Expectant parents can dramatically improve their journey into parenthood and foster a stronger bond by ensuring that their partners are actively involved in the fulfilment of specific roles at every stage, health experts say.
Dr Dheshni Naidoo, a gynaecologist and obstetrician practising at Netcare Linkwood Hospital, said that during this crucial time, partners were often unsure of where they fit in.
And as National Pregnancy Awareness Week is being commemorated from February 6 to 10, she warned that that could lead to them feeling emotionally isolated and depressed, particularly during the postnatal period.
“Building the role of the partner into the pregnancy and birth from early on and identifying opportunities for them to participate actively will help strengthen the relationship during what can be a challenging time, particularly during those early weeks of newborn life.”
She said that as the child bearer, it was understandable that the needs of an expectant mother were top of mind.
“However, the partner also has an essential role to play, and empowering them can positively impact the journey the couple is ultimately embarking on together.”
She said that when partners were actively involved in every step of the birthing process, women experienced significantly healthier pregnancies and natural births.
Naidoo’s sentiments were shared by Amori Jordaan, a specialist midwife and maternity unit manager at Netcare Linkwood Hospital.
She said that while partners were more involved in pregnancy, birth and child rearing than ever before, many felt stigmatised if they spoke up about their emotions.
“When it comes to the emotional aspects of having a baby, partners are also affected, but their bodies and hormones do not provide any preparation, and they are entitled to only a few days of paternity leave.”
Jordaan said a family-centred approach to care, where the mother and her partner were included, had enormous potential to positively alter the experience for all.
Naidoo listed the numerous opportunities throughout each stage of pregnancy and birth where partners could get involved:
During this time, many women experience food aversions. This is when her partner can step in and prepare nutritious meals that she still enjoys eating.
“It is also the time to implement healthy habits such as going for a daily walk together and being supportive through the successful cessation of any harmful habits such as drinking alcohol or smoking.”
The nesting process is a good opportunity to prepare for the baby’s arrival together and discuss your expectations of family life.
“Baby showers can be a shared experience and an opportunity to celebrate the imminent arrival of your little one with the important people in your life as a couple.”
As expectant mothers approach the finish line, it is important for them to discuss their birth plan with their partner, and for them to attend antenatal classes together.
“If a doula is part of the mix, the partner can help facilitate their involvement.”
Single mothers can ask a close family member or friend to be by their side for support throughout the experience.
Partners are very much a part of the birthing team and must understand the phases of labour.
“At this point, they can help support mom while she bounces on the ball, help her in and out of a hydrotherapy bath, help with breathing and deal with any administration that needs to take place.”
There is a markedly higher rate of healthy natural births when partners are actively involved.
Countless opportunities exist at this stage for partners to be involved, from having skin-to-skin care with their baby to ensuring that the mother is well fed and hydrated for breastfeeding.
A partner can also facilitate family visits so that the mother is not overwhelmed.
“They can also take on certain parts of the daily routine such as bathing the baby and doing some feeds to give the mother a much-needed break.”
Support without dictating
Having a baby comes with layers of emotions. It is essential to manage expectations and for partners to communicate clearly with each other.
“Partners should remain sensitive to the enormous change that the mother has gone through and be supportive without taking over.”