Once a baby arrives on the scene, a fair few things are going to change in your daily lives.
And we’re not talking about there suddenly being a little person living in your home depending on you to care for its every need, as we’re kind of assuming you know that bit already. No, we’re talking about the things around the edges, some of them small, some of them not so small. One of the not so small things that is likely to change is your relationship with your partner. And don’t freak out. It’s nothing that can’t be managed, but it does need a little watering and pruning to ensure that your beautiful relationship tree continues to flourish.
How will your relationship with your partner change? Well here are few possible changes, just so you know what to expect…
You may not have many opportunities to have long and meaningful conversations for a fair while. You’ll either be too tired or too distracted. You may not even be seeing that much of each other due to work, baby pressures, hence communicating as you usually do becomes a challenge.
2. Grieving for your old lives
To some degree, at some point, you’ll both look wistfully back at your carefree old lives. You’ll long for the freedom to swan off on a whim, be it for a weekend break or an impromptu restaurant visit. This melancholy air can take its toll on your relationship, although let’s be fair, neither of you would actually trade your new parenthood lives for your old one once you realise how wonderful parenthood actually is. It’s more of a "grass is always greener", nostalgia thing.
3. Baby blues
Postnatal depression is real and can affect both men and women (see Fatherhood and depression for more details). Feeling down can obviously have a detrimental effect on even the strongest of relationships, so keeping your beady eyes peeled for the signs is recommended.
You’re both going to be utterly exhausted. There’s no getting away from that. As a consequence of this you may bicker more than usual, snapping at the most trivial of things. It’s important to remind yourself at these moments that the fighting is fatigue fueled. Take a deep breath, compose yourselves and give each other a little hug. You still love each other just as much, if not more, underneath your sleepy veil.
5. Your sex life goes on holiday
More on this later on, but thanks to both physical and mental wounds and extreme exhaustion, don’t expect to be as "active" as you once were once your newborn arrives on the scene!
Having a baby is a challenging time that puts strains on relationships. It’s therefore a good idea to dedicate a little time and thought to ensure that your relationship is nurtured throughout these times.
Here are a few tips to help keep your relationship strong…
1. Plan for the apocalypse
The more prep you do beforehand, the smoother the early days of parenting will be. Talk to each other and set some ground rules about family help and friend visits. Be open and honest about your boundaries. Then stock up that baby bunker with all the ammunition you need to keep yourselves snuggly and comfortable. What food do you need? Do you have any the equipment and gadgets needed for the baby? Have you designated a few "baby stations" around your home, stocked with nappies, wipes and cream? It might seem like a bit of a whirlwind at the time, but you’ll likely look back on the first few weeks with a warm pang of nostalgia. These are the moments in life that we live for!
2. Know the lingo
This is also part of the prep phase of protecting your relationship. Take an NCT class beforehand together, read the same books or articles. Know the same lingo, then when your baby arrives on the scene, you’ll know instantly what each other is talking about and doing which can be great for argument avoidance purposes.
3. Recognise that you’re both exhausted
You are! You’re both so tired that you can’t feel your faces anymore! Arguments will happen. Try to remember how tired you both are and how tough this is on BOTH of you if (when) your partner snaps at you for the tiniest little thing. Take a deep breath and become a zen master, or if you do blow, try and make up as soon as possible.
4. Divide and conquer (shared parental leave?)
With a baby around it’s incredibly easy for your lifestyle to fall into one of chaos. Before you know it, you’ll be at each other’s throats about things that the other one hasn’t done. Maybe your partner doesn’t appreciate that you’re also working as well, but they’re tired! Tiredness wreaks havoc with emotions (back to point 1). What if you construct a schedule to help share the load equally? OR if work is really becoming an issue, what about shared parental leave?
5. Date night
We know that finding the time to spend some quality one-on-one time is easier said than done given current circumstances, but that just means that any moments that you can find are all the more special. Obviously, if you’re lucky enough to have grandparents on hand who are willing and able to hold the fort for a couple of hours, that’s great, but even if you don’t you can still date at home when the baby’s sleeping. How about setting the table up to resemble a restaurant and ordering a takeaway to bring the dining experience indoors? Or you can take turns cooking something special and surprising the other? Or rent a movie, turn off the lights and snuggle up on the sofa in your own personal cinema (aka living room). Obviously getting out is ideal, but the most important thing is that you’re together spending some quality couple time, rekindling the pre-parenthood flame.
Read more about when to leave your baby for the first time.
6. Love each other
Your relationship may not be all sunshine and daisies after a baby. At times it may resemble a rather tumultuous, tired and irritable rollercoaster, but then again, what would you prefer to ride on? The dull monotony of the teapots or the thrill a minute, euphoric high inducing rollercoaster? The rollercoaster wins right? The most important thing is to remember that your partner is still the same person who you fell for. You still love them deeply. Just let them know.
Sex after having a baby
One of the burning questions on a lot of couple’s lips is "When can we have sex again after having a baby?"
The simple answer is yes, when your partner feels ready, although a 6 week lay-off is commonly recommended.
While every woman’s experience of labour is different, it’s fair to say that it’s rarely a breeze. The effect can linger and a prolonged period of bleeding called lochia, as blood and tissue are expelled from the uterus, is common. Your partner may also have had stitches that need time to heal. During the early days the chances of infection are also increased, which is why, no matter which type of birth mum experienced, doctors often recommend a six week lay-off. Read more about your body after birth.
But even after these six weeks have passed, mum may still not have fully recovered, so the hanky-panky hiatus may need to be extended. And it’s not just physical wounds that need healing, often wounds can be psychological. For example, mum may be feeling self-conscious. She’s just pushed a baby out of there afterall! Her hormones are going to be all over the place and her number one priority, naturally, is going to be on your baby. Throw in the fact that both parents are highly likely to be fatigued and it’s not difficult to see that libidos may not be what they once were.
But fear not. It’s not all doom and gloom and the sun will shine again. You’re probably not going to have as many opportunities to be intimate for a while and tiredness is going to stick around for a fair bit, but the good news is that things should get back to some form of normality given due course. You just need to have a little bit of patience and understanding and before you know it, you’ll find your new normal. In the meantime, you can still be affectionate and loving in other ways.
Father of 2
Living in Budapest with his wife and two children, Gareth is a freelance writer, creative strategist, film maker and author of the ‘The Budanest’, a book about his experience of fatherhood. He gives us insight into parenthood from a partner's perspective: all views and opinions given are his own, taken from his personal experiences.