The birth of a first child and the process of becoming parents is a major turning point for most relationships. Each person's experience of becoming a parent is different. While for some it will be an easy transition, for others it may create some unexpected problems.
The birth of your first child will cause major changes to your lives. You can prepare for this change in several ways, such as:
- learning beforehand about childbirth and about being the parent of a young baby
- making practical arrangements for when your baby comes home
- making decisions about your work arrangements and finances after your baby is born
You may not have thought how becoming a parent will affect your relationship with your partner. Children affect their parents' relationship. Couples often overlook this in the busy time preparing for their child's birth, and in the excitement of becoming parents.
Couples face two particular challenges at this time:
- coping with the demands of pregnancy, childbirth and the early months of parenthood
- expanding their relationship to make room for their baby
During pregnancy, both partners must adjust to the woman's physical changes. Each person's experience of pregnancy is affected by:
- the woman’s physical health
- how the woman feels about herself as her pregnancy develops
- how her partner reacts to her pregnancy
- how both partners cope with the changes in their emotional and sexual relationship.
The effect of pregnancy on a couple's relationship can vary enormously. It can draw couples closer and can highlight differences.
Men also have emotional needs during pregnancy. These may include a need to be able to express their concerns and to be reassured. Pregnancy often puts new emotional demands on men - demands to show patience and tenderness, to mop up tears and to give gentle encouragement. This can be difficult for some men.
Sexuality is often affected by pregnancy. For some couples pregnancy is a time of heightened sensuality, a time when love-making takes on a new intensity and a new importance. Others find that during pregnancy their libido diminishes and that other ways of expressing intimacy and affection become more important.
Birth - and afterwards
Many fathers are present at their child's birth. Some choose to be present and others feel that they have to be present because it is expected of them. For some couples, sharing the experience of their child's birth can be very special.
Some fathers, however, find the experience more upsetting than they had expected. It can be difficult for men to find someone they can talk with honestly about the childbirth and the feelings it aroused.
After the excitement of the baby's birth comes the task of settling down to parenthood. Parents' experiences will vary. For some couples the transition is easy; for others, it can be a difficult time – a time of tiredness and emotional stress, when couples become distant and withdrawn and sometimes resentful of their partner’s reaction to the new situation.
Many couples experience uncertainty, and sometimes difficulty, in their sexual relationship after the birth of a child. For some, it is a matter of picking up where they left off, but others find that the demands of parenting affect their sexual needs and their lovemaking for a long time. Honest and open communication is vital to avoid hurt and misunderstanding between couples.
Now we are three
The physical and practical aspects of becoming parents presents couples with many wonderful and exciting experiences to share as well as bringing new challenges to overcome. The most difficult challenge can be learning to make room in their relationship for the baby.
The arrival of the first child means that time and emotional energy will be taken from the couple's relationship and put instead into parenting their child. Most couples are happy to make this change and share the parenting responsibilities and fun. Some partners, however, can feel left out, unappreciated or not as loved as before. This can distance the couple from each other. Good communication will help the the couple to love and enjoy their baby, and maintain their love and interest in each other