Five Tips to Maintain a Healthy Relationship Before Having a Baby
by Myrtle Valpoort
Couples may begin their journey of parenthood believing a baby will bring them closer. In reality, the quality of a relationship tends to decline after the birth of a firstborn.1 Childcare introduces a variety of new challenges and stressors that can test a relationship. . Mothers tend to report declines in relationship confidence and conflict management after birth. Mothers and fathers often report a decline in relationship dedication after birth.3 Fortunately, there are steps that can prepare your relationship for this stressful yet exciting time. In order to reduce conflict and maintain closeness during the transition to parenthood, consider the following tips.
- Both partners should actively prepare for the baby
Prospective parents are encouraged to seek as much information as possible about their new journey. Prenatal classes, books, and support groups can each provide valuable information and support to new parents. However, mothers typically engage in prenatal education more than fathers in heterosexual relationships. Fathers can seek information on their own or attend classes with their partners. Online resources are a great, accessible way to seek help from psychologists and other parents. A great first step is the CDC’s positive parenting site which offers advice for each developmental stage in your new baby’s life. Another alternative is for couples to attend prenatal classes together. Finally, you can contact a midwife to serve as a trustworthy and comforting source of information.2 All of the above can support parents and even help them stay united during this transition. This is important because it can positively affect overall relationship satisfaction, which can increase as both parents begin to feel more confident in their role.2
- Find ways that both partners can be involved.
Similar to the preparation phase, a lot of responsibilities and baby needs are assigned to the mother in heterosexual relationships. 2 However, the other parent can support both their partner and baby through housework and other forms of assistance. Keeping the home tidy, making meals, and taking care of pets are great ways to show support. These responsibilities can be overwhelming but making an effort is crucial. Before the baby arrives, you and your partner should discuss possible chores and create a plan to divide and conquer. Later, check in with one another and reassess your assigned tasks. The less involved partner can connect with the newborn by taking over some baby-related duties while their partner is resting. Possible chores include changing, bathing, dressing, and bottle-feeding the baby. By taking on some of the workload, less involved partners can connect with the baby while lifting some stress off the more involved partner.
- Establish a strong support system
Learning from both mistakes and successes of others can ease the difficult transition to parenthood. After the birth of a new baby, couples often look to their support systems for guidance. Grandparents can be a great resource if you trust their perspective and parenting philosophy. You can also find local or virtual parenting groups through Facebook or Reddit for advice and support. Building a support network is crucial for feeling informed, confident, and emotionally supported.
- Plan for post-birth changes
With a new baby, you will experience changes in many areas. There will be a need to expand in some and cut back in others; through these changes it is important to nurture your romantic relationship. You should expect your relationship to require more work but discussing change beforehand can be helpful. Time and time again, new parents are shocked by how much relationships change after having a child – many wished they had been more prepared.2 You and your partner will also change as individuals as you work to overcome new obstacles. Being a parent is not an easy task and many people have difficulty adjusting. It is common for couples to experience mental health troubles after having a child.4 Of course, this is difficult to predict, but being aware of possible troubles and preparing accordingly can be beneficial.
- Find time to connect
The health of your relationship with your partner is important for more than your own well-being. Dysfunctional relationships also may impact the well-being of the baby. In fact, babies tend to cry more when their parents’ relationship is characterized by dissatisfaction and conflict.5 The best way to combat this is by making time for one another. It might not be as easy as before but setting time aside and prioritizing each other will be worth it – especially if you are committed to having a loving and supportive relationship for years to come. If you are already experiencing tension, constructively voicing issues is the first step towards improving relationship satisfaction. I encourage you to lean into difficult conversations. It is an essential skill to build as a new parent.
New information can be overwhelming but discussing ways to implement a few tips with your partner is a great step. Just remember to be patient and kind to yourself and your partner as you embark on this beautiful journey together.
Learn More about How to Improve Your Relationship!
- Carlson, M. J., & VanOrman, A. G. (2017). Trajectories of relationship supportiveness after childbirth: Does marriage matter?Social Science Research, 66, 102–117.
- Deave, T., Johnson, D. & Ingram, J. Transition to parenthood: the needs of parents in pregnancy and early parenthood. BMC Pregnancy Childbirth 8, 30 (2008).
- Doss, B. D., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., & Markman, H. J. (2009). The effect of the transition to parenthood on relationship quality: an 8-year prospective study. Journal of personality and social psychology, 96(3), 601–619.
- Parfitt, YLVA & Ayers, Susan. (2014). Transition to parenthood and mental health in first-time parents. Infant Mental Health Journal. 35.
- Shapiro, A. F. (2004). Examining relationships between the marriage, mother -father -baby interactions and infant emotion regulation. (Order No. 3139537, University of Washington). ProQuest Dissertations and Theses, 318.