Emily Aleksy, LCSW, PMH-C
Postpartum Planning - Talking to Your Partner
Throughout pregnancy, most new parents plan for baby. We buy supplies, learn about feeding and changing diapers, get a primer on how car seats work and may even take a baby care class.
Yes, it’s important to know how to care for your new baby, but it’s JUST as important to know how to care for yourself and your partner, and not just in physical recovery after birth.
Many parents get at least a quick conversation about postpartum depression from their ob or a flyer tucked into their hospital discharge paperwork - but that’s usually where postpartum planning and preparation end. We tend to kind of just wing it and hope it works out.
Most of us would notice if our partner was really struggling - we might see tearfulness, lack of sleep, frustration and anger, or mood swings - and we would encourage them to rest, try to take on a greater share of the work, or get outside help. But there is also a lot that we can do before things get to that point to support both partners in their overall wellness - knowing that the newborn stage is really really difficult for a lot of families.
In many families, one person becomes the “default parent” - the one that shoulders the mental load for a lot of the unseen labor of raising children.
Scheduling (child care, doctors appointments, playdates), planning & organizing supplies (making sure we have sunscreen, formula, diapers, soap, next clothing size, etc. before it is needed), actual child care, preparation for time away (prepping bottles or snacks, extra diapers and outfits), initiating tasks like bed or bath time, the list goes on and on. The problem is - this often leads to a disproportionate share of the load and stress on one partner, and can then breed frustration and resentment.
Big conversations are nearly impossible to have in a productive way when we are stressed or overwhelmed - so talking about these well before birth is usually the best bet to help things go as smoothly as possible. Then if (and when) they come up, you can refer back and say “Hey, remember when we had all those conversations about postpartum planning? We need to revisit that”. This is especially true for these kids of conversations - bringing this up before birth and agreeing on your expectations (knowing that they can shift with communication in the future) goes a LOT more smoothly than the middle of the night sleep-deprived whisper arguments about how “I’m ALWAYS the one who does everything” - which usually leads to defensiveness and more resentment.
Also - it’s OK if this list feels overwhelming and triggers thoughts of “Oh crap - I didn’t really realize what we were getting into here”. That’s the point - there are a lot of expectations of parenting that might not match with our partners and we don’t even realize it. This list is to help you confirm you’re on the same page, or know what doesn’t quite match so you can talk about it and solve it together.
How do you experience stress? What symptoms arise?
How can you tell that you are stressed? What can I do to support you? Do you need validation (listening) or solutions (suggestions)?
What do you need to nurture yourself when you are overwhelmed? What supports feel good?
What needs do you have that we could help you meet? Sleep? Social connection? Creativity? Physical activity?
What are our expectations for role changes after birth?
Who will get up with baby? Who will feed baby and what can the other partner do to support that person?
Who will be responsible for buying supplies? Who will pack the diaper bag?
Will other duties in your house shift to allow for the extra work of a child? If one partner is home with the baby, consider thinking about that like a full time job - it’s not realistic to think that the partner at home can care for a new baby, and themselves, AND do all of the housework, cooking, etc. Who will prepare meals? Can we prep some in advance or compromise on more takeout temporarily?
What are our expectations for sex and intimacy? (Not all people feel healed or ready by their 6 week checkup!)
Do work schedules need to shift or change to allow for childcare and transporting to/from childcare?
If one person is home caring for baby (during maternity/paternity leave or ongoing) what are our expectations for communication and support during the day? What are our expectations for after partner gets home from work? Will they take the baby right away? What does the partner at home need upon the return from work - a break, to do something else, quiet, take a shower, etc?
How can we talk about things if the division of labor doesn’t feel fair?
How can we prioritize alone and restorative time for both of us? What can we agree on for time away from the baby/children?
Who will research and communicate information about child development and needs? Wonder Weeks leaps, developmental milestones, car seats, emotional support, sleep training, discipline, difficult conversations (like death and where babies come from, body image and nutrition, our family’s beliefs, religion) etc.
4. MENTAL HEALTH:
What are the warning signs that you need mental health support?
What might you need if your mental health is a concern? Who can we reach out to if needed?
Remember that 1 in 5 birthing people and 1 in 10 partners experience a perinatal mood and anxiety disorder (PMADs) like postpartum depression or anxiety. What do we need to know about PMADs? What do we need to look out for?
What other formal (therapist, doctor, doula) or informal (friend, family, neighbor) supports are available to us?
What are our expectations and boundaries of support from others? Are you ok with your mother-in-law staying overnight? Are you ok with your sister doing your laundry? How long can visitors stay? Would a doula or sleep consultant be helpful?
Do we want to temporarily (or permanently) hire other help if finances allow? Yard care, cleaners, etc.
Throughout your parenting journey - remember that you are on the same team as your coparent. You are working together, and are deeply in this hard and stressful and wonderful thing together. They are your teammate - even when they make a mistake. Consider using this blog or the Postpartum Plan document from PSI to guide your conversations together. Communication and conversations about expectations can help you manage the really tricky parts of this time, and let you focus on the wonderful ones.
Postpartum planning resources:
Good Moms Have Scary Thoughts & What About Us by Karen Kleiman-
Emily Aleksy, LCSW, PMH-C is a therapist and mom of 3 (including twins!). She has a private practice in Whitefish Bay, WI that focuses on perinatal mental health and parenting experiences. Emily is also the Board Chair for the Wisconsin Chapter of Postpartum Support International. She likes coffee, yoga, and sarcasm, and wants every parent to know that while there isn’t a perfect way to raise kids - you’re doing great and it gets better.