How to reconnect with your partner as a new parent

Posted on 23 December 2019

When baby arrives, everything changes. Here’s how to adjust to your new normal.

Nothing causes domestic chaos quite like a new baby. Your schedule changes daily, it seems everyone is suddenly sick all the time, stress levels everywhere go through the roof – and on top of all of this, proper sleep is a distant memory.

The good news: this is normal. And it doesn’t have to derail your relationship.

New parents can slip into a funk without knowing it. While 15 to 20% of new moms show signs of postnatal depression after giving birth, baby blues are common in up to 90% of new moms, says Dr Belinda Bruwer, a psychiatrist at Mediclinic Windhoek.

“Low mood and a certain degree of heightened anxiety are completely normal – this will usually only last three to five days and subside completely in two weeks, without affecting your ability to function as a new parent,” she says.

Dads get depressed too. “Paternal depression could be masked by anger, temper outbursts, frustration or violence as men are socialised to believe these are more acceptable emotions to express than talking about how they feel or crying,” warns Dr Jeanne Oets, a registered psychologist.

Add a high prevalence of at least mild or temporary depression to an unwillingness to reach out, and you have a risk of coming unstuck.

It’s science. A 2020 study published in the peer-reviewed Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, which examined the effect of the birth of a first child on relationship functioning – using data from 218 couples over the course of the first 8 years of marriage – found overwhelmingly negative results.

Parents in the survey reported a sudden deterioration on all measures of positive and negative aspects of relationship functioning, immediately following birth. This deterioration was roughly equal across mothers and fathers, and tended to persist for years after baby arrived.

If you’re thinking, great, all is doomed, fear not: all this study proves is that all new parents, all over the world, find it a challenge to adjust to their new lives. If you and your partner are struggling with your new identities and sudden changes in relationship, you are not alone – and there is a lot you can do.

In fact these changes are so common that the National Childbirth Trust encourages soon-to-be parents to plan ahead in order to deal with them effectively: patience, a sense of humour, understanding and a willingness to learn on the job are all crucial.

Remember when it was just you two and you could talk for hours without being interrupted? Make that time now. Open communication is valuable. Listen and try to understand your partner’s perspective while actively avoiding criticism or blame.

“It is often difficult for men to talk about their feelings and to admit when they are struggling,” Dr Oets explains. “Communicating honestly with your partner and close friends is the first step to reclaiming your life from depression. If your low moods persist, it’s advisable to seek help from a qualified professional.”

In the interest of our patients, in accordance with SA law and our commitment to expertise, Mediclinic cannot subscribe to the practice of online diagnosis. Please consult a medical professional for specific medical advice. If you have any major concerns, please see your doctor for an assessment. If you have any cause for concern, your GP will be able to direct you to the appropriate specialists.

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