably second only to having compassion for yourself and your family).
Supporting a partner while trying to wrap your head around your own impending life changes can be a lot. When one person in a relationship is pregnant, it’s both an extremely shared experience and a highly personal one for the pregnant person. Being pregnant can make someone feel insane, euphoric, and fatigued, all on the same day. And no one else can fully understand what it’s like to be in that person’s head (or body), which can be tough on a relationship. But it can also make for memorable and exciting times as you prepare for your new phase together.
Below are some tips about how to support your partner and prepare yourself for your new role as a parent.
It may seem obvious, but given how much fear and dread some people have about the newborn stage, it bears stating that it can be incredibly sweet. There’s no way to describe the peace of holding a sleeping infant without resorting to clichés. And it goes by so fast. So savor that surreal, squishy, magical time all you can. Also! Babies are funny! They do loud farts, and make bizarre cartoon faces, stare awkwardly at strangers, and give you excuses to duck out of any social situation.
Educate yourselves together
- Every week, you can watch little videos online about what’s happening with the developing fetus. What to Expect has a series that, while a bit corny, is still educational. If you’re not into the narration, though, there are plenty of other similar apps and series (just search for “week by week pregnancy”).
- See if your local hospital offers any in-person classes on newborn care, childbirth, or CPR and safety.
- Take pregnancy and parenting courses online from an organization like The Baby Academy. (There are fees, but they’re relatively low).
- Check out The Birth Partner: A Complete Guide to Childbirth for Dads, Partners, Doulas, and All Other Labor Companions. You don’t really need to read it cover-to-cover (it’s quite dense), but even just reading the first part will make you more prepared.
- Read a parenting book or two.
Learn the difference between folk wisdom and legitimate parenting advice
As you seek out advice, this is a good time to hone your BS-detector. There’s a LOT of fake news out there when it comes to parenting that can range from silly to straight-up harmful. And everyone from social media influencers to relatives will probably have some advice to dole out. It’s one thing to take tips from your mother on the lullabies that soothe a baby; it’s another to, say, fill the baby’s crib with blankets because she thinks they look cold (when guidelines say unequivocally to avoid blankets for infants).
If you’re ever unsure, consult with a medical doctor or pediatrician. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) (which published a solid parenting book), and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), are both respected, reputable organizations that set the standard when it comes to advice on pregnancy and babies. You can search online to see either organization’s statement on various topics.
Offer, but don’t demand, to join prenatal appointments
There may be points in which your partner really appreciates the moral support at a prenatal visit. But there might also be times when she prefers privacy and just wants to go it alone. Ideally, you can offer to join for at least a few prenatal appointments, but understand if the answer is “no.”
Take all the parental leave you can
If you’re lucky enough to get some time off work, by all means, take it, and take as much as you can afford. Not only will you likely be sleep-deprived (making it hard to succeed at work), but there’s so much to enjoy about being at home during that time. It’s really unfortunate that the U.S. doesn’t offer paid leave for all parents, and it can be tough to make it work, financially. But if there are any tradeoffs you can make to be able to take a temporary pay cut, seriously consider the benefits of taking time to bond with your new child.
Lots of research shows that dads taking leave is extremely beneficial for everyone in the family. It could even save your marriage: one study showed a couple is less likely to divorce or break up when fathers take parental leave. And there’s so much you can do to support someone who’s recovering from labor (more on that later). Dads taking leave, particularly two weeks or more, is also positively associated with father-child closeness well beyond the newborn stage.
Parental leave is amazing, but it’s not a vacation
If you find yourself fantasizing about all the “free” time you’ll have to finally knock off that task that’s been on your to-do list for forever (i.e. build a shed or master an instrument), you may be disappointed when the baby comes. Caring for a newborn is intense. Set realistic expectations and lean into this time with your newborn.
Here’s a list of just a few of the many things you could do while on parental leave, even if you’re not breastfeeding or don’t consider yourself the primary caregiver:
- Split baby care overnight, so your partner can get some real sleep, either with earplugs on, or in another room.
- Take the baby on a walk or drive to give your partner a break during the day.
- Bottle-feed the baby with either formula or pumped breastmilk.
- Do chores like cooking and cleaning.
- Wash bottles and pumping parts (yes, unfortunately, this is separate from regular dishes).
- Grocery shop and run other errands.
- Walk and feed pets.
- Entertain visiting relatives and friends.
I could go on, as the task list becomes seemingly endless, but honestly if you only did the above you’d probably be a very appreciated partner.
Consider a couple’s baby shower
“Couples” baby showers are becoming much more common, and there are many fun ways to pull one off. You could have on instead of, or in addition to, a more traditional one that’s only for the pregnant mother. And it could be as formal or as casual as you want (nothing wrong with a backyard BBQ!). You could throw it yourself, or, if you have a friend or relative who loves parties, see if they’re open to hosting or co-hosting.
Communicate with friends and family
Oftentimes, expecting a baby brings with it a flood of new expectations from relatives and close friends who want to be included in the experience. Even something that’s meant to be purely fun, like a baby shower, can be stressful when there are numerous people’s feelings to consider. Your partner might not feel as comfortable saying no to your relatives or friends as she would her own. It’ll be up to you two to handle that firmly and respectfully. Taking an active role in these plans and relationships with your partner can help you stay on the same page. This includes building a baby registry together since people will use that to buy you gifts.
Know how hard it is to recover from labor
Giving birth is a major medical event. The majority of women experience some vaginal tearing. Many people need to avoid walking much for a week or more in order to heal properly. If someone has a difficult labor, or a C-section, it may be weeks before they can even move around the house comfortably. So, in addition to having a crash course in parenting, know that you’re basically going to be helping someone heal.
When it comes to sex, practice maximum patience
It’s recommended that women who give birth see their doctor six weeks after labor to be checked out and cleared for some physical activities, including sex. But just because a doctor has said it’s safe to have sex does not mean someone will want to (or should feel obligated to). For some women, doing so is painful for a long time. Not to mention, they may be stressed, tired, or just overstimulated and “touched out.” Breastfeeding is also an incredibly physically taxing experience that changes people’s hormones and may affect how they feel about sex.
Keep in mind that your partner will have carried your child for nine months, went through (and is still going through) an incredibly challenging experience so that both of you can have the gift of being parents. Be patient, be empathetic, and remember that there are ways to comfort each other and connect physically beyond intercourse.
A word of advice for new dads
This article is for all parents, but if you are a father, this advice is specifically for you. In many ways, it’s an exciting time to be a dad.
Start battling toxic gender norms now
While cultural norms of the past led many fathers to assume their job was largely just to earn an income while their partners did all the down-and-dirty work at home, more dads than ever want to take an active, equal role in parenting. (How great!)
But new dads who are in relationships with women should be clear-eyed about how deeply engrained many gender norms are. For example, women often find themselves taking on more of the mental load. Men may also be judged differently for scaling back at work. Wanting to be an equal partner and knowing how to be one are two very different things, and if your own parents didn’t set a solid example, it’s going to be even harder.
Unpacking these norms will likely take a lifetime, but you can start thinking through them now. Consider seeing a therapist (either individually or as a couple) to help work through any current conflicts you have about the division of labor or what it means to be a father. You can also check out a book on the topic, such as Fair Play: Share the Mental Load, Rebalance Your Relationship and Transform Your Life. You could even read it with your partner, maybe as an audiobook while on a long drive together, or a chapter at a time before bed.
The bottom line
You’re probably never going to get to the point at which you’re like, “Okay, I’m good. I learned everything there is to know about babies and parenting.” Once the baby comes, it feels like a chaotic crash course, no matter how much preparation you did. Go easy on yourselves, and try to embrace the chaos. Before you know it, you may find yourself oddly nostalgic for that time your kid peed on you while you were trying to give him his first bath. Did I mention babies are funny?