Relationships with partners, family and friends often change after having a baby. Read about ways to deal with relationship stress and tackle issues.
The change from a couple to a family of three, or possibly more, can be one of the biggest transformations you face when you become a parent (Delicate et al, 2018; NHS, 2019).
While there are challenges in bringing up a baby — during the first year in particular, some couples grow stronger as they find a new respect for each other as parents and share experiences that bind them together (Doss et al, 2009; Delicate et al, 2018). If you are experiencing any relationship problems after having a baby, it can help to deal with the issues you face as they happen.
One of the biggest factors leading to tension and issues in relationships after childbirth is tiredness (Relate, no date). A lack of sleep can have a huge impact on day-to-day life and it’s useful to consider options for managing this. For example, when sleep deprivation kicks in, one parent may need to take some time sleeping in another room to catch up.
Discover our top tips for taking care of yourself when you have a baby.
New parents are often short of time too. The hours previously used for socialising, relaxing and domestic tasks can be sharply reduced, and this can change the dynamics of a relationship.
Money — or lack of it — can also be a cause of stress for couples (Chin et al, 2011). For many new parents, adjusting to life on a reduced income or one salary can be especially challenging. Often, there are emotional issues underpinning money rows, such as the loss of financial independence or feeling the pressure of having to provide for the family.
Explore our handy tips on talking to your partner about money here.
One partner may also be adjusting to life at home with a baby rather than being at work. So it can help to recognise the underlying issues fuelling the tension and try to address that.
One, two, three
With a first baby, their arrival can mean that two people who were the most important ones in each other’s lives now have a third (or more with twins or multiples) very important person to think about. Some parents find this transition difficult, struggling with the fact they are no longer at the forefront of their partner’s mind (Delicate et al, 2018).
Partners can feel sidelined as mum concentrates on their child (Musser et al, 2013). Equally, some women may feel like they disappear as everyone focuses on the new baby. Mum may feel that her role is to simply care for and feed the baby rather than be a partner or person in her own right.
It’s important to acknowledge how roles might change and how this can make both parents feel. It’s also helpful to talk through each other’s day together to find out what’s been positive or challenging and to gain an understanding of the other’s day (McCourt, 2006).
Some parents find that they have different views on parenting, which can cause conflict. It can be easy for one parent to become the ‘expert’ and undermine the other’s confidence.
It helps to discuss each other’s views and try to develop a joint approach. Accepting that you may have different ways of looking after your baby is also important. Just because you do things differently doesn’t mean that one way is right or wrong (Adamsons, 2013). Find out more about parenting as a team.
The physical side of a relationship can also change dramatically — thanks to exhaustion, dealing with the physical and emotional impact of the birth, and the demands of life with a newborn. It can take time to feel like having sex again after birth (Brotherson, 2007).
A positive approach could involve patience, a sense of humour, understanding, and a willingness to find new ways of expressing physical affection until you both feel ready to have sex again. Read more about supporting your sexual relationship.
Open and honest communication is vital in any relationship — and especially for new parents.
If there is tension:
- Make time to talk when you’re both feeling calm.
- Listen and try to understand your partner’s perspective.
- Avoid criticism or blame.
You can find more tips on effective relationship communication in our article here.
Mums, dads and other co-parents can all experience mental health problems, such as depression or anxiety, which can have a big impact on relationships. If you think that you or your partner is suffering from a mental health problem, supporting each other and finding help is really important.
To find out more about emotional problems and how to get support, you might find one of our articles about how you might be feeling helpful.
The birth of a baby may bring some relationships with friends and family closer than you expect, and others might become more distant or challenging.
Many parents find friends and family will offer advice and opinions — sometimes uninvited and sometimes in conflict with their own parenting ideas. If you disagree with the advice being offered, it can help to focus on the fact that it is usually well meaning and that it’s up to you to decide whether to take on board the advice given.
For many parents, the support that grandparents, other relations, friends and even neighbours may offer can be invaluable. Social support can be hugely beneficial to a parent’s emotional wellbeing in the postnatal period so don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help.
You can read more here about the changes you might experience in your relationships with family and in-laws after having a baby.
Looking after yourselves as a couple and as individuals is important. It may be simplistic but if you are happy, you are more likely to be happy in your role as a parent too. So here are some tips:
- Make time for yourselves as a couple — maybe try to fit or adapt some of the things you used to enjoy together into your new life, such as watching a DVD or having a date night.
- Take some time out with friends or on your own, doing something you enjoy or find relaxing.
- Remember that help is available — whether it’s from NCT or your own social and family networks.
It will be a learning curve in the first few weeks and months, but with the right support, you can work it out together.
This page was last reviewed in February 2022.
Our support line offers practical and emotional support with feeding your baby and general enquiries for parents, members and volunteers: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of our NCT New Baby courses helpful as they give you the opportunity to explore different approaches to important parenting issues with a qualified group leader and other new parents in your area.
Make friends with other parents-to-be and new parents in your local area for support and friendship by seeing what NCT activities are happening nearby.
Domestic violence or abuse can happen to anyone and can take the form of physical, emotional, sexual, or financial abuse. If you are in immediate danger call 999. If you want to seek help for domestic abuse, speak to a healthcare professional, or call: Refuge for Women and Children on 0808 2000 247; LGBT+ Domestic Abuse Helpline on 0800 999 5428; or Respect Men's Advice Line on 0808 801 0327.
Adamsons K. (2013) Predictors of relationship quality during the transition to parenthood. J Reproductive Infant Psychol. 31(2):160-171. Available at: https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/02646838.2013.791919 [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Brotherson SE. (2007) From partners to parents: couples and the transition to parenthood. Int J Childbirth Education. 22(2):7-12. Available at: https://www.researchgate.net/publication/278728617_From_Partners_to_Par… [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Chin R, Daiches A, Hall P. (2011) A qualitative exploration of first time fathers experiences of becoming a father. Community Pract. 84(7):19-23. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/21941706/ [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Delicate A, Ayers S, McMullen S. (2018) A systematic review and meta-synthesis of the impact of becoming parents on the couple relationship. Midwifery. 61:88-96. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/29574301/ [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Doss BD, Rhoades GK, Stanley SM, Markman HJ. (2009) The effect of the transition to parenthood on relationship quality: an 8-year prospective study. J Pers Soc Psychol. 96(3):601-609. Available at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC2702669/ [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
McCourt C. (2006) Becoming a parent. In: The new midwifery: science and sensitivity in practice. Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone, 49-71.
Musser AK, Ahmed AH, Folj KJ, Coddington JA. (2013) Paternal postpartum depression: what health care providers should know. J Paediatr Health Care. 27(6):479-485. Available at: https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/23182851/ [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
NHS. (2019) Relationships after having a baby. Available at: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/baby/support-and-services/relationships-after-having-a-baby. [Accessed 2nd February 2022]
Relate. (no date) Top 4 reasons couples argue after having a baby. Available at: https://www.relate.org.uk/relationship-help/help-family-life-and-parent… [Accessed 2nd February 2022]