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Pregnancy – it’s all about teamwork

By Debra Guinn, MD, maternal-fetal specialist, Montana Perinatal Center; and Amber Lavin, CNM, FamilyBorn Maternity and Women’s Health

Dr. Debra Guinn, Medical Director at Montana Perinatal Center, collaborates with a number of our regional medical providers to offer comprehensive high-risk pregnancy care to all moms, babies and families in the state of Montana. Amber Lavin, certified nurse midwife (CNM), is a provider at FamilyBorn Maternity and Women’s Health and a frequent partner in the care of her patients who need the additional expertise of a maternal-fetal specialist. Dr. Guinn has asked Amber to lend her expertise to this month’s article and provide insight on the role of the spouse or partner during the joyful, yet often trying, months of pregnancy.

Even though a woman is carrying a growing baby for nine months, pregnancy is not a solo event. It’s all about teamwork! Too often, however, the preparation and work involved falls squarely on the shoulders of the pregnant woman. Friends and family involved in a woman’s life can – and should – be just that: involved.

Here are 10 areas where your comrade-in-arms can be involved to improve the journey and outcome of pregnancy.

1. Be Present

There is no substitute for having the man or woman in your life be present and engaged throughout your care. Whether it’s the baby’s father, a boyfriend, mother or best friend, having a support person available to join you at medical appointments can help put you at ease. This helping hand can assist you when asking important questions and listen to your concerns. This is especially supportive for first-time mothers.

2. Get Educated

Many pregnant women read books, go to classes and watch videos about pregnancy as soon as they know they are expecting. There is no reason why the partner cannot educate themselves as well. A little bit of learning goes a long way. There are many choices to be made in the next nine months, and having a partner who understands what is happening each step of the way can help with decision-making and security.

3. Establish Healthy Habits

Women are frequently reminded to make healthy choices or changes over the course of their pregnancy. Lifestyle changes can be incredibly difficult to make, especially without support. Approaching these adjustments with a partner who is willing to hit the gym, limit sugar intake or quit smoking with you makes reaching these goals more attainable. Plus, these experiences build stronger bonds with your partner as you celebrate joint victories with one another. Making these changes significantly improve the health for babies, mothers and partners at the same time. Win-win-win!

4. Create a Labor Plan

Some women have a clear vision of what they want their birthing experience to be like. Some don’t. Conversations with a partner can help moms decide how they want to handle their delivery and how they would like to be supported. A partner who understands the mother’s delivery goals is very helpful, but remember that plans can change. Encouragement and support with change is also helpful to a woman in labor. Of course, nurses, midwives and doctors will also help guide and advise in these moments.

5. Encourage Skin-to-Skin

Mother and baby bonding is greatly enhanced with skin-to-skin contact immediately after delivery. Along with stronger connections, there are other studied benefits of skin-to-skin contact. Mothers have a built-in ability to help regulate their infant’s body temperature. If an infant is too cool, a woman’s body can sense it and her body’s temperature automatically increases to help warm up her infant. If the infant is too warm, the mother’s body will decrease its temperature to help cool the infant. Being skin-to-skin during the first one to two hours after birth also significantly improves breastfeeding success. Furthermore, studies show skin-to-skin promotes brain development in infants. A partner who recognizes the importance of and helps to encourage skin-to-skin contact increases the overall health of the baby and the mother.

6. Support Breastfeeding

Breastfeeding is strongly encouraged for babies when possible. While this seems like something that husbands or partners would have little to do with, that is not the case. Partners can help be a cheerleader when breastfeeding does not come easily or to assist with other details (helping with house chores, waking up in the night as support, playing soothing music, etc.) for an exhausted mom. A helpful partner during this sleep-deprived time is the number one predictor of successful breastfeeding. Breastfeeding is natural but often not intuitive; it frequently takes time, effort, patience and reassuring helpers to make it happen.

7. Watch for Extreme Mood Swings

Postpartum mood and anxiety disorders are a common situation, affecting 10 to 16 percent of postpartum women. Women are often ashamed of these overwhelming emotions and may be hesitant to ask for help. Partners play a crucial role in helping providers identify when a postpartum woman begins to deviate from her normal mental state, as they can help observe and notice new behaviors or mood swings in a new mother that she may not realize on her own.

8. Help with Chores

Whether this is the first or fifth baby for a mother, or if labor lasted four or 24 hours, giving birth is a big ordeal physically, mentally and emotionally. It also takes time to recover and find a new normal. Making meals, coordinating food plans with friends, assisting with housework and taking care of childcare for other siblings are extremely helpful and proactive ways you can support a new mother. Taking these chores off a new mother’s task list allows her to rest and bond with the newest addition of the family.

9. Practice Patience

It is normal for women to be more emotional and tearful during the first two weeks following the birth of the baby. This is commonly called “baby blues” and usually resolves on its own. During this time, women are often sleep-deprived, hormonal, leaking milk and hungry. It’s not a comfortable time. Showing extra patience and compassion during this readjustment period will help mom and other family members adapt to new schedules and demands.

10. Schedule Adult-Only Time

Regardless of how easy or demanding the little addition is, setting aside adult-only time for a new mom is important. Depending on the situation, this could be mom/daughter time, husband/wife time or a short social event surrounded by other new moms. This time can help parents reconnect emotionally to one another or give new moms a reason to spruce up, get out of the house and feel human again. Spending days on end with a newborn infant is a precious time, but carving out time to recharge is vital for mom to offer patience and maintain her energy. A supportive partner can help make sure mom and newborn have bonding time together, but making time for grownups is equally important.

Husbands, boyfriends or partners play a critical role throughout the whole process. The more engaged a partner can be during pregnancy, the better off mother and baby will be as well. This is an ideal time for soon-to-be moms to practice asking for the support they need and deserve. Being a mom is tough work and asking for help can be equally challenging for some. Use your support system (you just made a new human, for crying out loud), and a little help is certainly not too much to ask for.

First published in Montana Woman magazine, March 2018