Bringing your baby home is a magical bonding time for most couples. But life with a newborn is also incredibly stressful, full of little hiccups you may have never anticipated during pregnancy.
“My partner doesn’t show up the way I need them to.”
New parents balance it all and then some: ever-changing sleeping and eating schedules, doctor’s appointments, running errands with a fussy baby. It’s exhausting, mostly thankless work, and it can drive you up the wall if your partner isn’t helping.
Don’t let your expectations on baby-related responsibilities go unspoken: If things aren’t equitable and you’re shouldering the bulk of the parenting, household and emotional labor at home, speak up, said Dori Gatter, a psychotherapist in West Hartford, Connecticut.
“Sit down with your partner for a heart-to-heart without blame, criticism or negativity,” she said. “Try to see them as innocent.”
To broach the conversation, “Talk about your own childhoods, what roles your parents had in childrearing and how you want to do things similarly or differently from what they did,” Gatter said.
Then, talk about what you expect ― not demand ― of your partner and figure out a compromise.
“I’m exhausted. Why am I on diaper duty most nights?”
Quality sleep is a thing of the past with a newborn. When your baby is teeny-tiny, count yourself lucky if you get more than two or three hours of shut-eye.
If your partner is sleeping like a baby and not helping out at night, there’s bound to be some resentment, said Laurel Steinberg, a psychotherapist in New York City. If a mom is breastfeeding, the feeding may be left entirely up to her at first, but her partner should pick up the slack in other ways (rocking the baby to sleep, for instance, or diaper duty). And if she decides to incorporate pumping into her routine, her partner should step up and do some bottle feeding.
“The solution for this issue has to be practical — if one parent has to get up early to go to the office, perhaps he or she should be the one to get up on the weekends,” she said. “If both partners have to get up early to go to work, they could alternate nights.”
“We hardly ever have sex.”
Sex is undoubtedly going to be different post-baby, with each of you experiencing highs and lows in sexual desire. Fatigue, stress, a lack of time or your baby’s sleeping habits might get in the way of sex, or there may be physical impediments, such as vaginal bleeding or pain from breastfeeding.
You may even begin thinking about sex with your partner differently in the wake of these changes or just not feel sexy, said Aaron Anderson, a couples therapist in Denver.
“If this happens, don’t get unnerved,” he said. “A lot of times it just takes a few times of doing the deed before you forget about the body changes and other things making sex more complicated.”
Talk about your sexual desires and changing feelings during this postpartum period. Eventually, sex will get good again, Anderson said.
“I thought we were on the same page when it came to parenting styles. I was wrong.”
You may have had conversations about big-ticket parenting issues prior to baby: You weren’t going to co-sleep, you were firmly team breastfeeding. That’s all well and good, but once your little one arrives, you might feel differently. A baby can complicate even the best-laid plans, Gatter said.
To arrive at a compromise, she tells couples to practice “mirroring,” a therapeutic technique meant to facilitate deep listening.
“Essentially, one person talks first and the other mirrors or reflects back exactly what they heard until the person is done sharing,” she said. “Then, they switch. This way you both are heard and understood.”
“Be careful not to make the other person feel bad or wrong for their beliefs,” she said. “Typically, once we hear the backstory of why someone feels or thinks the way they do, we have more compassion and understanding.”
“We disagree on who gets to visit our baby at home.”
Visitors can be a huge point of contention for new parents, especially during cold and flu season. Your wife’s coworker’s offer to drop off homemade lasagna is sweet and well-intentioned, but babies have fragile immune systems; you may be wary of anyone who could potentially carry a virus or illness.
To avoid stressful arguments about guests, make sure your pediatrician has OK’d visits and set a protocol for visitors: What will guests have to do when they arrive (shoes off, use hand sanitizer)? How long can they stay?
“It’s totally understandable for parents to be worried about germs or want quiet, private time to bond with their new addition,” Steinberg said.
“I don’t get any attention from my partner.”
Overnight, you went from a twosome to a trio that includes a demanding little human. You liked all the attention, romance and affection you had before, and now you might feel a little neglected by your partner (not to mention feeling drained emotionally by your newborn). That’s entirely normal, said Anderson.
The solution is to pencil in truly quality time with each other, he said. (And no, Netflix and chill isn’t going to cut it, no matter how addictive those new episodes of “Black Mirror” may be.)
“The way you can address it is to capitalize on time when the baby is asleep to connect with each other ― and of course, to use babysitters. A lot of babysitters,” Anderson said. “Turn off the TV and actually do some connecting – the same goes when you get a babysitter: Get out of the house and enjoy some baby-free time.”
In the end, you, your partner and baby will benefit.