As I approach my 37th week of pregnancy with my first child, I can’t help but think about how much my life is about to change. Not just in terms of my day to day, but also how the relationship with my partner will be affected. It is both a daunting, and exciting prospect. Unfortunately, we are often reminded about all of the negative ways a relationship may be impacted by the arrival of a newborn. But that’s not to say that with the right preparation, you can’t grow closer to your partner on this new adventure.
Through my work as a fertility counsellor and sexologist, I have spoken to many individuals and couples on the impact that babies have on their relationship. Not only does the relationship shift from being ‘just the two of us’ by adding a third, very demanding, human into the mix, but new identities of ‘mum’ and/or ‘dad’ are being formed simultaneously. Babies consume time, energy, and affection, which can deplete our tolerance and perseverance, and impact how we treat our partners, be it male or female, as the supporting role in this new relationship. We see these identity changes in mothers and fathers, however in the early days of parenting it can be a challenge to articulate how this may affect us. Having a baby, especially for first time parents, presents itself as a completely new challenge that a relationship has never had to face previously. The concoction of a lack of sleep, the division of tasks and obligation of breastfeeding can lead to general stress, fatigue, conflict and symptoms of anxiety and depression. Having a baby tends to create wedges between couples. Yet it is how we approach this conflict that determines how we maintain our connection.
Intimacy is undoubtedly one of the biggest elements of a relationship that is affected in the postpartum period for a myriad of reasons. Obviously, there is the physical trauma that the body undergoes when giving birth, and there may also be emotional/psychological trauma that can accompany birth. Both of which can affect libido, postpartum sexual pain, and sexual self-esteem. From a hormonal perspective, the general day to day caring for a newborn, in conjunction with regular breastfeeding and sleep deprivation can also cause sex drive to plummet. It is a reasonable assumption to expect that the norms of sexual intimacy pre-baby will undoubtedly need to be adjusted in the postpartum period.
So, with my baby girl due in 3 weeks, I have spent significant time reflecting on the things that I intend to implement within my relationship, both now and in the postpartum period. Not only is this based on my experience through my work, but also how I would like my relationship with my partner to evolve into our ‘new normal.’