A bit of preparation on the front end can help you avoid major challenges later
You won’t find this in a pregnancy book! In our new blog series, we’re doing deep dives into sticky subjects about pregnancy, postpartum, and beyond that aren’t discussed often enough.
Having a baby invites one of life’s most stunning contrasts: the addition to your family may be the greatest joy you have ever experienced and the greatest stressor on your relationship. You’re not alone. According to relationship experts Drs. John and Julie Gottman of The Gottman Institute, two-thirds of couples experience a dip in satisfaction within three years of having a baby. If you’re pregnant, the oxytocin building in your system may be pushing you to jump into parenting with your eyes shut tight, but a fingers-crossed approach won’t keep your relationship alive. As you prepare your nest for the newest member of your family, collecting onesies and hanging mobiles, be sure to add fortifying your relationship to the list. Once baby’s here you’ll be facing ping-ponging hormones, sleep deprivation, and the complexity of swaddling and soothing. Your relationship can slip dangerously into the background.
To keep your partnership solid while traversing newborn country, you’ll need to ask each other a few key questions in advance of your wee one’s arrival. You can dig into these inquiries at any point in your relationship, even if you’re not sure you want to have kids (the discussions may lead you to a conclusion)—just be sure to get through all of them before your first contraction!
The 5 questions to ask pre-baby
Find some uninterrupted time to sit with your partner and prepare to practice deep listening (really hearing what your partner is expressing as opposed to just waiting for your turn to speak) and candid sharing. This is not complex stuff, though it may require some courage if fierce honesty and tender vulnerability are not your strong suits.
How will we share the baby-caring responsibilities?
There is an assumption that the mother will take on the bulk of the infant-tending responsibilities. This is especially true if she is breastfeeding. But partners can also play an active role in newborn care. This is the time to explore your respective expectations and capacities. Be honest! How much time will your partner be able to give to baby care if they are working all day? Will your partner take some of the nighttime feedings if you are bottle feeding or have pumped milk? If your partner works during the week, do you expect them to take more of the child care on the weekends?
How will our finances be influenced by the new addition to our family?
Even the most carefree types may experience an unexpected burst of fiscal responsibility after their little one arrives. Take time to explore the reality of your finances now and make some wise assumptions about what things will look like during the first year of your child’s life (and beyond). How much time, if any, will you be able to take off from work? Will your partner be taking any time away from work? Do you expect to hire any outside help (night doula, lactation consultant, nanny, housekeeper)? Have either of you saved anything for this next chapter of your lives? (If not, now’s a great time to start!).
Do we have the same views on parenting?
There will be many questions to tackle as your child grows, but start with the early ones to see if you and your partner are aligned. Will we be co-sleeping with the baby? Will we be sleep training? If we have a boy, will we circumcise him? How will we handle family and friends that want to visit in the first weeks after giving birth? Will we be taking the baby out and about during the first weeks after birth or will we hunker down for postpartum rest and recovery?
What will our sex life be like?
While it’s impossible to predict exactly how you’ll feel in the first weeks and months after giving birth, it’s safe to make a few educated guesses. Even if it’s your first baby, some basic research into labor and delivery will alert you to the fact that the mother’s body usually requires up to six weeks of recovery before having intercourse again. If you are breastfeeding you may find that you don’t long for any additional human contact as your babe is attached to you for most of the day. Discussing these things with your partner in advance may help them adjust their expectations around sexual intimacy once baby has landed.
How will our social lives be influenced by the baby?
For some new parents, leaving behind a life of relative freedom and reduced responsibilities does not come easily. You and your partner may find yourself clinging to the doorway separating your old life from your new one, refusing to fully cross the threshold. Check in with each other about your expectations for doing things outside of your familial duties. There’s no question that caring for a new baby will require you and your partner to adjust your social engagements, hobbies, and even self-care outlets like exercise, yoga, or meditation. If either of you do this reluctantly, without true acceptance of this next phase of your life, you may experience resentment toward your partner or even the baby. If you’re struggling, remember that this is not forever. As your baby grows and begins sleeping for longer stretches, you will both be able to integrate more of the things that you love (or need) back into your world.
Marisa Belger is co-author of The First Forty Days: The Essential Art of Nourishing the New Mother and Awakening Fertility: The Essential Art of Preparing for Pregnancy.