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Parenting - Preparing both you and your partner for your new arrival

Thursday, 12 November 2009

Last year saw the highest number of births recorded in Ireland since 1896. In total, 75,065 births were recorded. There is a baby boom at present and with so many more arrivals on the way, expectant parents need all the guidance they can get.

Grainne Ryan, Public Health Nurse

Conception, pregnancy, childbirth and early parenthood are periods of immense physical, psychological, social, financial and practical change. Women and their partners are keen to ensure that their childbearing experience is both safe and satisfying, and as most mothers achieve a safe, normal, physiological pregnancy and labour, there is greater emphasis on psychological satisfaction and enjoyment.

Any pregnancy, but most especially a first is a major life event. It is a time of heightened awareness and great change. Parents begin to see themselves, each other and the world differently. During the nine months it takes for a baby to grow, parents develop and grow too, so that one year later almost nothing in the parents' lives remains as it was before the baby was conceived.

Finding out you are pregnant
The way in which a couple reacts to the news of the woman's pregnancy will be dependent on their individual situation. Most people and their partners will be delighted even when the pregnancy is unplanned. This joy will be increased if there is a history of infertility or pregnancy loss, although this in itself will bring fresh concerns for the current pregnancy. Many women view conception as their transition to true adulthood and a reassurance about their femininity and sexuality. While men have proved their virility. On the other hand, both partners will face the realization of impending new responsibilities, practical and financial, and begin to consider the potential effects on independence.

Tell me more about pregnancy affecting both you and your partner's independence?

This will be the first time that the couple will have responsibility for another little being. If a mum is suffering from severe pregnancy sickness this may have an effect on both peoples independence, she may be tired all the time having to take lots of rest, or maybe unable to work, this invariably will affect her independence but also her partner will have a sense of responsibility and may now be unable to go to the match etc as he may not want to leave his partner, or she may not want to let him go. If a mum to be has to take time off from work due to illness there may be a reduction in the family income and maybe the dad to be will feel obliged to work even longer hours to provide for his family. Also Mum to be will now not be taking alcohol and may not wish to go to the pub at the weekend etc, this may also impact on partners' independence.
For Dads it is important to realise that their partner will be undergoing huge changes within her body, many of them may seem mysterious and some of them challenging. The physiological processes involved in producing a baby are much the same for every woman, yet each woman will respond to these urges in her own way. In general trust your partner to know what she needs.

Physical Changes during pregnancy
Physical changes are probably most evident, and a woman has little choice but to take notice of them. This may well be a new experience as, although most women work hard to try to ensure that their appearance conforms to current fashion and social images, many pay little heed to the workings of their body. Changing body image can have a powerful effect on a woman and her partner in pregnancy. Some women enjoy their pregnant state until perhaps the latter weeks when they feel too heavy and cumbersome, whereas others feel unattractive and fear that they will no longer be appealing to their partner. Men can react in different ways, some finding the bodily changes of pregnancy attractive, while other do not find it appealing.

What's the best way a woman can approach her ever-changing body?

The best way to approach her ever-changing body is to be informed of what is going on in her body week by week. Buy a good book to use during the pregnancy, also ask friends who have recently had babies about the changes. If you have any concerns ask the advice of your Midwife, GP or Obstetrician. I cannot emphasise the importance of both partners attending antenatal classes.

How should a man react to their partner's changing body?

Again men need to be informed about the physical changes that are happening in their partner's body - how the baby is growing and this will help them to understand the changes that happen in pregnancy. In my experience men really like the shape of their partners body in pregnancy and are very proud that their son/daughter is actually growing inside their partner's abdomen. Again increase your knowledge, read your partners book which will also support her and you can both discuss the changes that are happening. Do attend ante natal classes as they will
provide invaluable information for Dads also.

Reviewing your lifestyle
The growing baby forces parents to review every aspect of their life styles. Some areas appear quiet trivial but may be hard to cope with:

. What clothes should mum-to-be wear as her shape changes?
. Is it safe for her to continue riding her bike?
. What about holidays?

Others are more central, as they touch work, money or housing issues:
. Can we afford to live here?
. Is there room for a baby?
. Who will be the main carer?
. Will both parents need to work?

How should expectant parents approach these issues?

How should the man react to all the questions that the woman suddenly and urgently needs answered? When parents are planning a pregnancy a lot of these questions are discussed and a plan put in place regarding if they need to move house, do up another room for the baby, cost of having a baby etc but as we all know many pregnancies are unplanned and theses questions will have to be answered. It is important for both partners to discuss what the issues are for them and make a plan, however when the baby arrives often things fall into place ie mum does not want to go back to work etc. So it is important to discuss your worries with your partner but to allow negotiation /change to happen throughout the pregnancy and after the baby is born. It is important to be sensible and say the facts as they are.

Giving up work
Giving up work, even temporarily, is a major step. It may, for some, be a relief, but she has to adjust to the loss of familiar routine and regular contact with friends at work. She may be anxious about stepping off the career ladder and about loss of status and income. If she plans or needs to return to full or part-time work, she may be worried about finding affordable childcare.

What's the best way for a woman to approach her new routine?

Usually mum's to be are delighted to finish work before the birth of the baby and to 'bank up' on a lie in, in the morning. I would suggest to use this period to get rest prior to labour and the birth of their baby. Every day set a side some new chore, (packing bag for the hospital if it's not already done). Immediately prior to the birth many mum's to be decide to take the house apart 'nesting' in preparation for the baby, Do not overdo it Meeting up with friends, some me time get your hair/nails attended to. Also spend some quality time with your partner, plan a romantic meal out, trip to the cinema as this is a very special time for both of you.

When mum-to-be gives up working they may become more involved in their community, meeting other mothers who are due babies around the same time and this can have a positive effect on mum's to be but dad may feel left out.

What can someone do to prevent her partner feeling left out?

The main role for men over the years women have been having babies, (apart from playing a major part in getting the whole process started) has been to support and protect the woman during her pregnancy, while the birth is in progress and in the critical early weeks after the birth. To nurture a healthy baby a woman needs food, a calm safe environment, and freedom from worry or anxiety. These are areas where partners can become involved, and by taking on this role, partners will be rewarded with a healthy baby and happy partner, confident in her ability to nurture and raise your child.
Going to ante natal appointments /scans with your partner will also help partners to be included

Asking your partner questions related to pregnancy that may be bothering you.
Attending Ante natal classes will provide you with information regarding preganancy, labour, and birth of your baby. Don't be afraid to ask questions or to seek help from those around you.
Partners need to be aware that becoming a father can be an emotional and physically draining time. Many men report similar ups and downs as their partners during the pregnancy.

There are changes for both the woman and her partner
It is not just practical issues. Ideas and feelings change, too. Pregnancy often seems to take the 'emotional lid' off, allowing both women and men to become more sensitive and aware. Women tend to laugh and cry more easily, whilst many men feel anxious and unsettled.

Some women cope with the changes of pregnancy on their own, but most share the experience with a partner, parent or close friend. Often the demands that pregnancy makes on the partner can go unrecognized and unacknowledged because nothing visible is happening to him. However, his world is changing too as he adapts to the physical and emotional changes in his partner, and to the financial, practical and emotional responsibilities that fatherhood brings.

Friendships are re-assessed
Expectant parents often reassess their friendships. They may find that they have less in common with friends who do not have children. Friends with babies or small children can become role models and sources of support.

Change in roles
The process of childbearing involves profound physiological and psychological upheaval. Conflict between different roles can occur lover and mother, employee and career woman, daughter and mother and between dependence and independence is a common experience of pregnant women, which can lead to an identity crisis that may continue after the birth. Your own experiences of childhood and how you were parented will effect how you see your ability to parent this new baby. This may also lead to a reawakening of unresolved conflicts from your own upbringing.

How can you prevent this identity crisis?

First it is important to be open and honest with your partner and discuss what your fears are. (don't know if we can talk about sex here). If you don't discuss them the concern you bottle them up and often they appear to become more profound. It is important to discuss the different styles of parenting prior to the birth as both of you will be bringing a set of values from your experience of being parented and it is trying to meet a common style of parenting for you both.

Preparing your partner for the delivery room and labour.
Again be informed, read about the delivery room and labour. Attend antenatal classes which often include a guided tour of the labour ward. Be prepared make sure bags are packed for labour ward, camera is charged, list of numbers to contact on the arrival of new baby etc. Remember you will be advocating for your partner when she is in labour make sure you know her likes and dislikes, discuss birth plan. During labour, when she is unable to participate fully in the decision -making process because she is concentrating on the labour itself, she may rely on you to convey her wishes to the staff.