When you have a baby your relationship changes from 'couple' to 'parents'. Every decision you now make has to consider the baby, and everything you say and do from now on will, inevitably, have your baby's best interests at heart. For some relationships this can be incredibly empowering, for others it can create undue strain. All the experts agree that the key to keeping your relationship sweet is effective communication. Here's how to make that transition from couple to family, gliding through the tricky times and emerging stronger and closer.
home with baby
Once you've brought your new baby home your lives will be in blissful turmoil. Babies don't know day from night, and after a few days, neither will you. Try to drift through this time. You may find you do nothing more than feeding and trying to sleep, and your partner could end up feeling a little redundant. Make sure he keeps busy with laundry, housework, providing meals, entertaining visitors, and – most importantly – gatekeeping. It's his job to answer the phone and decide whether you can handle another phone call or visitor or not.
As you settle into a rhythm, agree between you who gets up in the night, or, if you're breastfeeding, ask your partner if he'll take a turn rocking baby back to sleep, or soothing him if he's fractious.
Be aware that this baby is now the single most important thing in your life, so your partner – who used to have that position – may feel a little put out.
back to work?
If it's the end of paternity leave, your maternity leave or you're sharing parental leave duties; going back to work can affect the dynamics of your new family. Whoever it is going back to work, they're going to need sleep to function effectively, and if you're in and out of bed all night dealing with the baby you may begin to feel a little resentful. So do whatever you can to snatch some sleep during the day.
It is quite common to lose sight of your connection because all the focus in on the baby, and you have so little time alone together. Tiredness can also breed all sorts of other resentments, as you will feel your life as a new parent could not be any tougher than the stresses faced every day at work. So beware of playing 'competitive exhaustion' ('I'm really tired' 'well. I'm exhausted', etc)
The secret to harmony, is talking everything through. But remember, pick your moments carefully.
quality time together
This is a tough one, but incredibly important. Some experts recommend a couple spend one night together a week away from the children, one weekend a month, and one week a year. What a great idea! Possible, if you've got wall-to-wall childcare or fantastically doting grandparents. But, even if you haven't, it's a goal to work towards (or dream about).
There is no underestimating the importance of having a little baby-free time together as a couple. Even if you have to set up a swap with another couple (perhaps someone from your antenatal group), so they watch your baby while you go out for a drink and you watch theirs the following night, it's extremely worth it. And if you get the chance of a night away together, grab it. There's nothing better than rekindling the old magic, focusing on each other, and remembering what you really do love about each other.
sex (or not)
Some couples find their sex lives – as parents – better than ever before, but most make love less than they used to. Most couple wait until at least a few months after the birth before getting it together again, and the first time, post-birth, can be scary for both of you.
Before you even leave hospital and again at your six-week check, the midwife or GP will ask what you're going to do about contraception. It often seems a laughable question ('abstain completely' is a common answer). But be very aware that you could easily get pregnant again, even if you're breastfeeding, and two babies within 12 months is an exhausting proposition.
Many women feel they completely lose sight of their sex drive for months after the birth. Exhaustion plays a big part in this, as do the hormonal changes associated with breastfeeding (it's natures way of reducing the chance of another pregnancy too soon).
Take things slowly. Concentrate on intimacy (cuddling, massage, togetherness) rather than sex, and let things return to a new kind of 'normal' naturally.
six months down the line
As your baby gets older and settles into more regular patterns and routines you should find your relationship settles into a new rhythm as parents. Try to balance out chores between you, and spend time together – without baby – whenever you can.
Be careful not to let your baby become an excuse for spending time apart, and give your relationship as much attention as you can.