Having a baby is – usually – a happy event, but it’s also a major milestone that forces changes on your lifestyle and your relationship.
Adding a baby into your family dynamic can stir up issues and test you to the limit. Adjusting to the new situation can put a strain on your relationship and it’s normal to feel unsettled.
Research shows that many parents feel less satisfied with their relationship after a baby, at least in the short term. This isn’t surprising, since both partners are usually tired, emotional, and often anxious. You may also be worried about issues like money and loss of freedom, or you may be just generally overwhelmed by new responsibilities.
Becoming a parent can also bring up difficult memories. It might help to talk to each other about your own experiences of being parented, your expectations, and any feelings you haven’t yet shared. Understanding each other can help you to be more realistic and prepared for the ups and downs of parenthood.
Having a baby means more work and less time for each other. It can be hard to find time alone just to talk and support each other, or to go out as a couple.
As your identity shifts from ‘partner’ to ‘parent’, it can feel like a threat to your relationship - this can be particularly tough for dads in the beginning when the mum’s new closeness with the baby is at its strongest. Mums may also feel left out once the baby is a little older and the initial intensity fades.
Lack of sleep can leave you feeling permanently exhausted, vulnerable and emotional, so it’s easy to react badly to each other or the baby.
Many couples find their sex lives disrupted, at least in the short term. New mothers often feel too tired and not sexy. Some feel unattractive because of post-baby weight, still sore, or afraid sex will be painful. New fathers can then feel rejected and isolated.
Men can also feel differently after childbirth. They often worry about their partner’s physical and emotional changes and are frightened of hurting them. Or they may worry about another pregnancy and the responsibility that goes with it.
Breastfeeding also has an impact. It’s usually very tiring and some women say they feel their breasts belong to their baby now. Breastfeeding can lead to temporary physical changes in lubrication that can also make sex painful. Men may need time to adjust to the idea of their partner breastfeeding too.
There are no universal rules about how long it should take for both partners to be interested in sex again. Even when the desire returns, you may find that other things – like the baby crying and needing to be fed – get in the way. You might also both be worried that things will never get back to how they were. Talk openly about your feelings and keep reminding each other that this is only temporary.
If you’re already in a stepfamily, having a baby can affect several already fragile relationships. Children may be afraid that their father or mother won’t love them as much anymore, but a stepchild may also be afraid that they will not be as good as their mum or dad’s new baby. Half-brothers and sisters need a lot of reassurance, whatever their age.
Babies love anyone who seems interested in them and, as the only member of the family with no ‘baggage’, the baby can help to make things work - especially if you encourage half-brothers and sisters to get involved.
There can also be issues when it’s a first baby for one parent and not the other. If you’re a new parent in an established family, it’s natural to feel jealous or resentful if your partner seems to know more about parenting than you do. Even reassuring advice can come across as criticism, so make sure you both tread carefully.
Talking things through with each other can help to take the pressure off. Try to understand each other’s feelings and points of view. It’s much better to talk about things calmly when they come up, rather than letting them build up.
Talk to friends and family, particularly those who have been in a similar situation to yours. Sometimes it helps to offload and they may also have helpful suggestions that you hadn’t yet considered.
You can’t always have it all – talk to your partner about your priorities in life. Reducing your hours, or getting more expensive and reliable childcare can have a financial impact but could ease pressure in other ways. And remember, things should get easier when the children are older and childcare is less demanding.