A small Swedish study, published as two articles and based on interviews with 15 pregnant women and 14 partners (fathers and co-mothers) has concluded that health professionals should be active in assisting the social support that women receive antenatally. Social support enhances pregnant women’s feelings of individual ability and competence, it provides a sense of recognition and belonging, and it encourages shared responsibility in the family.
We know from other research that expectant mothers who receive good social support have better health, mental and physical.
- Health professionals can engage directly with partners of woman, providing information and teaching on how to support their pregnant partner.
The women in the study emphasised in particular the value of support from partners. They described the value of good communication, often about intimate issues, and the value of jointly preparing for the birth and parenthood.
“It’s been really important. Mainly for the feeling that we’re in this together….that you are not alone, we are two in it….So it has been great that he has participated in these things [different types of preparation for childbirth and parenting]….I’s like a feeling of security.”
The women said that the ability to receive professional support together as a couple helped this togetherness and shared responsibility.
The partners in the study emphasised the importance of getting practical information on how to help their partner during pregnancy and during childbirth, which they said helped them to be more active in, for example, pain relief and nutrition. They also wanted practical information about care of the baby and related issues, such as parental leave, insurance and baby products. They wanted information on relationships after the birth. This information was easier to absorb if specifically presented by health professionals, such as in a presentation, preferably with good humour!
“The role-playing makes you feel, and then [the information] was more fully absorbed….Stating only facts doesn’t do much; but when your emotional life is involved, you absorb things better. You can laugh….you remember more that way.”
The substance of the information was not the only important thing for partners. The fact of receiving information specifically about their role also had the effect of confirming and recognising their part in the pregnancy and in parenthood.
- Health professionals can support connection with other women and couples expecting a baby.
The women described the feeling of recognition and belonging that comes from meeting others expecting a baby. Parenting education classes organised by the health service can be the only opportunity for women to meet other pregnant women and their families.
The partners described the same, emphasising the need for opportunities to meet other couples in antenatal classes. They described the frustration of being excluded from antenatal classes, either because they were not invited at all or because the classes took place during working hours. Co-mother parents said they wanted groups for same-sex couples and some male partners said they would like men-only antenatal groups.
- Health professionals can help women and their partners to screen information on the Internet.
The women in the study described the Internet as the fastest way to get answers to questions, sometimes questions that they preferred to keep anonymous. Some women said they used the Internet to check things told to them by professionals. The challenge of the Internet, however, is that it can offer conflicting advice and it can exaggerate problems. Health professionals can play a valuable role in recommending reliable content online, on the basis of their expertise.
Bäckström C, Larsson T, Wahlgren E, Golsäter M, Mårtensson LB & Thorstensson S (2017), ‘It makes you feel like you are not alone’: Expectant first-time mothers’ experiences of social support within the social network, when preparing for childbirth and parenting, Sexual & Reproductive Healthcare 12
Bäckström C, Thorstensson S, Mårtensson LB, Grimming R, Nyblin Y & Golsäter M (2017), ‘To be able to support her, I must feel calm and safe’: pregnant women’s partners perceptions of professional support during pregnancy, BMC Pregnancy and Childbirth 17
Photo: Wellcome Images. Creative Commons.