You’ve probably heard from numerous people that the postpartum period was tough on their relationship…but what does that mean for your relationship, and how are you supposed to prepare for it when you know it’s not the same experience for every relationship?
While there’s no way to predict exactly what you and your partner will encounter in the postpartum period, there are some common challenges that you can explore ahead of time in the hopes of alleviating relationship stress (or at least feeling more prepared to cope with it when it arises) as you navigate the postpartum period together.
The Early Weeks, aka “The Fourth Trimester”
It’s no secret that those early postpartum weeks are emotionally and physically demanding. Sleepless nights, hormonal shifts, the big life transition of learning how to care for a newborn…it’s a lot to juggle, just like pregnancy, and can certainly create some emotional challenges within your partner relationship.
Feelings of sadness, tearfulness, heightened emotional sensitivity, mood swings, difficulty concentrating, feeling overwhelmed, and physical/emotional exhaustion during the first 2-3 weeks postpartum are not only common experiences; they’re expected. Like most people who give birth, you might find yourself in the throes of these early postpartum adjustments which can make it hard not only to soak up all the sweet newborn moments, but to clearly express your thoughts or emotions to your partner and to keep up with seemingly simple tasks around your home.
Remind yourself that this is an expected part of the postpartum period, and it’s okay to feel like you’re struggling through it. Talk with your partner about anticipating a bit of a rough patch in the beginning, help each other remember that this phase will eventually pass, and let your primary focus (alongside caring for your baby) during this time be meeting your basic needs – like eating nourishing meals, drinking plenty of water, sleeping when you can, tending to your hygiene, and maintaining any medications/supplements/treatments you’ve been prescribed.
The Duality of Parenting Emotions
You know that “emotional rollercoaster” everyone always talks about when they have a baby? It’s a main attraction in the postpartum period, and it can be difficult to navigate as a new parent when feelings other than joy creep in. After all…isn’t this supposed to be a happy time?
The truth is – you probably won’t love every aspect or enjoy every moment of parenthood, and that’s okay. Every parenting experience you’ll have is bound to elicit more than one emotion, and it’s not uncommon for those emotions to sometimes feel like complete opposites. Maybe you feel grateful for the opportunity to be a stay-at-home-parent, and desperate for a break from the demanding nature of it. Irritable when the baby wakes up for the fourth time overnight, and affectionate as you soothe them back to sleep. Frustrated when your partner makes a parenting mistake, and empathetic with them as they learn.
Prepare your relationship for this “emotional rollercoaster” by normalizing your capacity to feel more than one emotion about something, being honest with each other about how you’re feeling, recognizing that all your emotions (even the unpleasant ones) are valid, and allowing each other to openly share those emotions without judgment.
Brand New Boundaries
You might get a lot of attention from others after your baby is born – congratulatory texts, meal drop-offs, and requests to visit or have quality time with your baby. It can feel good to receive that level of love and support…and it can feel overwhelming, too. After all, you’re still healing and trying to figure out your new roles as parents during it. What if, amidst all that attention, you find that you need a break from socializing or that the type of support someone is offering is unhelpful to you?
Brainstorm with your partner about boundaries you might want in place when your baby is born and decide how each of you will communicate those boundaries to specific people in your support system.
- How much time, if any, do you want at home alone before having visitors?
- How do you feel about people bringing food, helping with chores around the house, or caring for your baby while you do something else?
- Is there anyone who you’re not comfortable with holding the baby?
- What are your thoughts and feelings on social media posts or announcements?
Introducing new boundaries in the postpartum period can feel much easier when you’re both on the same page, approaching it as a united front. Remember that your postpartum recovery needs matter, and setting boundaries is important to ensure those needs are met.
Postpartum Body Changes
At a certain point in your postpartum recovery, you’ll be cleared to return to your “normal” physical activities…but what if you don’t feel ready?
There’s absolutely nothing wrong with needing more time after your clearance date to adjust to your postpartum body, and it’s perfectly normal to feel uneasy about getting back into the swing of things. It might feel uncomfortable to engage in certain activities – like exercise, sex, chores, hobbies, etc. – the same way you did before giving birth. You may find yourself grieving through the changes your body has experienced after giving birth – like the way it looks, feels, or functions. Maybe you feel a sense of insecurity with your postpartum body, or guilt about how your physical relationship with your partner has changed.
It’s important to recognize that the physical aspects of your postpartum recovery might come with a complicated emotional process and that your “new normal” might not feel, well…normal. Hold space for this in your relationship by adjusting your own expectations of what your body is capable of or comfortable doing, listening to (and honoring) what your body needs, sharing your concerns and needs with your partner, and giving yourself permission to take as much time as you need to adjust to your postpartum body.
The Mental Load of Parenthood
One of the many stressors that new parents face in the postpartum period is disagreeing on (or feeling unprepared for) how to handle certain behind-the-scenes parenting tasks, often referred to as “invisible labor” or “the mental load.”
It includes things like keeping track of when to get more diapers and wipes, scheduling your baby’s appointments, arranging childcare, learning about different parenting approaches, managing sleep and feeding routines, organizing and sorting through toys/clothes/baby gear/etc., being in charge of home upkeep, and generally overseeing most family-related responsibilities. The mental load tends to be disproportionately assigned to women and birthing people, which can create a sense of imbalance in partner relationships and lead to feelings of resentment later on.
While you won’t be able to predict exactly what will work best for your family until after your baby is born, you can talk with your partner ahead of time about how you each hope to handle certain parenting tasks which may help to create long-term balance in the mental load and reduce feelings of resentment when you’re in the heat of a tough parenting moment.
We all have needs and expectations within our partner relationships, but the tricky thing is – those needs and expectations can shift over time, especially during the postpartum period when your baby’s routine seems to change right when you are just getting into a new groove.
While it can feel good to have your needs anticipated without having to ask or remind your partner, be mindful of times when you’re expecting something new from them that they aren’t aware of. Spend some time reflecting on your personal values and expectations about your new roles as parents, and consider choosing a time and place to have regular check-ins with each other.
- What things are extremely important to each of you regarding your new family?
- Is there anything you don’t see eye to eye on when it comes to parenting?
- What things can you each be flexible with?
- Is there anything your partner has been doing recently that doesn’t sit well with you, or is there anything they’ve been doing that you really appreciate?
- What do you need from each other to feel seen and supported as you transition into parenthood together?
Prepare your relationship for the changing nature of these conversations by understanding that your needs and expectations during the postpartum period will evolve, being willing to go with that flow, and making a commitment to share new insights and feedback with one another on a regular basis.
Whatever obstacles you face in the postpartum period, remember that you’re on the same team, and you’re facing them together.
Content shared is not equivalent to and should not be used as a substitute for mental health treatment. This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.
This site is intended for informational purposes only and does not provide medical advice. Please consult your physician or other health-care professional.