Throughout pregnancy, women go through a host of physical and mental changes that can be exciting, joyful and, at other times, nerve-wracking and anxiety-inducing.
As these changes occur, it's helpful for pregnant women to have emotional and physical support from friends or family. When that support comes from a partner, partners often wonder the best way they can be of support.
According to Valerie Huff, LCSW, a psychotherapist at Main Line Health's Women's Emotional Wellness Center, it's clear that the more involved partners are together during pregnancy, the more supportive and understanding they are of each other during pregnancy.
Pregnancy is a team effort, and couples that learn to grow and change together during pregnancy set a strong foundation for their future role as parents.
What's the key to a strong partnership during pregnancy?
According to Crystal Brogan, MD, an OB/GYN with Main Line Health, the key to a strong, healthy partnership during pregnancy is understanding and communication.
Pregnancy changes the body in significant ways, and for many people, this can feel isolating and scary. Understand that your partner will go through several changes that might be unpredictable.
The more comfortable partners feel being open and vulnerable with one another about these changes, the more confident and connected they'll feel throughout the pregnancy.
Strong, supportive partnerships can help reduce the fear and anxiety couples might have about the uncertainty and responsibility that comes with pregnancy and parenthood.
"Open communication and understanding between partners are key steps to a healthy and happy pregnancy," says Dr. Brogan.
Supporting your partner during pregnancy
As women progress through pregnancy, they typically experience a lot of aches and pains. You can support your partner during pregnancy in several ways:
Offer physical support
This can come in the form of anything from foot massages to meal preparation, which can help relieve stress and alleviate some of those bodily aches and pains. As a couple, being able to let go of expectations of household chores and time out with friends can help to ease some stress. And taking walks or resting together builds feelings of mutuality in the relationship.
Monitor health and mood
Dr. Brogan suggests keeping an eye on your partner's health, especially during the first trimester, as many women tend to feel nauseated and experience overwhelming fatigue.
"It's not always easy for the expectant partner to recognize when they're unwell. Keeping an eye on your partner's health and discussing with them, and your obstetrician, can be beneficial for all parties," she says.
Create shared relaxation space
Huff recommends creating a calming, soothing place in your home or yard to which you can retreat and reflect as a couple. She also advises embracing physical activities or medically approved exercises you can do together.
"It's usually very powerful for the partner to be involved because then they're also having more shared experiences," Huff says.
Find time each week to sit together and work through your schedules and plan ahead. Ask how you can help each other on busier days.
With all of these things, communication remains key. What you consider to be supportive during pregnancy may differ from what your partner thinks is supportive, so keep an open line of communication to ensure you both are on the same page.
How can partners educate themselves about pregnancy?
There's a lot to learn and understand about the different phases of pregnancy and talking to your OB/GYN is a great place to start.
You can be a supportive partner during pregnancy by accompanying your pregnant partner to medical appointments in order to stay involved, ask questions and understand the changes your partner is going through. If you're not able to attend with your partner in person, being available by telephone during appointments can be helpful.
"By attending appointments together as a couple, you're both able to share in the stages of growth, which can help lessen anxiety," Huff says.
Your OB/GYN may also have a list of local resources, online and in-person birthing classes and books they'd recommend for partners who are interested in educating themselves about pregnancy.
How else can partners be supportive during pregnancy?
Pregnancy needs to be treated as a team effort. Multiple people are going through this process, and both partners should feel like their needs are being met.
It's important for partners to not only check in on how the other is doing, but how they themselves are doing as well. Ask your partner what they need, but vocalize your needs and wishes, too. Look at both partners' points of view and make decisions together.
Hiding your own emotions in an effort to be strong for your pregnant partner can backfire, and some partners can end up taking on too much.
"Make sure you're talking to each other about any issues, anxieties or concerns that you're having. A partner's feelings and concerns must be validated as well," says Dr. Brogan.
If either of you are struggling, reach out for support from a professional. Sharing your concerns will bring to light any issues and help everyone feel comfortable and supported throughout the pregnancy.
You can also attend childbirth education classes to help you understand how to support your partner during pregnancy, and other helpful parenting tips.
Make an appointment with Valerie Huff, LCSW
Make an appointment with Crystal Brogan, MD
Learn more about Main Line Health's Women's Emotional Wellness Center
Mental health stigma among African American women