Dads: preparing for relationship changes after baby

Dads: preparing for relationship changes after baby

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Relationship changes after baby: what men can expect

Relationships often go through some big changes after baby comes along. These changes can be good and bad. They happen because of the demands of looking after a new baby.

Fitting in with baby

After your baby comes along, you and your partner are on duty as parents. Your baby is 100% dependent on you for everything.

Your newborn will sleep a lot - but she'll also wake often during the night for feeds and nappy changes. She might cry a fair bit too. As parents, you'll more than likely find your lives suddenly structured around baby and her feeding, sleeping, settling, awake time and daily care.

It's not a complicated schedule, but it is a demanding one. In the early days at least, mums and dads often don't get a lot of sleep.

There's just so much going on and it's all new for the three of you. That's the thing to keep in mind - all of you are in a completely new place.
- Fred, father of one

Less sleep: what this means for new dads and mums

When you get a good night's sleep, you think better the next day. You also solve problems more easily with a better night's sleep under your belt. You're just generally happier.

With less sleep, you might be more irritable or more easily annoyed at other people. When there are two parents who aren't getting enough sleep - and who are possibly stressed about caring for a new baby - it's easy to say or do things that cause misunderstandings or hurt feelings.

You gear yourself up for what everyone says, like a lack of sleep. My partner and I knew it was going to be tough. It helped us to be there for each other and share the load.
- Ricardo, father of two

Helplessness and frustration

Becoming a new mum or dad can take a big emotional toll. It's a big deal to care for a little person who is completely dependent and who doesn't come with a manual.

If your baby is crying and nothing works to settle or calm him, you might feel sad, worried and upset. It's also normal for you and your partner to feel helpless and frustrated.

Some babies have additional needs. If this is your situation, you might feel even more helpless, frustrated or worried.

More conflict, less freedom

Couples often experience more conflict after babies arrive because there are so many things to do and think about all at once.

Suddenly, you might have much less time to think about your partner's needs - and she has less time to think about yours. As well as fitting in with baby's routine and getting less sleep, you might find that money is tighter and you might have the new responsibility of being the sole provider for your family. And this could also be the first time in your life when you've had less time for yourself.

These things can be a source of stress, frustration and conflict for both you and your partner. You might end up arguing a lot, avoiding discussion or feeling bad, angry and 'disconnected'. These are all signs that your relationship is under pressure.

It's not just you and your partner any more. It's you, partner and baby - that takes a bit of getting used to. Sex is a negotiation process too. Becoming a parent puts stress on your relationship and tests the weaknesses and strengths of your relationship. As a bloke, you're trying to understand what to do too. You're trying to find your role in the relationship.
- Travis, father of two

What you can do

Negotiating your roles and sharing expectations is good practice for parenting as a team and can help you keep your relationship strong.

Pregnancy is a good time to figure out who'll do what once your baby arrives and whether you and your partner want to do things differently. This worksheet on parents' workload might help you look at these issues.

Remember that it's also important to be flexible and review your plans from time to time - life will keep changing as your baby gets older.

It can help to focus on how much you're learning as new parents and how well you're caring for your new baby - these are big achievements. For example, if your partner is learning to breastfeed, you could tell her you appreciate how hard she's trying.

Making time for each other can help too. In the early days, this might just be sitting together while you or your partner feeds your baby.

There's heaps of negotiation. Part of it is making the time to talk and negotiate about things. We've got pretty open, very honest communication.
- Richard, father of three

When it's not working

Despite your best efforts, sometimes relationships don't work out. You might separate from your partner and be in a situation where you co-parent or parent alone.

If you need help or support, you could talk with your GP, or call MensLine on 1300 789 978 or PANDA on 1300 726 306. You can also read more about successful single parenting.