Whether you’re a first-time mom or an experienced mother, you’re bound to go through some significant changes when the new baby arrives. It’s a lot for anyone to take in, but it can be especially overwhelming for a new dad who is experiencing much of it second hand.
A new mom needs to communicate clearly with her husband so he understands what’s going on with her emotions and her body and can better care for and support her in the early months (and years) of motherhood.
"Women are truly amazing and have natural instincts for being mothers; however, it is still new for both of you. Neither of you has all the answers," says Laura Zaugg, a certified nurse midwife at Lakeview OBGYN. "Work together as a team to know what to do. Don’t wait for her to ask for help. Jump in and help, even if you feel awkward or nervous. Ideas to help include holding the baby, doing the dishes, making a simple meal, cleaning the bathroom, and helping pick up after the mother."
Here is additional information new moms wish their husbands knew about post-partum recovery and new motherhood.
Post-partum recovery can take weeks or months
While labor only lasts a matter of hours or days, recovery from the trauma of childbirth takes much longer. The American Academy of Family Physicians (AAFP) points out that besides labor, full recovery includes recuperating from the changes your body goes through after nine months of pregnancy. Most women begin to feel somewhat normal after six to eight weeks, but others need much more time.
"Getting back to pre-pregnant weight after that can be more difficult and take six to 12 months," Zaugg says. "Be patient and focus on healthy behaviors rather than being critical of your weight and body. Talk with your provider about when to become physically active as well as a healthy weight management plan individualized to your needs."
A new dad can help his wife by letting her rest as much as possible and discouraging her from overdoing it when she first starts to feel better.
“Remember, the more you can rest your body and let it fully recover, the better you’ll be for it. Even if you can only manage to eat, sleep and care for your baby, that is enough,” the AAFP explains.
New dads should also know that doctors recommend waiting until at least the six-week postpartum appointment before becoming sexually active again. However, some women won’t feel emotionally or physically ready for sex for many more weeks or months.
Physical and emotional changes
Most women are surprised that they will bleed for anywhere from two to six weeks after delivery, Zaugg explains. The reason is the place where the placenta was attached to the uterus now needs to heal. After delivery, the uterus continues contracting to help limit this bleeding. This can be painful. Nurses and providers will help manage this pain.
If breastfeeding, it can take six months to a year for periods to return. If not breastfeeding, periods could come back between four to six weeks after delivery. Make sure to discuss contraception with your provider.
Zaugg notes that while pregnant, a woman has very high estrogen and progesterone levels. After delivery, these hormones diminish. These major hormone changes can cause emotional and physical symptoms.
"Some women experience hot flashes, which are normal. Some women can start crying at random times," Zaugg says. "It is normal to cry or be emotional for brief times. If crying and feelings of being down and hopeless persist or are severe, then talk with your partner as well as your health care provider."
Moms experience a change of identity
Going from being an independent woman to being a mother takes its toll on many women. They may feel like they’ve lost the person they were or be unable to recognize their new post-baby body in the mirror.
Moms who go from working outside the home to being full-time stay-at-home moms may miss their old job and sense of purpose. Even moms who have more than one child can experience this identity crisis as the role of motherhood becomes ever more overwhelming.
Some moms will report feelings of loneliness, according to Psychology Today. They may feel disconnected from other people because they have to spend so much time at home caring for one little person. Dads who realize how difficult this transition can be can offer a listening ear, a shoulder to cry on, and conversation for a mom who just wants to talk to another adult one time today.
You should also encourage the new mom to engage in self-care. Make sure she spends some time each day doing something for herself. She could pursue a new or old hobby, go for a walk or take herself out to eat. Be available to help with the kids so she doesn’t feel guilty about taking that time out.
Recognize the signs of post-partum depression
Most women experience some form of “baby blues” following childbirth. This usually manifests as feelings of sadness or emptiness that appear within days of labor and delivery and usually go away within a week or two. For some women, however, the feelings don’t subside. They may persist for weeks or months, interfering with a new mother's ability to care for her child and herself.
About one in nine new mothers will develop postpartum depression, so it’s crucial that new dads be aware of the signs and help mom get the support she needs. She may not tell you how she’s feeling or try to hide her depression out of guilt.
"Social media is great to let people know you have had a baby, but then turn it off. It can lead to unrealistic expectations. Many apps start sending ads making women think they should lose their baby weight fast, get their abdominal muscles back together by six weeks postpartum, have a spotless home, make fancy recipes, and develop a new skill before baby even smiles. Even without ads, too much screen time can alter the brain chemicals and increase depression," explains Zaugg.
While there’s much a new dad can do for his wife, it’s important for new moms to remember that this is a big life change for their husbands, as well, whether they’re also trying to figure out their own new role or are adjusting to a new number of children.
New moms and dads need to work together to get through this major transition, being willing to pick up the slack for each other when necessary and knowing it’s okay to feel unsure or worried about the future. In time, the necessary adjustments will be made. Life has a way of working itself out.
For support with postpartum care or to find an OBGYN near you, visit MountainStarOBGYN.com.
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