Looking for ways to be a supportive partner during pregnancy? There’s a good chance you are already on your way to doing so, but here are some tips to help your partner feel safe, supported and in sync with you, from conception to birth and beyond!
Whether you just found out you are expecting - congratulations! - or are approaching that due date - congratulations! - we’ve laid out 16 of the most supportive things you can do to support your partner at various stages or points in their pregnancy. From the first trimester through your child’s early years, your attentive presence benefits both your partner and your child’s health outcomes, and may serve as a fulfilling orientation into fatherhood from the start.
Read on for specific suggestions for…
- The Beginning
- The Physical
- The Logistics
- The Emotional
- Expectations v. Reality
If these ideas sound good, consider what working with an expert birth and postpartum coach might provide! Get expert-facilitated access to pregnancy support, physician-reviewed curriculum, and parent-to-parent peer support with a flexible monthly subscription to Seven Starling!
1. Celebrate on their terms. This is big news for both of you, yes...and the physical reality comes with, inherently, a more immediate and impactful change on a pregnant person’s body, lifestyle and culturally relevant obligations, so whatever you can do to help them enjoy, celebrate and appreciate these changes is hugely supportive. And - if that means they don’t want to celebrate the way you expected, or wants something totally different than you, let your compromise be one of many “thank you’s” for doing the work of cultivating this little miracle.
2. Agree on how to announce the pregnancy and follow through. Similarly, people may have very different approaches, preferences or concerns about when and how to share news about a pregnancy, especially if they or someone in your social circle has experienced pregnancy loss or anxiety about pregnancy loss. Whatever you decide, let the person who will receive the majority of other people’s questions and advice lead the way on who gets to know about it, when and how.
3. Help to identify support systems. This is for your partner and also very much for you. Who are the parent peers or supportive friends your partner feels they could rely on? For example, if they wanted a trusted companion for a long day of appointments that you both agreed you couldn’t get to easily? How about in an emergency? Neighbors you’d trust with your pet or other children? A family member you’d feel comfortable calling at midnight for infant care advice? Put together a contact list and actually reach out to let folks know how the two of you would appreciate their support during this exciting and new experience.
4. Start learning early, and together. Understanding the normal symptoms and changes of pregnancy can prevent unnecessary stress (and sometimes, misunderstandings). Preparing for labor, childbirth, infant care and postpartum recovery is a way to support your partners safety and health as well as that of our child and your entire family’s sense of confidence, calm and capacity to meet new experiences. There are many options for online classes, working with a doula, and receiving expert-led education in convenient ways for diverse budgets. Click here for more on our medically reviewed curriculum and expert-facilitated pregnancy support groups for learning and connection with other Seven Starling families.
5. Partake in some healthy activities together. Seriously, being supportive can be as simple as committing to a 20-30 minute walk each day, attending a prenatal partner yoga class once a week, or simply walking the farmers market to find fresh clean produce together and preparing it for a relaxed meal. Anytime you initiate or model healthy choices, you also signal your commitment to your child’s health and your own interdependence with your family’s well-being.
6. Unrequested assistance is the best assistance. Meaning, if you pay attention with an attitude of observation and service, you may notice that your partner, whose blood volume has doubled, metabolism changed, senses heightened, joints temporarily softened and center of balance shifted, could use some assistance doing things you are both used to them doing more independently...even if they don’t say so. They aren’t being lazy if they are needing extra daytime naps or being dramatic if they can’t stand the smell of your lunch - they are simply navigating the chemical, structural, energetic and otherwise physiological impacts of growing a rather complex 7-8 pounds of human. Providing meals, replenishing drinks, running errands, doing more tasks around the house all help your partner to rejuvenate, avoid the complications of overwork and chronic stress, and devote more energy to the healthy and comfortable development of your baby.
7. Prenatal bonding - it’s real, it’s multi-sensory, and it has benefits far and beyond the pregnancy experience. Whether it’s checking in physically with your partner and how they are feeling the baby each evening or singing to their growing belly in the morning, your shared comforting and playful touch, communication, and even the way you think about your baby, primes your brain for parenthood, potentially soothing your partner’s central nervous system, and stimulating your baby’s fetal brain development as their various senses become engaged, such as more sensitive hearing around 24 weeks.
8. Massage and comforting touch. Whatever kind of touch your partner enjoys and desires during pregnancy - whether it is a firm foot massage, gentle head scratches, or helping her get set up with a foot soak and a heat pack on her back - your willingness to provide it, even if it requires a little learning and practice, signals your protection and care as well as directly benefiting their physiology. The skin is one of the most communicative organs of the body, and when someone receives touch from a person they trust, their brain and body systems (including immune response and digestion) are given a functional boost from some of the same hormones and neurotransmitters responsible for feel-good social bonds and nurturing behavior.
9. Props and pillows and sleep, oh my. The structural changes that impact a pregnant person’s sleep, bladder, and joints can make your previously hardy “wherever my head lands” napper into a pillow-particular perfectionist or your once consistent back sleeper a side-sleeping, switcherooing, sheet tosser. Be patient, do what you can to help them find the right set up, and know that if any changes have to be made around sleep schedules, sounds, lighting, etc., they are probably temporary and very much appreciated - and important - for sufficient rest, which is a major determinant of healthy outcomes.
10. Gear, carseat research. If you are planning to go anywhere by car with your newborn, including home from a hospital after they are born, you will need to have a car seat installed that meets current regulations and safety guidelines. You will also want to check out your options on strollers and the ergonomic and safety recommendations for sleeping accessories, carriers and play setups through consumer and government agencies. There are many products on the market, some of them are not safe, and not all of them are well researched or well-regulated, so do your research, talk to other consumers and providers for recommendations. In general, products designed to facilitate leaving a young child unattended are best avoided, and products that make any claims about sleep, feeding or posture are best reviewed with your pediatric care provider or child care experts in your community.
11. Work, leave and budgeting. Access your employers HR resources or discuss long-term plans with both of your finances. What will parental leave look for each of you? Are either of you eligible for FMLA, and what are the major expenses or budgeting needs you are anticipating for supplies, out-of-pocket care, and other lifestyle changes? Clear ongoing communication - and perhaps a dedicated planning session or two - can help you both to make the most of your income and career realities to maximize quality time and well-being as a family, plan a postpartum period that supports healthy recovery, and minimizes the stresses of unrealistic expectations or a lack of preparation. Seven Starling's comprehensive curriculum includes tips for financial planning and helpful guides to pregnancy accommodations for working families.
12. Step Up in Their Stead. Is your partner always the one to plan your weekends, or regularly checking up on your elderly next door neighbor? Offer to help them with the tasks or obligations they may be accustomed to filling, or simply surprise them with a completed itinerary, or coordinating your other children’s playdates for the week. Anything that you have the bandwidth to reasonably take on will give your partner more energy to grow and nurture this pregnancy in ways that support long term strength, stress relief, and resilience for non-pregnant parenting life. If there is a task or routine they really enjoy doing while pregnant, of course, it is great for them to continue as long as it feels safe and healthy for them to do so.
13. Set up a meal train, support sign ups, signage, and safety for postpartum. We go more into postpartum planning here, here, and in our members' bi-weekly small group private sessions, facilitated by experienced birth and postpartum doulas. Helping your partner to set up support systems, including people and supplies, will be of lasting impact on the well-being that can result from a well-planned recovery and rest period after birth. Organize an email list of people who might want to gift postpartum meals, put together some guidelines for postpartum visitors who want to be helpful (as opposed to needy guests), or baby proof the house for safety so that your family and guests don’t have to worry about trip hazards, toxic chemicals, choking hazards or other household risks that should be addressed in the third trimester.
14. Help with nursery and sleep setup, breastfeeding/diaper stations, etc. Safety and convenience are key to enjoying your living space as a newborn-friendly home. Being involved or taking the lead on some of the details of this planning allows you to invest your perspective and hopes, as well as your time and resources, into creating a welcoming home for your baby. There are also some specific decisions around sleep and setup related to your family member’s health histories, feeding expectations and schedule requirements that should be discussed with someone experienced who can offer guidance on safety, ease and realistic expectations.
15. Emotional support for both of you is important and a valid desire that isn’t always addressed for partners, particularly for men. The changes of having a baby can be incredibly visceral and physical, which can bring up primal concerns, fears, hopes and vulnerabilities. Becoming a parent is demanding of one’s energy in profound ways and asks us to grow in sometimes unexpected ways amidst the fun and joy of anticipating and then getting to know our children, who are complex and unique individuals in their own right. Individual therapy, couples counseling, intentional time in meditation or nature, or simply connecting with other fathers, parents, or compassionate peers can be fortifying and validating of questions or feelings you may not know where to turn with. Beyond that, it gives you the bandwidth to be present, listen, and love up your partner when they need you most. A pregnant person can only benefit from their closest support people practicing self-care, because it prevents a hard-working partner’s burnout, or overloaded partner’s frustration, which in turn impacts the relationship or even immediate health.
16. Talk about parenting. You may have been looking forward to becoming a dad your whole life, or feeling a bit...trepidatious. Plenty of people feel a mixture of emotions as they face the new responsibilities and unknowns of parenting for the first (or second, or third…) time. Having some candid discussions about parenting, including your understanding of infant realities but also future expectations. You might discuss how you’d prefer to navigate your older children’s health decisions, corrective or disciplinary approaches, and your hopes for your family’s culture of mealtimes, celebrations and chores. Maybe you grew up with a shared culture with your partner, or perhaps your backgrounds were very different. Acknowledging and accounting for these differences can strengthen your bond and understanding of one another as well as make future processes more likely to be relaxed and fulfilling.
17. Healthy habits and concerns you might have - or lack - are for you to identify and decide with your own health care provider. This is a great step to take if you are interested in protecting your own longevity and modeling healthy choices for your child. Your pregnant partner will likely aim to give up something - if not lots of things - either entirely (such as tobacco use), or in moderation (such as caffeine), for the sake of a healthy pregnancy. Consider it an act of solidarity and support to address your own habits and consider making any changes that will support your mutual immediate and long-term health.
18. Connect with other fathers and parents, during and after pregnancy. Even if you don’t decide you want any professional support or feel that counseling would be beneficial, simply swapping stories and connecting with other adults who are going through a new pregnancy or parenting experience is hugely beneficial. You might even find a new baby friend for your baby kid in the process. Just know you are human, and you deserve uplifting social support, even if it takes some time to find the right connections or activities for your unique personality and preferences.
Expectations v. Reality
One of the most supportive things you can do while learning, planning and connecting through this pregnancy is to get clear on your expectations...with the understanding that they may not always be met by reality. American families - and individuals - receive a lot of messaging from lifetimes of film, streaming media and commercials, written opinions, well-intentioned advice, and the wide diversity of behavior we witness in our own families and among friends, all of which impact how to be a supportive husband during pregnancy.
Sometimes, our expectations about “reproduction” are the primary determinant of our satisfaction and well-being - if they align with our reality, we tend to be more comfortable, as modern humans, than if things don’t go as we had planned. As importantly, the common human experiences of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and child-rearing have been highly dramatized by commercial media, which can feed a lot of fear and anxiety. Combine this with the fact that American maternal and infant care is considered highly medicalized, and the process of moving through a pregnancy as a modern American patient of a complicated health care system can be overwhelming.
Education and professional guidance are excellent ways to prevent disappointment but also serious concern or confusion, by helping you to align your expectations with realistic possibilities for your family based on your unique factors for health, location, care team and goals in the following areas:
- In care and clinical spaces, consider expectations around medical options available, local birthing culture and attitudes, provider engagement and continuity, potential systemic obstacles like racism, classism and sexism, different kinds of approaches to supporting families, labor and childbirth, and family-centered or woman-centered care...
- In the postpartum period, consider expectations around parental sleep, sexuality, budgeting during changes in income, visitor practices and preferences, approach to parenting, quality time for adult activities...
- In relationships, consider expectations around physical and emotional availability, newborn dependence and different kinds of interaction and needs met by different parents, communication preferences (especially when offering feedback), work/life balance, quality time for romance, sexual activity…