There’s just no way around it, once you have a baby, your entire world and everything in it changes. Parenting, especially parenting a newborn, touches every aspect of your life. But aside from the obvious stuff you can somewhat expect—sleep deprivation, physical changes, mental health struggles—there are other changes you may not be prepared to deal with. Your friendships will change. The relationships you have with your family will change. And yes, the relationship you have with your partner and co-parent will change.
You may be wondering how having a baby changes your relationship; after all, this is the person you (presumably) willingly dove headfirst into parenting with! But becoming a parent is this MASSIVE thing and it changes how you see and process everything. And even if you and your partner are eye-to-eye and shoulder-to-shoulder on all of it, you should be prepared to weather a bit of a storm in the beginning.
These are some of the lessons I learned about my relationship (the hard way, in some cases) when we became new parents. Feel free to take notes.
Inequity in parenting will happen—get ahead of it.
This was a big one for me. I felt like I was the one who had to do everything, and it didn’t help that I breastfed exclusively. I was the one feeding the baby, changing the baby, waking up with the baby, and trying to get the baby back to sleep. And let me tell you—resentment creeps up FAST when you’re bone-tired and emotionally wrecked.
Don’t wait until you hit your breaking point—sit down with your partner (preferably before the baby is born) and divvy up the duties. Maybe it makes more sense for one of you to manage the baby stuff, that is totally fine! But the one who handles the baby stuff should not also handle the other life and home stuff. There’s got to be a balance, one that benefits everyone equally and doesn’t let anger and resentment creep in when stuff gets hard.
Set sex-pectations early.
Yes, we know that sex is not the biggest part of a healthy, successful relationship. But…it is kiiiiiiind of important to a lot of us. It’s also what throws a lot of relationships for a loop after baby makes their grand entrance. Clearly there is no sexy time in the first 6-8 weeks, your doctor will back you up on that. But even once you’re cleared medically, the mojo doesn’t always come roaring back with a vengeance (especially when your baby is sleeping in a bassinet a few feet away).
Don’t put the sex talk off until it’s staring you in the sleep-deprived face. Talk about your feelings, expectations, concerns, and fears (yes, fears) as you experience them. Understanding that your sex life may need to be slowly revived versus jumping back to life is important for you both. And understanding that sex might look and feel different for a while is also important! There are physical changes (like vaginal dryness or discomfort, or milk-filled boobs) to contend with, just as there are mental and emotional roadblocks—like not being able to shut off mom or dad mode long enough to get your rocks off. Communication is key and talking through some of these elements of this part of your relationship can help manage expectations.
Carve out time to connect, whenever and wherever you can.
When you bring that baby home, you are on parent-duty 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. You probably won’t have time to shower, let alone eat a leisurely home-cooked meal with your partner or snuggle up for a movie night. You’ll be able to do those things again! Eventually. But the newborn stage is all about survival.
One of the most common traps couples fall into once they have a baby is removing themselves and their relationship from the priority list entirely. You’ll move down a few spots, but you and your relationship still need nurturing and attention! It just may need to look a little different for a while. Maybe date nights consist of Netflix on the couch while the baby sleeps in their bassinet a few feet away. Or maybe you catch up with your partner over a pile of laundry that needs to be sorted and folded. Whenever you can, however you can, try to take some time every single day to connect with your partner. Just check in! Even if you just stare at each other, delirious and shell-shocked, and only manage to mutter a few words back and forth—at least you’re doing it together.