Some of the help you provide will be strictly emotional, some of it physical, and, most likely, some financial. All three of these will contribute to mom's emotional well-being.
- Being available and accessible
- Being willing to learn about the pregnancy process
- Encouraging and reassuring her
- Showing her affection or showering her with it
- Being happy to provide emotional, physical, and financial support
Research has shown that women who have supportive partners have fewer complications in pregnancy and a more positive outlook about their changing bodies and emotions.
A woman supported by her partner is more easy-going and less stressed. And lower stress during pregnancy helps infants develop better. That's the power of a husband's emotional support during pregnancy.
Too much stress can increase the chances of having a premature baby, and babies born too early or underdeveloped are at an increased risk for health problems.
When a mom is pregnant, the baby is exposed to everything she experiences, including the sounds around her, the food she eats, and her emotions. Emotions such as high stress and anxiety increase certain hormones in a woman's body, affecting her baby's developing body and brain.
Keeping Mom Emotionally Healthy
So how exactly do you do your part in keeping mom emotionally healthy? It all starts with forming open lines of communication with your partner that will last through the pregnancy and beyond.
No topics should be off-limits. Furthermore, it's always okay to say, "If there's something I can do, just let me know." And do the things you already know she needs without being asked. It's a hard job, but someone has to do it.
Be sure to go to childbirth classes with your partner. Make sure to know the basics like how to bathe, diaper, feed, hold and comfort an infant. These activities will build your confidence.
Watch DVDs, listen to audiobooks, scour the Internet or read books about prenatal development and what's going on in mom's body. Read A Partners Guide to Pregnancy FAQ by the ACOG, a guide to what is happening in your partner's body during pregnancy and how you can support her.
Consider downloading the WhatToExpect.com Pregnancy and Baby App, giving you day-by-day information tracking every step of your pregnancy.
Go with your partner to prenatal visits. Twenty-two days after conception, a baby's heart starts beating, and you can hear it on ultrasound between the 7th and 12th weeks. You don't want to miss that.
You'll especially want to go with your partner to her prenatal care visits during the second trimester. At 18 to 20 weeks, an ultrasound exam is usually performed to check the baby's development. You can see the baby's hands, arms, legs, and feet. You may even find out what sex the baby is.
Take part in decisions such as which prenatal tests you want, which health care provider to go with, and where to give birth. Mom will rightfully have the final say about what type of birth it will be, where it will be, and what kind of pain relief will be administered, if any.
In as much as possible, support her birthing options. And don't forget to check your employee benefits. Your company may offer paternity leave for new dads.
Sources Of Stress
To understand how to help with the emotional health of your spouse, it's a good idea to be aware of some of the most common sources of stress.
Some Common Stressors Causing Emotional Instability:
- Morning sickness, constipation, tiredness, and backache
- Mood swings
- Concern about what to expect during labor and how to take care of the baby once he's born
- Fear of coping with the pain of labor
- Not eating enough or overeating. Your partner doesn't want to be underweight, but being too heavy increases her risk of gestational diabetes and preterm labor.
- Stress leading to high blood pressure, another stressor.
- Stress from worrying about supporting the baby and the rest of your family
- Living in a neighborhood with crime and poverty
- The stress from racism
Now, let's consider a few of the more common stressors that women are up against: mood swings, morning sickness, fatigue, anger, and, yes, sex.
Mood swings are typical in nearly every pregnancy. Your partner's body is going through enormous hormonal changes. Your day-to-day life will never be the same. One moment she may be elated and the next in tears.
Pregnancy can surface many kinds of emotions, trigger painful memories and bring about feelings of fear and self-doubt.
Though it can be like an emotional roller coaster ride, not to be too concerned about it, your wife is in good company. And anyway, who wouldn't have mood swings with all that's going on? Reassure mom that there are good reasons for her mood swings and she's not at fault. Be there to listen.
Encourage her to connect with other expecting moms. There are forums of social media groups for this, or you can find a local support group on sites such as Meetup. Or meet other moms through your childbirth education classes.
Let's take a little closer look at mood swings. One of the main reasons for these fluctuating mood swings is the enormous increases of estrogen and progesterone surging through Mom's body. Fluctuations in her neurotransmitter levels can create emotional dysregulation.
Anxiety, irritability, and nervous energy correlate with rapidly rising estrogen levels. On the other hand, progesterone causes muscles to relax, which is why pregnant women often experience constipation. The progesterone relaxation effect can also go too far, causing fatigue, sadness, and tearfulness.
The discomforts of pregnancy also contribute to the emotional roller coaster ride. For instance, the nausea of morning sickness, which can strike any time of day or night, affects nearly 80% of pregnant women, making it the most common health complaint.
It's hard to be emotionally balanced when you're nauseous and exhausted.
A Note About Depression and Anxiety
Ongoing, steady depression or anxiety aren't the same as mood swings. Depression is considered a mood disorder resulting in persistent sadness and loss of interest, mainly lasting a week or two.
There is also quite a difference between feeling stressed out and nervous and having anxiety that makes it impossible for you to function or get through your day. Unabated anxiety lasting one or two weeks also calls for advice from your doctor.
There are treatments available such as medication, counseling, and help from your social support network, topics of another blog. For now, just be aware that ongoing depression and anxiety can negatively affect a mother's mental health and the health of your newborn baby, so you must do something if she experiences either.
Pregnancy discomfort and stress can cause many women to experience sleeping difficulties.
Losing sleep has been shown to affect a person's emotional state profoundly. So if your pregnancy is making sleep difficult or causing vivid dreams, this can significantly contribute to making emotions challenging to handle.
Fatigue can be a one-way road leading to more severe mood swings. So do what you can to make bedtime a calm, quiet time. You may even want to give guided meditation on YouTube a try. Some say it works like a charm.
The Anger Emotion
Some women experience a good deal of irritability and anger during their pregnancy. Much of this is due to hormonal changes. Also, when you are tired and uncomfortable, it's a lot harder to stay calm and collected. And there may be external factors at work as well.
Perhaps mom is facing additional stress on the job, maybe she isn't ready for a baby, or maybe the pregnancy wasn't planned. While occasional anger and frustration are normal, it is essential not to ignore chronic anger that's getting in the way of coping with everyday life.
Researchers found that chronic anger during pregnancy impacts the baby and could reduce fetal growth rate. However, there has been no correlation between anger and a greater chance of miscarriage.
Also, if your anger is due to not wanting the pregnancy, immediately getting therapy is essential. Early bonding with your baby can be put in jeopardy, which affects your child's emotional health and physical well-being.
A Word About Sex, Another Potential Stressor
Unless your healthcare provider advises otherwise, it's okay to have sex throughout the entire nine months. Sex is not harmful because the uterus protects the baby and is cushioned by fluid. But that doesn't mean that sex will be the same.
Your partner may find some positions uncomfortable with her changing body, so have patience and understanding. Discover what works best for both of you.
There also may be times when your partner simply isn't comfortable enough to have sex or simply isn't in the mood or is too exhausted. It's not uncommon for a woman to have less desire for sex during the first and third trimesters. Cuddling, kissing, and fondling may fill the void here.
On the other hand, many women experience increased sexual desire during the second semester when they're feeling better physically and there is increased blood flow to their pelvic region. Sexual relations usually return to normal not long after the birth, within a few months at the outside.
How Can You Help with Roller Coaster Emotions?
Reassure Mom not to feel guilty or ashamed of her heightened emotions. With increased hormonal activity and more concerns in general, it's normal to be afraid, stressed out, or a little manic. Pregnancy emotions and mood swings are just part of the deal.
If she loses her self-control and feels bad about it, you can remind her that she's going through a lot and did nothing wrong. Also, remind her that the stress she's experiencing now doesn't mean she'll be that way once the baby arrives.
You can also remind her that stress isn't all bad. Handled correctly, it can help you take on new challenges. Stress isn't nearly as bad for you when you feel in control as though you can handle it. Also, ask if she might like you to help her solve a problem or if she just wants you to listen.
Take Care Of Yourself Too!
Mom may not be the only one going through mood swings. One minute, you might be feeling like you're doing too much and then not enough the next. Or you may feel like you're giving and giving until there's little to nothing left. You may have your own doubts as you go through the pregnancy.
And you may have your stressors:
- Feeling pressured to be happy and excited all the time
- Pressure to act like you're always on top of everything
- Not knowing how to help or what to do in certain situations
- Trying to balance work and your new family commitments
- Feeling that your relationship with your partner is shifting
- Feeling overwhelmed with all your new responsibilities
- Being worried over what kind of parent you'll turn out to be
It's normal at times to feel out of your comfort zone when your wife is pregnant. Some men find it more challenging getting involved during the pregnancy than after the baby comes. But keep in mind the more you are engaged in the pregnancy, the better you'll feel about it.
Support people must take care of themselves too. Constantly assisting can be wearying and emotionally taxing. No one can be giving all the time. Make sure you're eating healthfully, getting exercise, and making time to visit friends or spend time on a hobby.
If you have some habits that you're not thrilled about, like drinking and smoking, this may be an excellent opportunity to make healthy lifestyle changes. (And, of course, secondhand smoke is harmful to mom and baby both before and after pregnancy).
Talk freely with your partner about how you're feeling. Share what you need just as she is sharing her needs with you. Know that partners who support each other strengthen their bonds and sense of teamwork. Keep in mind that your partnership and family will be stronger if you both get breaks.
Don't forget about the strong support network that you have. You should know that you're not alone and that there is help. Share how you're feeling with friends and family. Keep in mind that reaching out for help takes courage and is a sign of strength.
Reach out to other dads-to-be to share tips, ideas, and feelings. You can also read Internet blogs like this one for expectant parents.
If you're having difficulty with your emotions, you may want to explore professional counseling. Many people benefit from seeing a therapist help them through life changes. To benefit from counseling, you don't need to be endlessly depressed or suffer from acute anxiety.
This brings us to the end of Supporting Mom's Emotional Health During Pregnancy - Part 1.
In the following blog, Supporting Mom's Emotional Health During Pregnancy - Part 2, we will consider the three trimesters, labor and delivery, and how your role as an emotional support partner may play out during them.