Whether your new addition to the family is the first child or the seventh, there is a roller coaster ride of adjustment that happens for parents. Most parents do a good job of preparing for the practical aspects of the baby’s arrival by taking prenatal classes, setting up the nursery and baby-proofing the home, but often psychological, emotional and relationship preparation is overlooked.
For many couples, relationship satisfaction decreases during the baby’s first year, a natural consequence of sleep deprivation, reduced intimacy and adjusting your energy resources. There is little time for self-care and fun activities such as social outings, exercise and reading, and more work to do – more dishes, laundry and messes to clean up! These ingredients can create a perfect storm of increased conflict, since both partners often feel frustrated, neglected, unappreciated and lonely.
Below are some tips that can help parents ease into the next family stage by strengthening the couple bond and planning ahead for the usual bringing-home-baby hurdles:
- Talk about how the household duties will be managed, especially baby’s care, meals, laundry, cleaning and outdoor maintenance. It’s normal for roles to shift when a new addition enters the household and discussing this ahead of time is like learning to swim before you’re drowning.
- Discuss how nighttime baby feedings and diaper changes will be handled. Take into consideration the other responsibilities and respective schedules of each parent.
- Have open conversations about big decisions such as baby names, the birthing plan and cultural/religious customs and family traditions. You don’t have to agree on everything, and parenthood is full of these issues. The important thing is to know one another’s position and to come up with a balanced way to manage differing opinions.
- Know that changes in a mother’s body can lead to things that are difficult to discuss (e.g. baby blues and postpartum depression, delayed bonding with baby, diminished sex drive, leaking urine and breast milk). Support from her partner and other family members can help her to cope.
- Establish a self-care plan for both parents. This may include solitary time to walk around the block, take a bubble bath and see friends once a month. Eventually it will be possible to go on a date with each other without the baby.
- Be aware that difficult feelings might come up for both parents and talk about them. For example, a mother might feel overwhelmed, frustrated and that “No one else can do this as well as I can.” In turn, the other parent might feel left out and neglected. These are normal reactions to a significant change and your relationship will handle them better if you’re open with one another about how you’re feeling.
- Give each other the time and patience to talk about challenges, always ending with optimism (e.g. “We’ll get through the tough times,” and “There will be lots of love and laughs”). If it’s difficult to talk in a calm or supportive way, a counsellor can help guide you through this time and facilitate constructive conversations. (Manitoba Blue Cross members with Employee Assistance Program or Individual Assistance Program coverage can get counselling support from a qualified clinician. Start the process here.)
- Watch for signs of postpartum depression. The baby blues affect up to 80 percent of women and can last up to a couple of weeks after childbirth. Postpartum depression lasts longer and should be treated by a health care professional. If the following symptoms last beyond three weeks postpartum, it’s time to consult with your care provider:
Giving some early thought about the impact on your relationship can go a long way towards a smoother transition. The key is open and early communication.