Relationship Advice for Expecting Parents
The Relationship Advice All Expecting Parents Can Use
May 13, 2022

The Relationship Advice All Expecting Parents Can Use

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The Relationship Advice All Expecting Parents Can Use.
Photo by @thelittleislandyogi
The Relationship Advice All Expecting Parents Can Use

Becoming a parent is a major life transition that brings tremendous joy. Yet as much as welcoming a baby is a celebration, it’s stressful, too, says Dr. Pooja Lakshmin, a psychiatrist and the founder of Gemma, the first digital education platform dedicated exclusively to women’s mental health.

Parenthood has a profound impact on pretty much every aspect of your life, including your closest relationships (besides the one with your baby). But worry not: this is completely normal, Lakshmin says.

“You should expect your relationship with your partner, co-parent or whoever will be in the trenches with you during that postpartum time to change,” Dr. Lakshmin says.

Early parenthood can make you singularly focused on one thing: your baby. That’s why you might want to prepare your relationship for the postpartum period before it feels nearly impossible to prioritize. Start with these six tips, all straight from perinatal mental health providers who work with people and couples entering parenthood daily.

1. Line Up Your Support System Together

“Things can get super hectic in the early days of parenting a newborn,” says Nicole McNelis, a licensed professional counselor in Phoenixville, Pennsylvania. No big shocker there. When most of your energy goes toward diapers and feedings, there’s not much left to direct elsewhere. Having a support system to lean on can help relieve stress, providing you and your partner or co-parent space to breathe.

“The goal here is to be ready and not scramble for help once the baby has arrived,” McNelis says. Think about who could be a part of your support network. Consider professional support like a postpartum doula or lactation consultant. And line up support from friends and family, such as volunteers for meal delivery or a family member who can visit on specific days so that you can nap, shower or just have someone else hold the baby.

It’s also helpful to talk about boundaries. “Sometimes support can impact the dynamics with your partner,” Dr. Lakshmin says. For example, is there baggage that comes along with grandparents helping? Or do you know that you need to balance help from friends and family with alone time? Talking through any hesitations now—when you’re not sleep deprived or figuring out how to do all the things—can help you anticipate issues that might come up once the baby is here.

2. Be Open About Your Expectations and Concerns

We all have hopes and dreams about what parenthood will be like. Talk about them. But talk about your concerns too. And then talk about them more. A lot of frustration and hurt in new parenthood stems from unmet expectations, says Aimee Wood, a licensed clinical social worker and certified sex therapist in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.

Having these conversations before your baby arrives can help keep expectations realistic and lines of communication open. You might discuss things like:

  • What does maternity/paternity leave look like to each of us?
  • How do we expect to show up for each other and for the baby? For example, will you set aside time to regularly connect, just the two of you? How will you divvy up baby care tasks and household chores?
  • How will we sort out breaks from the baby?

Try to have these conversations on an ongoing basis—weekly or whenever you feel like things have changed. “Everyone’s needs will continue to shift,” Wood says. That’s how it’s supposed to be as you navigate this new life stage.

3. Make a “Repair Plan”

“Rupture and repair” is a classic couple’s therapy phrase, Dr. Lakshmin says. It essentially means that there will be ruptures—in the middle of the night or after the third skipped nap of the day, for example—so it’s helpful to have a process for repair in mind.

You can come up with your unique “repair plan” in pregnancy. It might look like deciding to pause and then come back to talk about a rupture after you’ve both had something to eat, gone on a walk or taken a nap, because repairs usually can’t happen until you’ve met your basic needs, Dr. Lakshmin says). You might come up with a phrase to lean on during challenging times, such as“we’re both on the same team,” for example.

The exact details of your plan are less important than having one in mind. Start by thinking about what you typically need when things get heated or stressful. Then, share that with your partner so they know what to expect and don’t take it personally if you, say, disappear to your bedroom for 15 minutes to collect yourself.

4. Strategize to Protect Your Sleep (as Much as Possible)

Sleep deprivation changes your brain,” Dr. Lakshmin says. “It makes communication harder.” This may translate to more frequent ruptures. That’s why she always suggests taking an honest look at your finances and the available support structures around sleep.

“Investing in your sleep will always be so much more valuable than any baby product you could buy,” she says. Things you might talk about include:

  • Would your mother-in-law or a close friend be willing to help at night once a week?
  • Can you afford a night nurse? If you want to explore options, sites like Robyn and Motherfigure are great resources for finding prenatal and postpartum care providers.
  • How can you realistically split up overnight duties? If you’re planning to breastfeed, for example, you might have a partner put the baby back to sleep after you feed. That way, you can get back to sleep quicker. If you bottle feed, you could split the night into two shifts, allowing each parent one longer stretch of sleep.

If you don’t have support for overnight feedings, think about how you might get a longer chunk of sleep during the day—at least four hours straight is ideal but anything you can get in the beginning is helpful. Could a neighbor come by once a week for a few hours? Would you be comfortable hiring a babysitter?

There’s not one perfect plan for everyone. But considering sleep deprivation before you’re sleep deprived is key.

5. Be Intentional About Spending Time Together

Consider going on a babymoon, plan a staycation weekend or take walks together. “Intentionally incorporating fun and connection before your baby arrives will help with finding ways to cultivate joy as new parents,” McNelis says.

Of course there are other ways to connect too. “Keeping your partner involved in your pregnancy and birth is essential for helping a couple maintain satisfaction during the transition to having children,” says licensed professional counselor Lindsay C. M. Garrett, author of Parent Goals: The Millennial’s Guide to New Parent Preparedness.

What might that look like? If your healthcare provider allows it, have your partner attend some prenatal appointments with you, or take a birthing class together. If you’re researching postpartum education, include them in the process. “On one hand, it can be attractive to divide and conquer—and sometimes that’s needed—but there’s also value in both people being active participants,” Dr. Lakshmin says.

6. Express Gratitude for the Small Things

It’s best to cultivate this practice before you’re changing diapers in the dark at 3 a.m., McNelis says. Let your partner know you appreciate the meals they make or chores they do—simple things like unloading the dishwasher or taking out the trash absolutely count. Tell them how much their support means to you.

“If you work on appreciating each other and showing gratitude before your baby arrives, it will come more naturally once they’re here,” McNelis says.

One more reason to embrace showing gratitude: A study published in the journal Emotion found individuals who took time to express gratitude for their partner not only felt more positive toward the other person, but they also felt more comfortable expressing concerns about their relationship.

A Final Reminder

No matter how much prep work you do, early parenthood will be full of surprises and learning curves. Your journey, whether alone or with a partner, is your own and may look different from what you envisioned.

At the end of the day, the best relationship tip of all is to know that some things won’t make sense for you, your partner and your family. Embrace what does and leave the rest for someone else.

EXPERT SOURCES

Pooja Lakshmin, M.D. Psychiatrist and the founder of Gemma

Nicole McNelis, M.Ed., LPC, PMH-C Licensed professional counselor in Phoenixville, PA.

Aimee Wood, LCSW Licensed professional counselor in Bryn Mawr, PA

Lindsay C. M. Garrett, LCSW Author of Parent Goals: The Millennial’s Guide to New Parent Preparedness.


Cassie Shortsleeve is a journalist, perinatal health coach and the founder of Dear Sunday, a digital platform for early motherhood. She regularly contributes to What to Expect, Parents, Shape and other national publications and is a co-founder of The Chamber of Mothers. She is a mom to two daughters, Sunday and Fiona.

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