Conversations for Expectant Parents - Part 1
There are a million and one things I wish I had known before becoming a parent; how to put a breast pump together, how to decipher between hungry tears or tired tears, how to manage sleep deprivation without screaming at my spouse, how and when to introduce solid foods successfully. The list goes on and on; the fact is, most of this stuff is learned “on the job” - and that can be hard to prepare for (especially because so many things will be unique to your family and your baby.)
However, there are a few topics that I think every soon-to-be parent would benefit from spending time talking with their partner and thinking about, so that when the time comes, less of your precious energy is spending working through these logistics and making hard decisions, and more of it can be focused on taking care of yourself, your partner, and your new baby.
This is Part One of a two-part series in which I’ll introduce my first 3 topics: Birth Plan & Preparation, Feeding (Breast & Bottle), and Support & Family; I’ve included open-ended questions related to each of these areas in the hopes that it helps you to get the conversation started!
Birth Plan & Preparation
There is often great emphasis on this aspect of the pregnancy; in the US, our medical model requires multiple check ups with doctors and birthing professionals, and even, preparatory classes focused specifically on labor and the birthing process. Of course, these are exceptionally helpful, but I fear they can also give women a false sense of control over a process that requires flexibility, and potentially a last minute change.
There can also be a great amount of shame and pressure attached to this process; some women feel judged for their choices - whether it is the choice to birth without the use of medication, or the choice to use medication and/or an epidural. There is even shame attached to cesarean births - when a mother feels like a failure for not being able to have a vaginal birth or feels like her meticulous birthing plan has already gone awry.
One lovely and comforting response to this topic comes from doula Erica Chidi Cohen & author of Nurture, (one of my favorite pregnancy resources). She writes:
Currently, the term ‘natural birth’ creates more division than cohesion between women, which is what I think makes it problematic. ‘Natural’ is not an explanatory term and it doesn’t give women agency to optimize their birthing experience, especially for the predominant number of births taking place in hospitals. You can advocate for yourself better by using the real terms. When I hear a client say they would like to have a ‘natural birth’ or ‘I’m trying to birth as naturally as possible,’ one of the first things I’ll say to them is, ‘However you’re going to move through this process is going to be natural to you.’ No matter what a birth ends up looking like, there’s nothing unnatural about it, because it’s natural for women to be pregnant and have a baby” (emphasis mine)
- Do I have either spoken or unspoken expectations of myself or my partner around labor?
- Do I have beliefs or fears around the use of medications or epidurals?
- How can my partner support me during my labor and during our hospital stay? (this is one that can be explored more usefully through resources/birthing classes)
- Who do we want in the room? Who would we like to have at the hospital?
- Where do we want to give birth? (Nurture has an excellent section on making this decision and weighing the trade offs for hospital vs. at home births.) Do we agree on this?
Breastfeeding & Bottle Feeding
Recently there has been a more open, honest dialogue about the challenges and potential difficulties related to breastfeeding. It can be painful, not intuitive, and sometimes, women require the help of a professional to teach them how to breastfeed their baby. Most of us no longer live in communities where multiple new mothers gather together at once, taken care of by their mothers, aunts and grandmothers. We are more isolated now that we have ever been in human history, and this is one area of motherhood where we see the impact.
Over recent decades there have been significant policy shifts on the breastfeeding vs. formula debate, and the impacts connected to each choice. Currently, there is a significant push from pediatricians and medical professionals to breastfeed at least until your child turns one (American Academy of Pediatrics.) However, it is important to note, that this is not the model of all developed nations, and this is often not an option (or a desire) for many women.
(I really love this resource: Fed is Best, which offers resources and support to women who are breastfeeding, bottle feeding or a combination of both!)
- Do you have spoken or unspoken expectations of yourself or your partner as it relates to feeding your newborn?
- Do you have deeply held preferences or beliefs around the choice between breast milk and formula?
- What are your beliefs around who makes these decisions? Does mom/birthing parent have veto power/ultimate choice, or is this ultimately a team decision?
- Do you know how you were fed as a child? How long did your mother breastfeed, if ever? Does that impact your decision?
- Do you plan to take a breastfeeding course, or hire a lactation consultant to help in this endeavor?
- What are ways that non-birthing parent/father can support breastfeeding partner/mom in her goals, whatever they may be?
Support & Family
There are countless models for how to incorporate family, in-laws and support systems into the arrival of your baby. Some parents want their own parents in the delivery room, some feel more comfortable with the waiting room of the hospital, and some would prefer for their family and friends to wait until they are home for a visit. There is no right answer… and it can be hard to know what you will want because (likely) you’ve never been in this situation before.
Three ideas from my own experience (that will not fit for everyone, but can give ideas!)
1. I once read the advice that after the baby comes there are no guests, just helpers (I wish I remembered who deserves credit for this line!) Meaning, if people would like to come and meet the baby, give them a job, ask them for some help, even in a small way. Perhaps, can you bring over some lunch? Would you mind walking the dog? Can you sit with the baby while I shower? Can you clean the dishes in the sink? This may feel awkward and uncomfortable, especially for those of us who struggle with asking for help - but, I can assure you, that is what your friends and family are there for, and they are happy to do it. [Extra helpful, if non birthing partner/Dad can take this on, that way, birthing partner doesn’t have to use her energy or bandwidth to think about it, especially in the early days and/or if she is breastfeeding around the clock.]
● Another point to mention; in the early days and weeks, mostly if you decide to breastfeed, the majority of the baby work will fall to the birthing parent/mom; much of the help in the early days is helping to take care of YOU (nutrition, shower, sleep, a few minutes to yourself), and your home/pets/other children/etc. Keep this in mind when you think about who can come to help you and how!
2. Create a meal train! Perhaps you’ve heard of this service - you can create a signup sheet for family and friends to bring you meals at your preferred times/dates. They can either drop off the meals or, they can stay and enjoy the food with you! We did this for our closest friends, creating opportunities for them to come over and meet the baby, and cook dinner for all of us to share together. It was a stress-free and lovely way to reconnect with our people and community and it felt a bit like hosting a dinner (without the cooking part!)
3. Be clear about your boundaries and needs. Every family has a different culture around this time; discuss with your partner what you think you will need and how much you can handle. For us, this meant, staggering visits from friends and family so that we wouldn’t be without help for the first 4-6 weeks, but we would never have more than 2-3 people visiting at one time. This will look different for everyone, but it may be helpful to create a calendar for visitors, and this is another task that non birthing partner/Dad can manage and coordinate, in order to take it off of birthing partner/Mom’s plate in the early days and weeks. It is also helpful to be clear with visitors and guests, especially if they are visiting from out of town, that you are a) either happy to host them, or b) prefer that they stay in a hotel/airbnb/with a friend etc.
- Do you have hopes or expectations for who will be around during or closely following the birth?
- Are there religious or cultural rituals/practices and expectations that need to be planned and accounted for in the early days and weeks? Who can help you organize them?
- How do you feel about visitors - staying with you, and for how long? How many people at one time would feel comfortable?
- Do you have members of your family who can be helpful at specific tasks? (ie. a great cook in the family can make dinner for everyone during their visit! Dog lovers can be in charge of walking the dog!)
- How do you want to navigate this and communicate it to friends and family? Does non birthing partner/Dad feel comfortable managing these communications, even with non family members or in-laws?
I hope this was helpful and can be a catalyst for further conversation between you and your partner / co-parent. The next conversation topics will focus on Finances, Maternity & Paternity Leave, and the Childcare transition. Keep an eye out for Part 2 in the coming weeks!
You can read more Transition to Parenthood posts, here: