Bringing home your new bundle of joy can be an exciting time, but it is also the beginning of a changed dynamic in the household. The transition from couple to family can challenge even the strongest relationship—what can you do to weather this transformation? Here are some questions, answers, and topics for discussion to help you plan for this remarkable change.
It’s important to remember that giving birth is a physically strenuous and emotionally charged experience. Take someone who’s been through this kind of exhilarating-yet-exhausting experience, throw in some postpartum pain, hand her a fragile new life that she must now learn to take care of on very little sleep, and then wallop her with a major hormone shift—and you’ve got a new mother.
Although the physical and hormonal aspects of having given birth are not part of the equation for the new dad, the emotional aspects can be very powerful. He, too, must adjust to new responsibility. He’s probably also just witnessed the baby’s birth, and watched his partner bear great pain in her efforts to deliver their child.
Fathers may see how difficult it can be to watch the woman they love experience the pain and work of childbirth, with little ability to relieve her pain or help share the extraordinary effort of labor and delivery. Furthermore, mothers often become understandably wrapped up in the tiny being they’ve been carrying for the previous 40 weeks, leaving the father to feel like the proverbial “third wheel,” jealous of the baby’s demands on the mother’s attention.
More accurately—how won’t it be different? Caring for a new baby means 24-hour vigilance to the needs of a tiny but vocal being. Even if you have had a demanding job in the past, you probably didn’t have to be on-call for your boss 24-7, literally. With a new baby in the house, you are on duty around the clock. This can be truly exhausting, both physically and emotionally.
Some couples quickly find a way to tag-team each other, taking turns with night shifts, and helping each other find times to nap when possible during the day. Unfortunately, other couples find themselves in competition with each other for “time-off.”
Plan for these feelings in advance. First of all, start talking about these things before your baby arrives. As much as you can, brainstorm the kinds of challenges that you may be faced with as a couple. Talk about how you will have new responsibilities, new worries, new emotions, and less time alone together to nurture your relationship as a couple.
Discuss how to divvy up the baby duties and other household responsibilities in an equal fashion, so that neither of you has to shoulder too much of the burden. If you begin this conversation before the baby arrives (that is, before you are both sleep-deprived and cranky), you may be able to make a plan that will help you support each other through this period of interrupted sleep.
Problem-solve ways that you can support each other. Instead of being competitive with each other or with the baby for each other’s time and attention, try to think up ways to block off time for each of the new family units—father-baby time, mother-baby time, family time, and couple time.
Each of you needs to have private time with the baby to bond and develop your own relationship with your new child. This also gives the other parent a breather, time to recharge through a nap, tackle a hobby or project, or enjoy a much-needed lunch with friends. You also need time together as a threesome to learn how to create history, have fun, and support each other as a family unit. And you still need time together as a duo (without baby) to maintain your special connection with each other, and to continue to grow as a couple.
This last (couple time) is probably the most challenging to schedule. Maybe you’re lucky enough to have family, close friends, or a reliable sitter nearby who can come over and care for your baby for an hour or two so you can go out for a walk, grab a cup of tea together, or even have a quiet dinner out. If this isn’t possible, consider picking up a carry-out dinner or renting a video to enjoy together after the baby’s tucked in.
Couples with a new baby may encounter a variety of thorny issues that will require their attention, including:
The most important thing to remember in all of this is to give each other mutual support. While you and your partner navigate a new course together as parents, mutual support, patience, and kindness towards each other will be the best ways to insure a stronger relationship, and a healthy and happy home for your new baby.
La Leche League International
Women's Health Matters
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Kitzinger S. The Year After Childbirth: Surviving and Enjoying the First Year of Motherhood. New York, NY: Scribner; 1996.
Nordin RK. After the Baby: Making Sense of Marriage After Childbirth. Dallas, TX: Taylor Publishing; 2000.
Relationship with your spouse after the birth of a new baby. University of Michigan Health System website. Available at: http://www.med.umich.edu/1libr/pa/pa_npspouse_pep.htm. Accessed July 29, 2008.