Troubleshooting Relationship Hiccups after Baby
In their excellent book, The Transition to Parenthood, Jay Belsky and John Kelly showed that the transition year as new parents can change a marriage in many ways. The time after a baby is born is called transition time for new parents – they have to learn how to care for their baby as well as how to be a family. These additional roles and the learning curve of how to make them work affect change within a marriage.
With a new baby, women tend to become more nurturing because of the fluctuation of postpartum hormones. If she is breastfeeding, she produces oxytocin, the mothering hormone. Oxytocin provides breastfeeding moms with calmness and good feelings… and it can also cause her to focus solely on the baby. This is a necessary and normal thing to have happen as it helps to increase the mother/child bonding and attachment process, but it can become the sole focus to the exclusion of others.
Men start to turn more towards the provider role as they feels more pressure to be responsible for their families. Because the man is not hormonally attached to the baby, and he has usually less one on one time with the baby throughout the day, it can be easy for the father to sacrifice bonding time with the baby to stay late to work more and to provide more for his family. Women can take this as avoidance without realizing why the man is suddenly interested in getting more overtime or the second job when she needs his help at home.
Women need physical and emotional support
After birth and a chance to learn a bit about breastfeeding and parenting, a women’s experience thus far has been:
Her body has been stretched completely
She has endured an incredible physical, emotional and life changing experience to birth a child
She is sore, tired and hormonal
She hardly ever gets a break, especially if she is breastfeeding
She is tired and starting to feel resentful of the time and effort on her part to have this baby
She starts to feel isolated, especially if her partner is back to work
She needs help and someone to listen to her frustrations, concerns and fears
Bottom line: Women need to be heard and to feel like her partner puts her needs and their baby’s needs ahead of his own.
Men’s need companionship and appreciation
After the baby’s birth, men can feel:
Helpless, because they can’t breastfeed the baby and offer any help with that task
Powerless, because most of the decisions about the pregnancy and birth are ultimately made by the mother
Alone, because the mother and baby are the prime focus during pregnancy, after birth and learning to breastfeed and men might feel not part of the group
Frustrated because much of the time they come home from work when both mom and baby are cranky and they feel like they have nothing to offer
Not so confident about how to hold and comfort the baby
Responsible to provide for the family’s needs
How to help each other through this difficult transition period
Here are a few suggestions to help you through this time:
Women need to feel support
Women need to see physical acts of love that help with the burden of baby care. Yes, breastfeeding is not something that men can help with, but there are lots of things that you can. Laundry, cooking, dishes and tidying are activities that you can do that will help you achieve superhero status.
The solution is for men to pitch in and help with the work that needs to be done, especially the chores that involve the baby regardless of how easy it is (or how comfortable the man feels doing it).
The thing for women to realize here is that if they want the help, they cannot criticize the effort that the men are making. The woman’s learning curve is steeper only because they are spending more time with the baby in the first months. Men are slower to learn, because their time with baby not only is less, it tends to be during the fussier times of the baby’s day.
Men need to feel appreciated and included
A man needs to know that his hard work to provide for his family is noticed as well as his efforts at home and with the baby. He needs to know that his wife needs him and has room for him in her life as well as the baby.
Men needs his wife to suspend their consuming feelings of the baby to make room for their partners and do activities as a couple without the baby involved (dating, holding hands, sex, cuddling, talking etc.)
The 5 o’clock shift change
In our experience, babies are typically fussy during late afternoon and throughout the evening. Hence, early evening is a difficult time for new parents. Moms are exhausted from caring for the baby all day and need some relief. Dads are exhausted because they come home from a busy day at work and often, everyone they love is cranky and out of sorts when they walk through the door.
Everyone is hungry.
Everyone is tired.
Everyone is cranky.
This critical time can be easier for everyone if you do a 5 minute rundown, eat something nutritious and then figure out what to do next.
With our first baby, we didn’t communicate that well. Exhaustion was everywhere we looked and we were so very new at parenting. Life was overwhelming. We fought a lot… and I was worried about that. Neither of us understood how hard caring for a baby could be and we simply didn’t know what to do.
Thankfully, we figured out about the 5 minute review.
The 5 minute review
It’s simply that. A quick rundown of the day. I’d say something like: “today was a good day. Cody was happy all morning. He slept for 3 hours this afternoon and he started fussing about 30 minutes ago.”
Bruce would ask “what do you need?”
I need you to hold this baby so that I can go brush my teeth
I need you to hold this baby so that I can finish supper
I need you to hold this baby so that I can have a quick shower. I just feel gross.
(Getting the picture? Holding the baby is a very common theme.)
Or sometimes our reality was something like: “today was an awful day. The baby has been crying and I can’t calm him down. He pooped 4 times all up his back and I had to do four complete changes of clothes. I’m exhausted and I don’t know what to do.”
Again, Bruce would ask “what do you need?”
I need you to hold this baby so that I can walk around the block and clear my head.
I need you to change his diaper and see if you can calm him down.
I need you to ….. the list was always different, but I had a chance to take care of myself and have a small break.
If I was with it, I had supper ready for 5:00. This alone made the biggest difference of how the evening would progress. We would eat together or in shifts if necessary and get our blood sugars up. With a full stomach of nutritious food, the evening shift (which was sometimes the most difficult one), became more manageable.
Eating supper was the key for us holding it together rather than losing it completely.
Then spend time together
After supper was bath time and feeding time and off to bed if we could do that. Sometimes Cody would fuss up until 11:30 or so. If we could get Cody to sleep, that was the time to cuddle one the couch and watch TV, or chat about our days. Sometimes we would just go to bed early because exhaustion would set in and the next feed was only hours away.
The difference was that by communicating, we had a chance of helping each other out. By eating supper between 5 and 6, we had more energy to cope with the fussy times and then if there was time left over, we could spend it together.
Do You Have a Fussy Baby in Your Life?
Oftentimes, fussy breastfeeding babies are either experiencing physical pain from birth, they are reacting negatively to the foods that their breastfeeding mom is eating, OR BOTH!
Birth is a very difficult process for babies to experience. If you suspect that your baby is in physical pain when you feed or diaper him or her, take your baby to see a pediatric focused chiropractor in your area. We are trained to gently relieve irritations to muscles and joints.
If your baby is fussy after breastfeeding or cries inconsolably in the evenings and won’t settle easily, chances are that your baby is reacting to foods in your diet.
If this is the case, please consider purchasing the Calm Baby Cookbook – it outlines the foods that commonly cause problems for babies to digest and offers 100+ delicious breastfeeding recipes to get started! It has helped to calm many babies in my practice and I sincerely hope that it will calm your fussy baby as well.
Dr. Melanie Beingessner
Dr. Melanie Beingessner is a pregnancy and pediatric-focussed chiropractor, a breastfeeding counselor, a certified infant massage instructor and a mom of three awesome kids.