Some of the physical and emotional impacts she may experience in the first three months are:
- Nausea and vomiting
- Frequent urination
- Breast tenderness
- Fatigue, breathlessness
- Odd tastes, food cravings
- A heightened sense of smell
- Swollen breasts
- Ups or downs re: sex drive
She’s entered a strange new world full of surprises, which may be confusing to her. Having never experienced it before, she's dealing with her physical changes, emotional impacts, and the array of life-changing issues new motherhood brings.
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Some first trimester symptoms like nausea and fatigue tend to subside, though not entirely, and they’re replaced by new symptoms:
- Leg cramps at night
- Swelling of legs, feet
- Skin and nail changes
- Bad dreams
- Clumsiness, forgetful
- Impaired vision
- Faintness, dizziness
- Major weight gain
Her body is looking pregnant and she’s feeling it. Her energy should be back, and she’ll get used to her new world. Some women experience temporary increased sexual desire; you might get lucky.
In the final three months, previous symptoms usually continue and are magnified:
- Frequent urination
- Hip and pelvic pains
- Shortness of breath
- Impatience, frustration
- Braxton-Hicks (false) contractions
- Anxiety over delivery
- Disturbing dreams about the baby
Although she’s in the home stretch, she feels more anxious than ever; her energy level is dropping and concerns about being ready are rising. She may flip between feeling enthusiastic and anxious.
Ask her what she’s experiencing physically, look it up in her pregnancy manual, and tell her what you learned. This lets her know you care and want to hear about anything bothering her.
Visits with her obstetrician get you personally connected with what’s happening to both Mom and your baby. When you’re with the doctor, don’t be shy about asking questions and make sure all of hers get asked and answered. If you’re unable to make an appointment, ask her for details on how it went.
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Remind her to take naps when she can. If she’s working and feeling tired and stressed, try planning a quick getaway for the two of you. Perhaps she can take her maternity leave earlier than planned.
Go and see a feel-good movie with her, encourage her to catch up with friends over (decaf?) coffee, or sit in the park with her. Anything that helps take her mind off the pregnancy should work.
Exercise is a mood-lifter, as is just getting outside for fresh air. Invite her to take walks with you; walking and talking go hand-in-hand, and it gives her a head start on getting her body back afterward. You could probably use some exercise as well.
“My wife's hips and lower back started hurting her a lot. I would press into the center of her lower back with my thumbs, right around the tailbone area, and that would make her night.” - Dad-to-be
The best antidote when she’s feeling down is for her to talk to you about what’s on her mind. Getting it off her chest will diminish her stress and help lighten her mood, which will lighten yours, too. Even if she seems to be handling pregnancy fairly well, don’t underestimate its impact on her.
Her 500-page month-by-month baby bible was referred to as “400 Ways to Die” by one of our veterans. Those books are full of very low-risk issues that worry her needlessly. You might open it up to the current month, ask her about something you read, and follow up by asking her if anything she read bothered her.
“My wife's hips and lower back started hurting her a lot. I would press into the center of her lower back with my thumbs, right around the tailbone area, and that would make her night.”
- Take lots of pictures.
- Listen without trying to fix her problems.
- Love her and hug her.
- Help her out of the tub.
- Help her stay cool through the summer.
- Get her a full-body pillow for the last months.
- Have lots of sex.
- Tell her she's beautiful.
- Rub her feet.
- Buy her ice cream at 3:00 AM.
- Tell her it's OK.
- Admire her breasts.
- Caress her belly.
- Feel it when the baby kicks.
- Tell her you love her.
- Talk to the baby.
- Ask her what’s happening with the baby.
- Help keep her hydrated.
- Get an $8 fetal stethoscope to hear the heartbeat.
- Offer her snacks when she's starting to droop.
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“I didn't do any nesting for a long time. We had a lot of difficulty getting pregnant and this pregnancy has been complicated. However, around week thirty, the instinct overrode the fear. I finished a lot of projects and went nuts preparing the nursery.”
- New Dad
While your partner may talk, she may keep her most troublesome thoughts private. It’s difficult to open up about anxiety, guilt, and insecurity, especially when you’re supposed to be a happy new mom. The incredible shifts and changes can be unnerving; she can feel like she’s lost her moorings and is being carried along by a tide. Encourage her to talk; it will help her process what’s happening to her and she’ll feel less isolated.
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A mom can feel incompetent, or even guilty, when she can’t calm her crying baby. She feels her “maternal instinct” is supposed to tell her exactly what her baby’s cries mean and how to comfort him. Being dead tired, feeling physically wrecked and unattractive, having limited control over her emotions, and seeing no end in sight can make her plight seem hopeless. Point out what a great job she’s doing, what a wonderful baby she made, how much you appreciate her, and that she’s a good mom.
New moms automatically gravitate towards other experienced mothers, including their own. They often have issues with their own moms, but many still have close relationships during the first months of motherhood. Her mother can provide guidance that she trusts and a strong sense of security. You can also encourage her to have regular contact with other mothers who will reassure her.
Your partner should find a readily available and well established support system of other moms who totally understand her situation, are highly sympathetic, and have lots of advice she can trust. She can blow off steam about an insensitive husband who does not understand her (that would be you), as well as hear about another husband who is even worse (priceless).
Her hormones, coupled with the tornado of MommyLand, can sweep her off her feet. You can help her understand what issues are important and which are minor ones exaggerated by the “experts.” Ask her what worries her, and don’t disagree—just listen—which gives her the opportunity to get it off her chest. See if you can help her laugh off the more ridiculous stuff later.
“On the internet, be careful. People like to complain. My wife would go on these forums and she’d get worried about every little thing. People don’t go to make posts to tell you how awesome everything is. They go to tell you how terrible everything went.” —Dad
Issues with her baby, hormonal surges, and poor sleep continue through the first months, keeping her mind in turmoil about what she really wants as a mother. Then she gets her Mommy Legs, her hormones calm down, she gets more sleep and gets better at dealing constructively with her life and mothering choices.
In the early months, encourage her to take her time in making decisions. When Google extended paid leave for new moms from three to five months, moms choosing to quit work and stay home dropped by half.
A mom who can’t think of much else other than her baby will find it hard to leave him, even if he’s in your care or with a babysitter. A change of scenery is essential for her to enjoy a little guiltless freedom, so you may have to boot her out of the house while you handle the baby. Perhaps she’d like to go to a movie, the hairdresser, the mall, or visit with friends. The fresh perspective she gets from some rejuvenating personal time will make your efforts totally worth it.
And help make it happen. An exercise. class, art class, or girl’s night out, in addition to a regular date with you, is essential. Remind her she needs balance in her life to do her best as a mother. She needs her old friends, too—not just other mothers—so she can be more than a mom at times.
Mothers with a delayed start on bonding can still develop as strong a relationship with their child as those who get an early start. How fast Mom gets to first base is not important; moving forward to get there is. Her anxiety over bonding is often the fundamental problem, and this is a classic example of an issue that, if ignored, will usually go away on its own.
To help her get there:
- Offer a sympathetic ear and remind her it takes time.
- Point out all the things she does right for your baby.
Encourage her to regularly get good bonding time with:
- Nursing/feeding her baby in a relaxed environment.
- Skin-to-skin contact with her baby.
- Just holding her fed, changed, and sleeping baby.
- Suggest she talks it over with her doctor.
“When my baby came out I was like, ‘Oh, she's hideous.’ Just very bruised and I just didn’t feel that connection. It took me about two weeks. Now we're inseparable...I love this.”
“I was very caring and doing anything for him, but really connecting took a couple of months because I had a trying two months with breastfeeding.”
You need to remain supportive and find ways to lighten her mental load. Encourage her to talk about what’s going on and remind her it’s normal and will pass. Encourage her to get out of the house and take a break from the baby. If the problems persist, offer to speak with her physician.
“Your wife has gone through a lot of changes. You’ll find that she’ll start crying and she won’t know why. Just hold her hand and tell her it’s going to be okay. She’s going to be sore, tired, and overwhelmed. She’ll think she’s ugly or a bad mom.” - New Dad
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Up to 20% of new mothers develop "postpartum depression" (PPD), a term that includes anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. It typically occurs between 6 weeks to 12 months after childbirth, but can start soon after your child arrives. PPD is more likely to occur in women with a personal or family history of mood disorders.
If any of the symptoms below arise, you need to go on high alert for PPD. If symptoms persist for more than a week or inhibit her ability to care for herself and/or your baby, notify your partner’s doctor and/or contact a helpline.
- Insomnia or sleeping too much
- Loss of appetite or overeating
- Lack of interest in activities
- Inability to concentrate
- Extreme mood swings
- Lethargy or hyperactivity
- Feelings of helplessness
- Panic attacks
- Disorientation and confusion
- Hopelessness or lack of control
- Inability to care for herself or baby
- Loss of touch with reality
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This is suggested in the Checklist for Starting a Family along with an agreement that you will notify her doctor if the symptoms show up. If PPD develops, she may not be rational, hence the early discussion and agreement.
How to Notify her Doctor? Carefully. She may not believe she has PPD, or may not have PPD and will object to being “turned in.” You can ask her obstetrician to call her and see how she's doing, along with describing your impressions. This alerts her doctor, who will follow up, give you advice for further steps, and connect you to community PPD resources.
You are three months into being new parents, are very tired and are both caring for a new baby along with working and other responsibilities. Then Mom slacks off, the house becomes a mess, she reduces her care of your baby, and you argue. "WTF?" may be your first thought.
If you suspect your partner is moving past the baby blues and into PPD, first appreciate that you may be the only one to notice due to her isolation at home. Essential next steps:
- Get her in contact with her doctor or another medical professional.
- Ask about other PPD resources and follow up.
- Get educated on PPD with information from her doctor and online.
- Talk to her about her condition.
- Call in reinforcements: reach out to family, friends, and support groups.
- Remind her that you’ll be there for her and you’ll get through it together.
Online Resources For PPD
Online support, resources, articles, and links to resources for PPD:
A unique resource aimed at dads with partners with PPD. Read their stories and you’ll see that untreated PPD can destroy your relationship, it can cause Mom to refuse treatment, and many other issues.
Are You Depressed Too?
A major risk factor for dads becoming depressed is a partner with PPD. If you’re feeling down, go to Taking on Challenges (coming soon).
Her Cave Mom hormones and Mommy Brain augmentations may push her to stay home in the first few months post-birth, even if she was committed to shared parenting pre-birth. Her biology backs off in later months; when Google extended paid leave for mothers from three to five months, the number of new moms returning to work doubled.
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Over time, the excitement over her baby’s birth winds down, the calls and visits taper off, and Mom no longer attracts much attention. Her friends, especially if she’s the first in her group to become a mother, grow weary of constantly hearing about “the baby.” She’s going without daily contact with colleagues at work. She sees less of you if you’re working more. Although babies tend to be portable, going out with a newborn can be so much work that it may not happen often. After several months, she may hit a wall and be confused as to why she’s so unhappy being a stay-at-home mom. Some suggestions:
- Call her from work in the afternoon when your baby is likely to be fussy (and Mom is likely to be tired and frustrated).
- Take a little time each day to talk about something other than the baby.
- Encourage her to connect with friends and join groups for new moms.
- Make plans for her and the baby to meet you for lunch.
For years, the Boot Camp standard for dads arriving home from work, no matter how tough the day, was to walk in, take their baby and give Mom a break. Then a veteran said, “First kiss mom to let her know you love her and then take your baby.” Moms not only need a break, but they also need to be reminded they’re special to us.
You expect her to be happy, since you’re working hard as the family’s provider, and she’s not. Worse, she’s not happy with you—easily a WTF situation. Issues that arise include her expecting you to do 50% of the housework, her jealousy that your life is "better than hers," and her belief you don’t care about the baby. OK, what do you do?
First, be aware that if you respond negatively you can detach yourself from your own family. Positive approaches include lots of patience to give her time to adjust, talking with her about alternatives like a part-time job, and making her feel appreciated. On occasion, remind her of the miracle that she brought into your world and how much you appreciate her handling the home front.
Ninette - Talking About Staying Home (1:03)
Sarah Schoppe-Sullivan has led research on gatekeeping and found that when both parents-to-be want equality in their parenting, under the heavy influence of hormones, new moms still tend to either do or oversee everything.
Schoppe-Sullivan reported: “Both parents may think they should divide child care responsibilities equally, but mothers still feel a special pressure to show they are being the best parent they can be. We have always talked about fathers doing more, but it may be that mothers should do less. They need to relinquish some control.”
So, if you’re doing your part, remind the new mom in your life that her biology resulted from the survival-of-the-fittest gauntlet of humanity. Babies of mothers who did the most were the survivors, and this do-it-all trait continued to be passed down to future moms. So give your mate Sarah’s research on why easing up on herself will be good for her baby.
In the beginning, it’s all about settling in and slowly learning the parenting ropes. Early on, if your partner gets in the habit of lightening up and doing less, her baby gets a happier mom and she gets a more relaxed motherhood—often easier said than done, but definitely worth it.
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“You're just one person. Let your house go to crap. People will come over and you think, 'Oh, my gosh, my house is a wreck," but they don’t see the house, they see the baby. Just take care of yourself.”
“She might feel this expectation and pressure to automatically know everything and be the perfect mom. And the media, magazine articles, girlfriends, her mom and every cousin and aunt who has kids saying, 'Oh, you have to do it this way.' So they feel guilty if they don't automatically know what to do.”