In the midst of all the excitement of planning for a new baby, many couples don't think ahead about the adjustments that parenting brings. It is common for relationships to become tense in the first few months after a baby is born. Like other types of stress, the stress of caring for a new baby can build or destroy a couple's relationship. A new addition to the family poses a number of challenges, including changes in roles, dealing with unfamiliar tasks, physical and emotional exhaustion, and shifting attention away from the partner and toward the baby. As a result of these challenges, open and caring communication among partners becomes essential.
Sexual difficulties are common after the birth of a baby. Such difficulties may include:
- One or both partners feeling so tired that they have little interest in sex
- One partner having more interest in sex than the other
- Sexual conflicts or increased arousal with breastfeeding
- Interrupted lovemaking
- Postpartum depression
Defining Parental Roles
Parental roles have historically been very clear and well-defined. Typically, the mother stayed home with the children and the father worked to support the family financially. In the majority of households today, this is no longer the case. Nowadays, many mothers and fathers both work, and as a result, parental roles have become less clear. This can often result in conflict and increased stress. Couples and families can reduce stress by taking the time to discuss and agree upon roles, responsibilities, and schedules. Discussion should be ongoing, since roles will change as parental responsibilities change.
Women may feel especially tired and overburdened if they work outside the home. Men may feel added pressure to succeed financially. Conflicts often occur when women need companionship or help around the house and their husbands are spending long hours at work. Men often feel unappreciated and left out when their spouses are spending so much time and attention on the new baby.
Tips for New Moms
- Accept that you will probably feel overwhelmed by your new responsibilities. Most new mothers feel the same way.
- At times, you will probably feel unappreciated, resentful, envious, or even scared. Do not keep these feelings inside. Make time to talk calmly and openly with your partner about how you are feeling and to ask for help and emotional support.
- Encourage your partner to help you care for your baby. Be supportive of his help, even when he does not do things the way you would like them done. Make it a point to thank him for helping and to tell him how much this means to you.
- Look for the humor in your new experiences—it will help make the rough times smoother.
- Be sure that you and your partner schedule some regular time to be together each day, even if it is not much.
Tips for New Fathers
- Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. She needs to know what you are feeling and how she can help. At the same time, she needs your support. If you want to talk, try to schedule it at a time when your partner is not overwhelmed and exhausted (such as after being up all night with a crying baby. It may be best to schedule time to talk when the baby has gone to bed or when someone else is watching the baby. If you are feeling frustrated and stressed, talk about your feelings instead of blaming or criticizing your partner.
- If you are worried about finances and feel the need to work longer and harder at your job, communicate this to your partner. Although you may feel this pressure, it is important to balance work and home life until a routine is established. Try to work your normal day and go home to pitch in. Once things even out, you can discuss working longer.
- It is normal to feel a bit awkward handling your new baby. However, the more you participate in caring for your baby, the easier it will get and the more comfortable you will feel.
- Look for opportunities to help out. Holding and cuddling your new baby will help establish an important bond. Help your partner with diaper changing and bottle-feeding, and be supportive and encouraging if your partner decides to breastfeed.
- If your spouse has been trying to comfort a crying baby for a while, offer to hold and comfort the baby yourself, or help with some of the other chores to ease your partner's burden. Keep in mind that your partner may be feeling exhausted and unappreciated, especially during the first three months. Find opportunities to relieve her burdens and be sure to show your appreciation.
- Reviewer: Brian Randall, MD
- Review Date: 01/2013 -
- Update Date: 01/11/2013 -