Changes in your relationships after having a baby
This article discusses:
Ups and downs in relationships after having a baby
Decisions about parenting after childbirth
Time together and for yourself
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.
While there are challenges in bringing up a baby - during the first year inparticular - some couples grow stronger as they find a new respect for each other as parents and share experiences that bind them together. It can help to deal with any relationship problems you face after having a baby as they happen.
One of the biggest factors leading to tension and issues in relationships after childbirth is tiredness. 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.
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. 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.
One partner may also be adjusting to life at home with a baby rather than being at work. It can help to recognise the underlying issues fuelling the tension and try to address that.
One, two, three
With a first baby, the 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.
Partners can feel sidelined as mum concentrates on their child. Equally, some women may feel like they disappear as everyone focusses on the new baby. Mum may feel that her role is to simply care and feed 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 gain an understanding of the other’s day.
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.
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.
A positive approach is 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.
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.
Postnatal depression (PND) can affect both mums and dads — and have a big impact on relationships. If you think that you or your partner is suffering from depression, then supporting each other and finding help is really important.
The birth of a baby may bring some relationships with friends and family closer than you expect, and others may become more distant or challenging.
Many parents find friends and family will offer advice and opinions — sometimes unasked for and sometimes in conflict with your 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 onboard the advice given.
For many parents the support that may be offered by grandparents, other relations, friends and even neighbours can be invaluable. Social support can be hugely beneficial to a parent’s emotional well-being in the postnatal period so don’t be afraid to ask for or accept help.
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.
- 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 takeaway.
- 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.
NCT's helpline offers practical and emotional support in all areas of pregnancy, birth and early parenthood: 0300 330 0700.
You might find attending one of NCT's Early Days groups 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.
Relate, a charity which specialises in supporting relationships, has information on coping with a new baby.