Staying connected with your partner when there’s a new baby in your life
Every month, at the weekly breastfeeding support group I run in Southampton, we hold a group chat on a breastfeeding related topic, where mothers can talk about their experiences in a safe space, and share ideas or encourage each other.
This morning, in honour of Valentine’s day, I had organised a group chat about love and breastfeeding. We talked about the “Oxytocin Factor” and how breastfeeding can give a mother a surge of what is referred to as “the love hormone”, which can help with bonding with their baby. And we also talked about relationships: what partners can do that is supportive or less helpful to successful breastfeeding; how partners can bond with their baby in other ways than feeding them; and how relationships can change when a new baby arrives, and the role breastfeeding might have in that.
A lot of the feelings that were expressed though, are not exclusive to breastfeeding, but will probably sound familiar to many new mums.
A mother of a new baby who is home on her own looking after her newborn all day might often feel completely exhausted, stressed or anxious, and touched out by the time her partner gets home. Feelings that aren’t usually very inducive to romance!
The mother’s partner on the other hand, might be dealing with different feelings in the weeks after the birth: they might feel helpless when they see their partner struggle; they might not understand why breastfeeding is so important to the mother, or what kind of support she needs when it’s hard; they might not understand what she does all day at home with the baby (the washing, cleaning and cooking certainly didn’t get done!) or why she seems so easily upset; and they, on the other hand, might be in need of touch after a long day behind a desk.
Having a baby is so life changing, we often need time to find ourselves again (or figure out who we are becoming); we need to find a new balance in our relationships with others; and often, after some time, we also need to rediscover each other.
There is so much we tend to take for granted, but relationships are hard work at the best of times, and having a new baby certainly has the potential to rock the boat more than any other moment in your life together. Communication about your feelings and experiences, honesty and openness will be crucial more than ever.
A postnatal doula can have a positive impact by taking some of the pressure off in the early weeks after birth. All the small ways in which she helps you to feel better and the jobs she may do around the house, can leave you feeling less on edge, less exhausted, less stressed out. She will fill your cup, so you feel more balanced and able to deal with the challenges that might come your way. Keeping stress under control by having an extra pair of helping hands and extra support to lean on, can help prevent tension in your relationship with your partner.
A postnatal doula can also play an important part to help things go more smoothly in various other ways: they can give each parent the opportunity to debrief their feelings around birth and early parenthood; they can help make sense of those feelings and offer reassurance; they can find information that is helpful in a specific situation; or signpost if either or both parents feel they would benefit from extra support; some postnatal doula’s might be able to discuss communication and listening techniques that can help parents understand each other better; etc.
They can also give suggestions that have helped other parents get through this huge transformation while staying connected with their partner, and help you figure out what might work for you. They might have tips for partners to bond with their baby; for partners to support the mother; for reconnecting;… and a postnatal doula might even be able to help out practically, for example by taking baby for a walk in a sling while the parents enjoy a romantic lunch date and have a bit of time to talk and reconnect.
It will be important to think outside the box and not expect things to be exactly as they were before, because otherwise you are quite likely to end up very frustrated! Things are different with a new baby in the house, and it’s up to you to make it work in a new way than it did before. But it’s good to remember that there is absolutely no shame in asking for or accepting help: it takes a village after all!
Some suggestions on resources to start with, can be found on my website:
by Anne, Postnatal Doula, Breastfeeding Counsellor and founder of MamaMoon.uk