Bringing home a baby is so big -- so full of newness and wonder -- that it is hard to imagine in advance. Ask any veteran parents what those first few weeks (or months) were like, and you’ll get some combination of profoundly amazing and hauntingly difficult. But one thing is sure: it is a time when your relationship, as strong as it may be, will be tested. Babies are super needy and require all of your attention. So it’s easy to forget about yourself and about each other when you both want to do things right for your newest bundle and invest your entire selves in this hard, learn-on-the-go job.
But don’t you worry. Your relationship doesn’t have to suffer during this transition. Sure, these new experiences are challenging, but they are normal, and they will pass. Life will settle down, and there are certain things that you can do to move past the hurdle. Here are 5 tips to help you baby proof your relationship during the first few weeks with baby.
1. Create a postpartum plan. We often hear about the birth plan, but knowing what you want after the birth is also very important. Your postpartum plan is an opportunity to ask yourself and your partner some important questions. How will you take care of yourself after birth? What is it in your day that makes you feel restored and cared for? A walk outside or an unrushed shower? Make a list of your daily priorities, put it somewhere visible, and check in to make sure you take a few minutes daily to reconnect with yourself. If you feel renewed, you’ll have more to give to others.
Next, consider what you need from your partner to make those daily goals happen. Someone has to be on baby duty at all times, so plan to be there for each other in these small but important ways.
Also consider the role of family or friends. Will family or friends help or will they make things harder? Setting up boundaries is hard and can hurt relatives’ feelings, but having someone around who makes you feel anxious will ultimately make things harder. Play to each person’s strengths. Your best friend may be the person you cry to while your mom is the one who can make dinner as you feed the baby.
2. Let your partner fail. Did your partner forget the changing pad somewhere? Did she grab the wrong outfit for your first postpartum visit to grandma’s? Or maybe he doesn’t know how to sanitize pump parts? It’s ok. Step back and let your partner develop their own techniques for taking care of the baby; let your partner figure out baby’s world -- fail and learn. Not only will this build your partner’s confidence, it will also help your partner bond with your baby. The alternative? You take over and do it all. That may sound better short-term, but you’ll regret it later when you’re ready to grab coffee with friends and your partner hasn’t learned the ropes.
3. Don’t forget that your relationship is important. Your relationship is what got you into this mess! Don’t forget that you were once autonomous adults. Plan a date day or a date night. You don’t have a sitter? That’s okay. Plan 10 minutes together. Seriously, plan it. Get snacks, sit down and hang out with each other. Say hello to your autonomous adult selves again. Put in the time to be a couple again.
4. Timing is everything. Words can be hard when you’re tired, and we don’t always know the right thing to say. That’s okay. Small gestures make a big difference. A quick hug or an act of kindness will slow down the runaway train that leads to arguing. When we’re tired and stressed, our fight or flight response is easily triggered, which elevates heart rate and gives you an urge to be right. But it’s not about who’s right in that moment -- it’s only about the way you want the evening to go. So let go and revisit the disagreement later, when you’re both in a better place to actually listen.
5. You can have a healthy conflict. As hard as you may try, you will have conflict. But there are ways you can keep your conflict from becoming a catastrophe. When you use the word “I,” you are sharing what you need and what you’re feeling. Try this, “I feel overwhelmed with the baby.” Starting a statement with “you” on the other hand, like “You don’t understand what it’s like being here alone all day,” puts the other person on the defensive. So when you talk with your significant other, do it from your very own perspective, and listen for the other person's needs and feelings. You may find that conflict leads to connection. You can also use positive reinforcement and acknowledge the hard work you've both put in. And don’t forget to say thank you. It goes a long way.
Evelyn Gama is a licensed therapist in NYC specializing in pregnancy and early childhood. Evelyn’s best adventures though are as a mom to her own two little ones on the UWS.
Laura Vladimirova is a full-time NYC-based birth doula, Maternal Health Policy MSW student and International Board Certified Lactation intern. When she’s not attending births or supporting families postpartum, she’s fostering dogs and spending time with her family.