This article isn’t about what you can do to improve your pregnancy health. Instead, it’s about what your partner can—and should—do.
An involved father or non-pregnant partner can improve the well-being of the mother and baby. Interestingly, a supportive partner may also lead to a lowered risk for some complications, like low birth weight.
Although there’s big benefits to a good relationship during pregnancy, they’re not talked about enough. The non-pregnant partner’s impact on pregnancy is understudied. Researchers sum it up well by saying, “father involvement may have important consequences for the health of his partner, her pregnancy and their child.”
Studies have shown that emotional and behavioral factors are influenced by the mother’s partner—whether they’re married or dating.
Keep reading to learn 7 ways partner support can boost pregnancy health.
Role of Emotional Support During Pregnancy
Pregnancy is an exciting time but it can bring new anxieties for both parents. Many couples can relate to:
- New worries
- Expanding to-do lists
- The feeling that everything is changing
- Conflicting emotions
During this time, it’s important for both people to support each other. While both partners are likely going through changes, the mother is the person experiencing the bulk of those changes first-hand. Not only do pregnancy symptoms take a toll, but pregnancy hormones can make emotional changes even more intense. As scared and nervous as the non-pregnant partner is, the mother is even more anxious because she’s the one physically carrying the baby. For this reason, it’s especially important for the mother to have partner support while expecting.
While we’ll delve into the specifics later on, emotional support during pregnancy is important for two main reasons:
- A supported mother feels happier, less stress stressed and more emotionally ready to take on pregnancy and parenting
- A less stressed mother may lead to better pregnancy outcomes and more emotional regulation in babies as they grow up
Emotional support during pregnancy can mean:
- Being there for your partner’s worries and listening
- Understanding potential mood swings
- Creating trust and emotional safety in the relationship
- Unburdening your partner by doing extra chores
- Sharing the burden of learning by reading parenting/newborn books yourself
- Accompanying her to prenatal appointments
- Showing engagement by asking questions about her feelings and symptoms or during appointments
- Showing care by increasing her physical comfort (rubbing her feet, arranging pregnancy pillows, etc.)
- Sharing excitement for baby preparation (ex. helping her pick nursery colors, baby names, etc.)
- Enforcing boundaries when family or strangers ask her uncomfortable questions or attempt to rub her belly without consent
7 Reasons Why Partner Support is Critical
When we talk about pregnancy health, we usually focus on the mother. However, your partner may play a large role in your and your baby’s physical and emotional well-being.
How supportive and involved your partner is factors into your stress levels and pregnancy habits, and may even affect pregnancy outcomes like birth weight.
Below are 7 reasons why having a supportive partner during pregnancy is important.
Lower Pregnancy Anxiety
Anxiety and stress are common during pregnancy, but a good relationship may help you stay calm. Research has demonstrated that when the non-pregnant partner is involved, the mother is less likely to experience anxiety. In a 2016 study, low partner support in early pregnancy was associated with an increased risk for high pregnancy-related anxiety. In fact, one group of participants with low support was about 80% more likely to have anxiety in early pregnancy.
Lower Pregnancy Depression
Anxiety isn’t the only way that your mental health can be impacted by your partner during pregnancy. Lower pregnancy support in early pregnancy was associated with depression during mid-pregnancy, according to research.
A 2009 study found that women who say they’re in good relationships with the baby’s father have fewer depressive symptoms. On the flip side, another study suggested that father involvement increases psychological well-being of the mother. The authors wrote that nurses should encourage fathers to participate and ask questions during prenatal visits.
Reduces Risk of Postpartum Depression or Anxiety
Support during pregnancy not only affects you while expecting, it may have postpartum impacts too. Mothers who felt they had stronger social support from their partner had lower emotional distress during the postpartum period, according to a 2012 study.
Other research shows that couples who have stronger relationships have fewer progressive symptoms of postpartum depression. According to the Gottman Institute, just 15 minutes of daily partner massage can be enough to relieve depression for new mothers.
More Likely to Receive Prenatal Care
Prenatal care is important. When your doctor monitors your pregnancy, you can spot problems early or avoid potential risks. However, not everyone receives enough prenatal care.
According to a 2007 study, women were 1.5 times more likely to receive prenatal care in the first trimester if they had involved partners. Another study mirrored these findings. It suggested that father involvement was associated with earlier appointment bookings and a higher likelihood of having a dating ultrasound.
Help Mother Stop Smoking
Everyone knows that you shouldn’t smoke during pregnancy. However, those having a hard time quitting may have it even harder with an unsupportive partner. Lower pregnancy support was associated with smoking during pregnancy, according to a 2016 study.
And the opposite may be true too: A supportive partner may help you quit. One study found that women with involved partners cut down their cigarette smoking 36% more than those with uninvolved partners. Earlier research also supports the idea that a father can influence a mother to maintain or adopt healthy behaviors while expecting.
Better Infant Emotional Regulation
A supportive father might also contribute to better emotional regulation in their child. Infants were less distressed in response to new situations if their mothers felt their partner was supportive mid-pregnancy, according to one study.
Several studies have linked stress during pregnancy to behavioral problems in the child, attention deficits, learning challenges, anxiety and more. A large factor in pregnancy stress is the quality of the mother’s relationship and father involvement. Taking this into consideration, a partner who’s supportive and helps out can lower the mother’s stress, possibly shielding their baby from emotional or behavioral challenges.
Birth Weight & Growth
Not having enough pregnancy support may also affect a baby’s birth weight and development, although research is conflicting and unclear.
A research brief by Princeton and Columbia University concludes that the more involved the parents are with each other, the better the baby’s health.
Some studies show that the worse the relationship, the worse the outcome. Research from 2011 even drew a link between absent fathers and infant mortality in some populations. Authors suggested that partner involvement during pregnancy may decrease some infant mortalities.
Research has also linked low pregnancy support to changes in:
- Infant birth weight
- Gestational age at birth
- Fetal growth
Does this mean that low support causes stress and stress impacts baby development? Not necessarily. It could mean that stress causes the mother to have unhealthy habits that affect the baby. For example, after the researchers adjusted their findings to factor in smoking, they found that low support didn’t cause birth weight or development changes. In short, a supportive partner may help you kick bad stress habits that cause developmental problems.
Another theory is that an unsupportive partner can cause anxiety and depression, which may contribute to negative birth outcomes. A 2011 study suggested anxiety was a key risk factor for preterm birth while depression was a factor for low birth weight.
It’s important to note that these studies aren’t conclusive. To understand the role between partner support and birth weight, more research is needed.
Summary: Partner Support During Pregnancy
Pregnancy health isn’t just determined by the mother—the father’s support can also play an important role. Research shows that a supportive partner during pregnancy can reduce a woman’s risk of anxiety and depression. It may also reduce her risk of postpartum depression.
An involved non-pregnant partner may also improve the baby’s health. It may reduce the risk of pregnancy complications, like low birth weight and it may help protect against emotional or behavioral challenges.
Although the research suggests that partners should get involved for the health of mom and baby, more research needs to be done to fully understand the non-pregnant partner’s role.
Increase Partner Involvement With a Fetal Doppler
Fetal dopplers are pocket-sized devices that you can use to hear your baby’s heartbeat. Simply apply ultrasound gel and turn your probe on. When you detect your baby, her heartbeat will play through speakers. Many mothers say the experience provides an extra level of reassurance.
Fetal dopplers also allow the non-pregnant partner an opportunity to bond before birth. This can help them feel better connected and involved in the pregnancy.