As far as the baby is concerned, there’s not much to do in the beginning besides feed, change, and admire. But your partner is a different story. Despite whatever you’ve heard about women giving birth in the fields and returning to work a few minutes later, that’s not the way things usually happen. Having a baby is a major shock—physically and emotionally—to a woman’s system. And, contrary to popular belief, the recovery period after vaginal birth is not necessarily any shorter or easier than the recovery period after a C-section.
Physically, whatever kind of delivery your partner has, she’ll need some time—probably more than either of you think—to recover fully. Fatigue, breast soreness, and lingering uterine contractions may not disappear for months, and vaginal discomfort, bleeding, hemorrhoids, poor appetite, constipation, increased perspiration, acne, hand numbness or tingling, dizziness, and hot flashes may continue for weeks after delivery. Besides, between 10 and 40 percent of women feel pain during sexual intercourse (which they won’t get around to for a few months anyway, so don’t even bother thinking about it), have respiratory infections, and lose hair for three to six months.
Emotionally, your partner isn’t much better off. She’s likely to be a little impatient at her lack of mobility, and while she’s undoubtedly excited to be a mother and relieved that the pregnancy is finally over, she’ll probably experience the “baby blues” and may even suffer from postpartum depression
Now that the baby is really here, she may feel a lot of pressure to assume her new role as a mother and to breast-feed properly. That’s an awful lot to ask. Fortunately, as she and the baby get to know each other, her confidence will grow, and a lot of her anxieties should disappear. Here are some things you can do to help your partner through the recovery process and to start parenting for both of you off on the right foot:
- Take over the household chores or ask someone else to help. And if the house is a mess, don’t blame each other.
- Be flexible. Expecting to maintain your normal, prefatherhood schedule is a complete fantasy, especially for the first six weeks after the birth.
- Be patient with yourself, your partner, and the baby. You’re all new at this.
- Be sensitive to your partner’s emotions. Her emotional recovery can take just as long as her physical one; maybe longer.
- Get some time alone with the baby. You can do this while your partner is sleeping or, if you have to, while you send her out for a walk.
- Control the visiting hours and the number of people who can come at any given time. Dealing with visitors takes a lot more energy than you might think. And being poked, prodded, and passed around won’t make the baby very happy. Also, for the first month or so, ask anyone who wants to touch the baby to wash his or her hands first. Babies’ immune systems aren’t ready to handle the day-to-day germs we deal with.
- Keep your sense of humor.