Keeping Your Relationship Strong After the Birth of Your Baby
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Keeping Your Relationship Strong After the Birth of Your Baby

Image for new baby articleA number of events can cause stress in a couple's relationship—financial problems, in-laws, job changes, and moving. In the midst of all the excitement of planning for a new baby, many couples don't think ahead of time about the adjustments that parenting brings.

It's 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 the shifting of 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

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

Recovering an Enjoyable Sex Life

  • The most important thing you can do is to discuss your feelings and problems with your partner. Together, you can develop a plan to resolve problems before they affect your relationship.
  • Be sure you have given yourself sufficient time to recover from the birth of your baby before resuming sexual relations. Some couples resume intercourse within just two weeks after birth. If you have had an episiotomy, suffered a severe laceration, significant bloodloss, or developed a postpartum infection, you should probably wait at least four to six weeks. Furthermore, if you have had a cesarean delivery, you will need to allow yourself plenty of time to heal.
  • You may find it difficult to focus on sex when you are thinking about your baby. This is a perfectly normal reaction of many new mothers. Although it can be frustrating to you and your partner, accept and discuss your circumstances. In time, your focus on the baby won't be quite so intense and distracting.
  • It will be very tempting to interrupt lovemaking if you hear your baby wake up. It's common for babies to wake periodically and then go back to sleep. You do not need to interrupt lovemaking unless the baby is crying.
  • You can increase sexual pleasure by toning the muscles around your vagina, urethra, and anus with Kegel exercises. Kegel exercises involve slowly tightening the muscles you use to sto stop urination. You can improve muscle tone by doing 10 repetitions at a time. These exercises are very convenient because they can be done almost any time anywhere.
  • Low sexual desire can be a sign of depression. Postpartum blues are normal for many women for the first few days or so after birth. However, if you are feeling blue for longer than a couple weeks after birth, you should seek professional help.

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. Don't keep these feelings inside. Make time to talk calmly and openly with your partner about how you're feeling, and ask for help and emotional support.
  • Encourage your partner to help you care for your baby. Be supportive of his help, even when he doesn't do things the way you would like them done. Make it a point to thank him for helping and 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 time.

Tips for New Fathers

  • Keep the lines of communication open with your partner. She needs to know what you're 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're worried about finances and feel the need to work longer and harder at your job, communicate this to your partner. Otherwise, she may think that you are trying to escape from the additional responsibilities that come from caring for a new baby.
  • It's 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.

RESOURCES:

American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists
http://www.acog.org/

National Women's Health Information Center
http://www.womenshealth.gov/



Last reviewed July 2007 by Ryan Estévez, MD, PhD, MPH

Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.

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