Pinky McKay, Melbourne-based parenting doyenne, mum of five and author of Parenting By Heart (Penguin), says having a baby is one of the biggest tests your marriage will face. “Having a baby is probably the greatest adjustment a couple could experience. It amazes me how much effort people put into planning for a baby on a practical level, but often don’t even consider how much their relationship will change with a baby – all the frozen casseroles in the world can’t prepare you for the lack of time, sleep and the hormonal chemistry of new parenthood.” Here’s her advice for a happy marriage after babies:
Make sure you’re supported
If you're pregnant, start preparing now for a supported birth to really protect your relationship post-birth. Pinky says making sure you feel supported during the birth can help shield your relationship by preventing feelings of being let down if your partner hasn't fulfilled all your expectaions during labour and birth. “I feel it’s important, especially for first births, to have a support person, such as your own midwife (you can hire an independent midwife even if you have a hospital birth) or a doula, as well as your partner. The support person can do so many little things to make your birth easier without intruding on your partner experience,” she says.
Allow yourself to have those post-birth feelings
Childbirth can sometimes colour your relationship with your partner and how you feel about intimacy. “From flashbacks, to people doing vaginal exams during labour, to fear of pain or, on the other hand, feelings of power and strength if the woman felt supported - how she perceives her partner’s strength and support will colour how she feels about him too,” says Pinky, adding that she’s spoken to couples where the partner feels responsible for things that have gone ‘wrong’.” Talk to your partner if this is the case, and seek professional help if your feelings have changed.
Come to terms with your ‘new’ body
Your body is going through a new life stage on producing a baby, so give yourself time to get used to your post-baby figure without expecting to spring back like a supermodel. “Body image can greatly affect how ‘sexy’ a woman feels after having a baby – wobbly bits and leaking can be a shock to many women, and media images of celebs who have amazing after-baby bodies aren’t helpful,” says Pinky.
Change your sex life
Women and men are wired very differently – a new mother can be totally consumed with baby care all day (and night) – and might want to cuddle and feel nurtured without it ending in sex, or she may simply feel ‘ all touched out’ after giving so much of her body to the baby. Conversely, reveals Pinky, the guy’s way of feeling close is to have sex. As this is where things can break down, communication and understanding are key to intimacy. “Guys are more likely to get lucky if they help with baby care – settling, rocking, bathing are great ways to share – or cooking and cleaning up so she will have time to share ‘the love’ without feeling stressed about all the things that need doing,” she advises. “Guys – think of ‘doing dishes’ as foreplay!”
Have a date night
While caring for your baby might be all-consuming, it’s important to nurture your relationship, too, by giving it quality time. “If you want ‘together time’ you may have to plan ahead – mark a ‘date night’ on the calendar even if this means a video and takeaway at home,” advises Pinky. “Or you can enjoy being spontaneous - you don’t only have to make love in bed at night time.”
Don’t be afraid to ask for help
Consider help with practical things such as hiring a cleaner, a gardener or dog walker, and don’t be afraid to ask friends and family for help to relieve the strain on your life and your relationship. “You are not imposing - everyone feels privileged to share the joy of a baby,” says Pinky.
Have your own savings fund
Statistically, money is the greatest source of arguments for all couples – however much you have, so Pinky advises planning ahead and saving some money for yourself before you have your baby. “It can be difficult to ask your partner for money when you have always been financially independent,” she explains. “Partners don’t always see the value of a latte with mums’ group or a mummy yoga class; many don’t appreciate the cost of nappies and basic household groceries when you are reduced to a single income, but will rummage in your purse for parking money as they leave for work! Again, communication is key.”
Find some me-time
If you feel all worn out from giving all day, you can’t expect to feel excited about your relationship: you need to keep loving yourself in little ways so that you have good energy and loving feelings for your partner. “It’s important to find ‘me’ time as well as couple time,” says Pinky. “It can be good to stick a reminder on your fridge of things you can do in a few minutes – from painting your toenails to making a pot of tea. If you are at home with a small baby, watch a DVD while you feed, call a friend or check emails while baby has a kick on the floor, walk in the sunshine while baby sleeps in the pram or a sling, or join a mum and bub exercise or yoga group.” Your relationship and you will both benefit from it.