Compiled by Melanie Hamaty, Clinical Psychologist from PsychMatters Family Therapy Centre, Bedfordview – 011 450 3576
1. Following the birth of a baby, what should a couple’s REALISTIC expectations be in terms of their relationship?
The birth of a baby brings a lot of joy into any couples life. However, it is also taxing on any relationship and in contrast to the feelings of delight many proud parents experience, many may experience feelings of sadness and self-doubt. The first few weeks are generally most taxing, especially for new parents, it’s about coping with little sleep, around-the-clock care, hormonal changes, breastfeeding issues and financial concerns. To add to the stain, couples may suffer a temporary loss of sexual relations due to the c-section, episiotomy or lowered sex drive due to hormonal changes. The physical symptoms may pass within few weeks but residual feelings of anger or resentment may delay the return of normal sexual relations.
The most important tool for any couple is communication. Couples should anticipate some changes within the relationship. Couples who believe their relationship will continue as normal after the birth of the baby will find it much harder to cope once the baby has arrived. Before the baby is born the couple should discuss each partner’s expectations and define the role that each partner will play with the baby care. One would assume that there may be changes when the baby is born but it is a good place to start. Think ahead, plan ahead and be ready for change.
Although the birth of a baby can be overwhelming, there is also an intense intimacy shared between two parents when they look at the baby they share. It is important to nurture the relationship during the first few weeks and to enjoy all the new experiences together. Respect each other and the different emotions you and your partner will be going through during this time. Take time to listen to what your partner need and keep humour alive in the relationship. Don’t take everything too seriously; it will only add stress to the situation.
2. What should one expect in terms of intimacy during the first say, 6 months?
Every couple is unique and every woman experiences birth differently and recovers at a different rate. However, there is no reason you should not enjoy intimate moments as a couple but resume your sex life slowly. Rather spend time cuddling, petting, engaging in oral sex or mutual masturbation. Sexual penetration can be very painful after giving birth. Always keep a lubricant handy there can be a decrease in vaginal lubrication after birth. You can still be adventurous and experiment with new positions that will put less pressure on the parts of the body that may be healing. Remember that even if you are breastfeeding you will need a good form of contraception. Although this is a challenging time it can also bring you and your partner closer together and if you have realistic expectations it can be a time of renewed intimacy and pleasure.
3. What should men back off about/what should women back off about? (if this is relevant to gender)
Men and woman both need to recognise the importance of creating time where they can be intimate. Your husband may feel rejected if you constantly giving him the cold shoulder or turning away from him in bed. Your wife may feel unsupported if you don’t offer to help her with the baby and this may lead to resentment and aggravate the situation in the bedroom. Both partners should discuss their needs and fears regarding intimacy so that both parties feel their needs are being heard.
4. I’m exhausted! What tips or advice do you have when lack of sleep makes one ratty and distracted?
Acknowledge and appreciate the difficulty of the time you going through. Express your frustration and difficulties with your partner as this will allow your partner to appreciate the magnitude of the situation and the extent of your exhaustion. Share the responsibilities when you are both home. When you feel supported by your partner you are automatically more open to intimate moments. It is important as a new mother to find time to take a walk, jog or just take a bath. Taking time for oneself is an important part of a healthy marriage, if you can nurture yourself you can come back to the relationship in spirit.
5. How do we factor our baby in to our own relationship? In other words, can 3 = intimacy?
When the baby arrives to make your twosome a threesome there is bound to changes and shifts in the relationship. The gift of a baby can add an intense intimacy within a relationship. Difficulties usually surface when the couple only function as a threesome and ignore the vital importance of the twosome. Even though you are parents and need to strive to be the best parents to your child, you are also a couple and you need to nurture your relationship with your partner. Your baby’s needs come first but you can still spend time together after you put baby to sleep to discuss the days happenings, world news or reminiscing about your first date. Let a family member or friend babysit while you and your partner go for lunch or go watch a movie. This will not take any love away from your child but will provide a healthy and secure relationship making the home you providing for your child a happy and stable one.
6. Suggestions to keep our relationship on an even keel until our lives settle into the new normal?
- Always keep the channels of communication open with your partner
- Have realistic expectations of what to expect from your partner and your relationship
- Share the duties and responsibilities for the care of the baby
- Allow your husband to have quality time with the baby where you don’t interfere
- Don’t expect the house to always be in perfect condition or supper to always be made
- Keep in contact during the day. A call to say ‘How are you. I love you’ or ‘Do you need anything’ does wonders for the soul
- Provide encouraging words to each other
- Don’t be afraid to ask for help when you need it. No one expects you to do everything on your own
- Try new position in the bedroom, use lubrication and keep your sense of humour
- Make time to be with your partner, to show your love and affection and reconnect
7. Our relationship is falling to pieces, what now?
Expect that there will be changes in the first few weeks. Your husband may feel jealous of all the attention you giving the baby and feel you neglecting him. You may feel unsupported and that your husband is offering you no help. You may feel very emotional and totally exhausted. All of these situations and feelings are normal. Usually they will pass after a few weeks and you will be able to reconnect with your partner. However, if you feel that there is no positive change in the relationship seek help. Talk to a trusted friend or family member or seek professional help. More couples today are seeking relationship counselling after having a baby than ever before. This does not necessarily mean that the stresses are greater now than in previous years, but rather that more couples are recognizing when they need help.