Partners- whether they be spouses, significant others, or any chosen family you’ve pulled in close as a main pillar of support- are pivotal in getting the help you need as you heal after birth.
It’s important in those early weeks to have someone who is dedicated to the cause and in for the long haul, who you can bleed, lactate, cry, and struggle in front of, and who is equally sharing in the joy of the unfolding of new parenthood. They can provide stability in an uncertain time, as well as context when you need reassurance that everything is alright.
But making sure their needs are met, too, is part of the postpartum dance. More evidence is being revealed that partners and spouses are also at risk of postpartum depression, and it’s often overlooked or played down because most of the focus is on you. Acknowledging their needs is important because YOU are directly downstream of their ability to support you, so being mindful of the needs of the unit is a skill worth mastering.
This doesn’t exclude those of us who have to do it without a partner (single parents, military spouses, and so on). But I’m not going to lie and say it’s not a barrier to getting support. You’ll have to get creative and choose a “surrogate” partner- maybe a best friend, your mom (if you’re good in that department), or another family member. There’s got to be a lot of communication that happens about your goals, expectations, and needs, and just some general grace and tenderness towards moving forward.
Whoever you decide to be your right postpartum hand, it’s important to be mindful of a few key dynamics. In such a vulnerable time when nerves are often jangled, nobody’s getting much sleep, and you’re all trying to adjust into new roles, things can get messy. So to avoid miscommunication, hurt feelings, and resentment- and to actually enjoy this time and help your partner feel like they are rocking their new role- consider the following suggestions.
Recognize their importance. They are the key player in your support system, and the buffer between you and the outside world. They are the gatekeeper, and the best kind of support they can offer is creating a filter for bullsh*t from entering your sacred space. Also! One of the most frequent complaints I’ve heard from partners is feeling like they’re being taken for granted. A little recognition for their significance every once in awhile goes a long way in preventing resentment (not easy to do when you’re the one being sucked on, but if I can do it, so can you!)
Have compassion for each other’s different roles and experience. Your partner is going through a big transition, too, even if they’re not the ones that gave birth. Partners who are allowed to go through their own postpartum adjustment will be able to show up in a way that feels and works best for the unit. This department requires some BIG GRACE. You’re partner’s going to mess up, try new things that don’t work, and do things differently than how you would do them. Believe me, I know the mama bear feeling that comes up when someone’s not hearing your instructions on how to care for your newborn. But if this is their baby, too, that’s what is helpful to remember. They are going to master their relationship with their baby on their time and they probably already feel uneasy or insecure about it (it’s amazing how many people have never changed a diaper). Criticizing how they do things won’t make that easier. Honoring their process and giving it space is sometimes enough to soothe tensions.
Understand the “pecking order”. Honestly? This is one of the most helpful things someone told me as a brand new parent. Baby, mother, partner. Partner takes care of mother, so she can take care of baby. Remember when I said that you’ll be downstream from their ability to support you? This is what I mean. So honoring their need to do their own self-care (go ahead and reframe this as something that benefits you) and make sure they understand that their primary role is to take care of anything that makes taking care of a newborn harder for you, whatever that may be.
Practice your communication in advance. In my experience, most partners are eager to help but are at a loss with what you need. The quality of your communication will make or break your unit, but pregnancy provides a huge opportunity to practice this skill before a baby gets thrown in the mix. Get in touch with your needs first, then practice giving simple, direct instructions. Get in touch with your emotional state in any given moment and notice when you’re feeling frustrated, resentful, or on edge. Express how you’re feeling, or (even better) ask for support in clearing those feelings. It helped us in those last few weeks of pregnancy to practice checking in with each other several times a day with how we were feeling, what needs were on the table, and how we could support each other in getting them met.
Honor each other’s needs. This ties into everything that’s already been said, but deserves reiteration. A partner that feels recognized is typically much more willing to be forthcoming with support. And that support is crucial- it flows down all the way to your newborn! Even if it’s not a need that can be met immediately, or it’s something you believe to be unreasonable or irritating, you can still honor it (especially if your partner is being honest and communicative about it). I can’t emphasize how much this simple act can strengthen the dynamic and help everyone feel supported.
Establish a routine. Finding your flow and routine in a new family dynamic is a fluid process that will evolve over time, but striving for as much predictability and stability as possible reduces stress during the postpartum transition and helps everyone feel more secure. Figure out what this looks like, it may mean starting each morning with a similar meal and a bath, or taking a short, gentle walk each afternoon, or winding down in bed the same way. It will also help communication just by knowing that there's something easy to expect.
Go through it together. Nothing is worse than a mother laying in bed feeling like her partner doesn’t understand, and a partner wandering around at a loss of what to do. The more you check in, talk about the experience, and participate in it together, the easier the difficult conversations and hurdles will be.
I truly hope these principles resonate with you and are somehow helpful. I know that after three babies with two different partners, my path has not always been the smoothest and it’s taken a lot of patience, fine-tuning, and persistence to get it right. But I really believe that with enough willingness and grace, anybody can make it work, no matter what life with a new baby throws at you.
Feel free to download my cheat sheet below to keep all of these tips on your fridge, on your bathroom mirror, or wherever they can be present to remind you both how to stay on the right track with one another and course-correct whenever you need to. You both can do this!