Once you were a couple…and then you became a family. What does it mean for your relationship after baby? The birth of a baby can bring you closer together emotionally but push you apart physically. How can you get things back on track?
Changes to your relationship after baby
Most newly pregnant parents-to-be find themselves completely doting on each other. You might find your partner particularly attentive during your pregnancy. At the end of your pregnancy you might be feeling very maternal and have loads of good hormones running through your system. Your partner on the other hand might be feeling excited but cannot fully appreciate your feelings as he is not the one carrying the baby! What happens after baby?
The birth of a baby can put a strain on your seemingly good relationship. Babies are demanding – they need round the clock attention and care leaving little time for other priorities. Maintaining a good relationship requires energy and time which may be in short supply now that a baby has arrived on the scene.
In the article Maternal Emotional Wellbeing and Infant Development published by the Royal College of Midwives in the UK, “the birth of a new baby can sometimes place stress on a relationship given the huge changes that a new and often demanding addition to the family brings”. The transition to parenthood can cause enormous upheaval and contribute to a sense of loss of your former relationship. Significant changes take place for both men and women during this time. Add to this the expectations you may place on yourself about what type of parent you want to be and this may place added pressure on your relationship.
Lack of sleep
Let’s face it! A new baby can make long stretches of sleep difficult. Even if one parent is getting up during the night, little noises can interrupt the whole family’s sleep. Lack of sleep makes you irritable and you may not find yourself being as rational as you used to be. Hopefully you can come to some arrangement where you both attend to baby during the night but chances are that mum will be the one called on in the night – especially if you’re breastfeeding. Try to have catch up naps during the day – especially in those first few months when baby wakes up more often.
The only solution to lack of sleep is to try to focus on getting more and making it your priority. Maybe cat nap during the day or make sure you go to bed early each night. Possibly your partner could give the first feed overnight and then you could take the later feeds. Whatever works for you! The more the whole family nurture themselves, the better off you’ll all be. That old saying ‘try to sleep when the baby sleeps’ is a good one to remember. Sleep makes everyone feel better and able to cope with life and other people more easily. Try reading our blog Your Health is Your Wealth for tips on improving your sleep.
With the demands of parenting also comes increased domestic duties. How can one little person make so much washing and dirty nappies! There’s always something to do and the chores around the house just seem to pile up with a new baby. May we suggest trying not to tally up who did what around the house – just try to help each other wherever you can. Let family or visitors help if they ask. If they want to hang out the washing, sweep the floor or just hold the baby while you do all of the above, then let them. Perhaps you need to have discussion with your partner about domestic duties and what is reasonable so that everyone is clear. It’s not realistic to expect a meal on the table at 6pm every night when you have a young child. Keep it real!
Money can be a big issue that divides couples, whether those couples are parents or not. Add a baby to the mix and things can get a little pear-shaped. It’s very helpful to both be clear on the financial situation when you become parents. Adjusting to one income (albeit temporarily) may cause some stress in the relationship.
Baby equipment and the birthing process can be expensive. Then there’s the mortgage to think about or saving up for a new home. All of this adds up to stress for some new parents. Some parents may need to return to work sooner than they thought. You might like to read our blog 16 tips To Help You Return to Work After Baby
Talk to your partner and plan for the future. Consider income insurance and preparing a Will for your own peace of mind.
Let’s Talk About Sex
So we move on to the next big issue – sex! Intimacy with your partner can change a lot after the birth of a baby. Sometimes sex might go down on your priority list. At this point sleep is probably your highest priority. Initially sex is off limits anyway. You should wait until the bleeding (lochia) stops after birth. The right time to return to intercourse is when you feel ready. It is normal for things to take a while to get back to the way they used to be before baby came along.
You may be adjusting to the changes that have taken place in your body since birth. You may experience:
– loose skin around your stomach
– weight gain
– enlarged and sore breasts
– varicose veins
– grazes in your vagina
– episiotomy scars or casesarean scars
– mood swings
In other words it might take you a while to feel like your old self again. Sometimes your partner can feel excluded because usually the mother is the one that spends most time with the baby. The mother is also the one who experienced the pregnancy and birth – this counts for a lot in terms of bonding and attachment with the baby. It is important to tell your partner that you still have feelings for them, even though sex is not a high priority right now. Perhaps you could try being intimate in different ways.
As Mums we may feel like we’re getting loads of physical contact, especially if you’re breastfeeding, and if another person wants more physical contact you may just scream! It’s about managing expectations. You need to ask your partner how they are feeling and tell them how you feel as well. Don’t worry! You will return to having sex when the time is right for you. But don’t forget about contraception or you really might have your hands full!
Schedule in Couple Time
All too often parents end up playing pass the parcel with the baby. Dad looks after the baby while Mum ducks out to the shops. Then baby goes back to Mum while Dad goes for a jog for example. You know how it works. It’s really important to try to find some time to do activities as a couple and a family.
Taking baby for a walk together after work or on the weekend is a great way to get some exercise and open up the lines of communication. Try not to talk about the baby the whole time. I know it’s really hard sometimes, even now when my husband and I go out for ‘date night’ the lion’s share of the conversation is taken up with talk about the kids.
Have a meal together daily without any other distractions if possible so that you can connect each day. For some couples breakfast might be easier or maybe it’s dinner once you’ve put baby to bed. As your baby grows they might join you for an early dinner. Eating together as a family is one of the best traditions you can establish going forward.
Schedule in a date night every now and then. Hey why not try to make it a regular event. If you have a baby that can be left with a carer or grandparent then enjoy a movie or a meal out – remind yourselves of the activities you enjoyed before you became parents. If baby is not quite at the age that you can leave with a babysitter just yet, try a special dinner at home maybe some candles or a gourmet treat that you don’t have often. Another idea is to watch a movie and snuggle up on the couch for some close physical contact.
All these suggestions are very simple ideas but unfortunately the demands of a baby can eat away couple time unless you really make a concerted effort to reconnect again.
Looking after yourself can help
Each parent should find some time for things they love. That might mean catching up with your girlfriends once a week or doing a dance class, going to the gym or a pilates or yoga class. Similarly you need to allow your partner time to do their hobby such as going for a jog, a swim at the beach or catching up with their friends. If you each continue activities you enjoy – it will make you a happier person within the family.
How is it that this beautiful little life you created together could put such a strain on your relationship? Well what we’re trying to say is that the relationship requires attention. At the end of the day try not to forget about the relationship that made you parents in the first place!