There is no change quite like going from a couple, to a couple with a newborn baby. Just like you prepare for every other aspect of birth and caring for your newborn, don’t forget to prepare your relationship for baby.
By being intentional and thoughtful toward your transition into parenthood you’ll take it on like a well-practiced team. Even the strongest relationships with the best communication are tested when a brand-new life joins the mix. If you skip this preparation, your transition into life with a baby is going to be even harder. Make sure you’re ready by following these tips and ideas.
We’ll talk about the importance of sharing responsibilities, letting your partner parent their way and communication. There’s also excellent discussions you can have now to get on the same page.
Are you ready rock the first three months together? Let’s take a look at what you need to do.
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1. Accept the Reality
Having a newborn is going to be hard. Totally worth it, but very hard. You will be exhausted and constantly doubting yourself. Having a newborn makes you worry about things that never even crossed your mind before like how often another being is peeing and pooping and whether your boobs are going to explode (kidding, kind of).
All of your energy, patience and bandwidth will be spent on your new baby which means there’s not a lot left to go around. You and your partner are bound to bicker and snap. It’s just the reality of being new parents. As you transition into your new roles as mom and dad there is going to be some wiggling and adjusting.
No two sets of parents do it exactly the same. It takes time to find your groove and balance. Accept that the transition won’t be seamless. Be ready to shift, give and take. Be explicit with one another and communicate your needs.
The Key Question to Ask Each Other
Remember that your partner cannot read your mind. I know that sounds silly, but it is going to be something you will need a reminder of when you are looking for support. The key phrase that I want you and your partner to use in your first weeks with a new baby is “What are you thinking?” Start using this phrase throughout the remainder of your pregnancy, during your birth and well, forever.
Why is this question more effective than others?
This phrase is so much more effective than “what do you need?” or “what can I do?” Of course, those are valuable and caring things to say. But if you let “What are you thinking?” dominate you will get to the answers of those other things too. This was the single best piece of advice that I received during my birthing and newborn basics class and we still utilize the phrase daily.
Let’s look at some examples:
Your partner is back to work, you have been home with the baby all day and your partner walks in the door and says, “what can I do?” You aren’t always going to have a concrete answer. I know I often have a million things that my husband can do but somehow can’t think of one precise thing.
“What are you thinking?” on the other hand can be met with “I’m lonely from not getting out of the house all day”, “I wish I had showered”, “I have no idea what we’re having for dinner”, or “The baby has no clean clothes.” These answers let him into your mind and allow him to come up with the action item.
This will create a shift towards a shared mental load
This is a key shift in your dynamic. You don’t want to fall into the trap of always being the one to bear the “mental load” so to speak. By knowing what you’re thinking and how you are feeling he can jump into action and help make it better. It allows you to stop being the problem solver in that moment. It lets you feel completely supported by what they decide they can do to help instead of watching them do what you directed them to do.
Over time, by regularly asking each other this question you will be more in sync with one another. You will know what the other needs just based on the look on their face or situation. That can be hard to know in the first weeks, even for the strongest couples, because it is impossible to know what your baby is going to be like and how you are going to handle your transition into parenthood.
If your baby has colic, it can be even more trying on couples as they navigate parenthood. Get prepared for every possible obstacle before your baby is born.
2. Talk About Responsibilities and New Roles
What this Actually Looks Like
Don’t make the mistake of going into parenthood thinking that responsibilities specific to the baby are going to be ‘even’. And don’t fall into the trap of ‘score keeping’. Trust that the responsibilities will ebb and flow as your baby grows and be ready to give and take.
The fact of the matter is that newborn babies, especially if you plan to breastfeed, mostly need to be with mama. You will feel like you are nursing and caring for them around the clock, because you will be. Be prepared for this and know that to some extent it just has to be that way because it is essential to the nursing relationship and your supply.
That doesn’t mean that your partner isn’t also going to have new jobs. They are the ones that will be picking up the chores around the house and doing the errands.
Talk about these changing roles now
Prepare your partner, and yourself, for the fact that as the birthing mother, you are going to be 100% consumed with the new baby. They will need to do virtually everything else for at least the first few weeks. The best way that they can be a Rockstar dad in the first few weeks is simply by doing everything else around the house so that you don’t have to. Your energy and commitment needs to be on nursing to build supply and healing from birth.
By communicating your responsibilities ahead of time and letting them know what theirs will be, you will have a smoother transition all around. Setting the expectations now is a key way to prepare your relationship. This doesn’t mean that Dad won’t have any chances to bond with baby, he just needs to find ways to do it while best supporting you.
Delegate Specific Times of Day
Now that you understand the reality of what your responsibilities will generally look like, you can start to think about some ways to share the responsibilities surrounding baby. One tactic that worked for us was picking a specific time of day.
In the first week or two, you are going to be in survival mode and any sort of ‘routine’ will sound insane. I thought one would never come. Now, I use this term loosely. But by about 4 weeks, we did have (an often changing) routine going. It was about this time that Patrick started having specific times of the day with N.
When is the right time of day for dad to take baby and give mom a break?
When you are thinking about this always remember that it should occur immediately after a feeding to ensure that you don’t accidentally miss a feeding or hunger cue by being away from baby. For us, Patrick started taking N early in the morning right after I fed her. This let me either sleep in a bit, sneak in a shower, or sip coffee on the deck for 20 minutes of peace.
He also started doing bath with her in evenings. This slowly evolved as N grew up. I teach from home in the early mornings which meant from about 8 weeks of life until now, Patrick was on morning duty completely.
The unexpected positive result of this was that Patrick had a time of the day that he was completely expert on. Now at 18 months old, N never wakes up in the morning yelling for mama, because it has always been her ‘dada-time’.
We’ll talk more about why allowing your partner to feel ‘expert’ is important in point three.
The Power of Presence
This was something that took me awhile to figure out. It goes along with that idea of sometimes not being able to answer the question “What can I do?”. As a new mom, a lot of time you just need the presence of your partner as your support. You will often be trapped in the house with your new baby. Those snuggles and naps on your chest are heavenly, but the lack of adult interaction can really get to your head.
By letting yourself and your partner know this now, they will know that something all they need to “do” is be present. You will need them to just sit next to you, rub your back, or even put their arm around you while you nurse the baby for the 10th time of the day.
3. Let them do it their way!
This is so important yet might be one of the most difficult things to accomplish on the list. As a new mother you will always know the absolute best way to do everything for your new baby. But I challenge you to try to close your mouth and let them do it their way. This is because your partner doing, trying, and being involved is truly a gift that you don’t want to squash.
If you are always correcting your partner, taking over, or getting involved you may send the message that you don’t want help and your partner will stop trying. Don’t fall into this trap. Accept that there is more than one way to get it done. Grit your teeth and let them do their dad thing. Take a breath and appreciate the sight. Fall in love with your partner all over again and his quirky way of parenting.
Why it is Essential to Co-Parenting
Remember in the beginning how we talked about going into parenting as a team, well you have to be ready to count on and trust your team mate. By avoiding micromanaging, you are letting them know that you do trust them. It is their baby too, after all. This might be something as small as whether they start the buttons of the PJs at the top or the bottom. You won’t believe what you’ll want to correct as a new mom. But if baby is safe, there is no harm in what your partner is doing.
The birthing mama is often assumed to be the “expert parent”
Chances are, your partner already sees you as the expert. It is natural to fall into the habit of the birthing mother knowing all the answers. By closing your mouth and letting them try instead of telling exactly how it should be done they will learn and their confidence will build. They will problem solve and maybe even find new solutions that help your baby. You might even learn a thing or two.
As they become the expert at certain things, or at least more confident, they will likely stop relying so heavily on you. They won’t always expect you to be the one with all the answers and “magic power” to know exactly what baby needs. It is important for this balance to exist, you need back-up, support and a break, which your partner can provide if you let them.
An example from our early days of parenting:
Sometimes I’d spend over an hour trying to soothe N. Patrick would offer to help and start dancing with her around the room or take her out into the cool night. In other words, things I would never do. I just knew they wouldn’t work (hello over stimulation!?), but guess what? They often did! Simply being in dad’s arms and experiencing a shift in energy was truly what N needed sometimes. Then she’d be calm enough to come back to mama and latch for a feeding.
Benefits to Baby
By letting dad step in and parent his own way, you will benefit your baby. Even this early on they will learn flexibility in their thinking. Your baby will be exposed to different experiences, words and feelings. They will be fiercely loved in new and different ways. Hey, they might even get to look back on some hilarious photos of outfits chosen by dad. Or maybe swaddles that left the feet out, but they will know that they were loved.
Your partner might soon become the expert you’re turning to
In the process, your partner might even become the “expert” on some certain aspect of your baby’s life. I remember when N was 6 weeks old I had no idea how fascinated she was with blinds. Pat was so excited to share this with me. This was one of their “things” they did together in the mornings and often elicited huge smiles from her. Just a small example of something Pat and her shared early on
Letting my husband parent “his way” is an on-going challenge
I still struggle with this as Patrick and I continue to navigate parenting our toddler. But I see the benefits more and more as N picks up amazing qualities and interests from her dad. I have to remind myself not to snap when he gets her all riled up in a giggle fit before bedtime, or takes her outside to touch the snow in no jacket, or lets her wail on his guitar.
These are the moments you remember. Not the times you went to bed right on time and said no to the electric guitar. You too will have your own moments like this to cherish for a lifetime. It really is about the memories.
So keep this in your head if nothing else: even when you know the very best way, let them do it their way.
4. Nourish Your Love Affair
When a new baby joins your life, romance tends to go on the back burner. As I’ve already mentioned, your life is consumed with the new baby. You are both always exhausted, and it feels like there just isn’t that much time left for romance in the day. On top of that, you may not feel your best or prettiest when it’s hard to find time to take a shower and put on clean clothes.
But all of this is to say, it is still SO important to make time for each other. Modeling a caring, respectful and loving relationship for you children is one of the best things you can do for them. There is no reason to wait. Additionally, parenting is challenging for many couples. It’s important to make time for each other and keep the spark alive.
Change Your Idea of a Date
Once there is a baby around it is much harder to get out of the house alone together. So, I encourage you to still have planned dates, just do them at home! When your baby is tiny they might have to join in the date, but still try to make it different than an ordinary night. As your baby falls into a sort of ‘bedtime’ you can plan to do your dates once they are in bed.
Try having a standing date night on Friday or Saturday nights and do something to make it special. Maybe order food in, eat a good dessert, watch a movie together, play board games, do a DIY project. It can be anything that is intentional and a time to be present. Put the screens away and share the time.
For us scheduling it as a weekly thing means that it is something we look forward to and plan during the week even though we are just doing it in our house. It makes it feel more special this way.
Talk About Things Other Than the Baby
This can be challenging to do as new parents but it is important. Of course, you should share all of the joys and trials of life with your newborn, but make sure that’s not all your sharing. Try to update each other on family members and friends or talk about current events. You can even play conversation games to get the conversation rolling away from home and baby.
Rose, Thorn, Bud
For the rose you share something good that has happened in the last week, the thorn is a challenge, and the bud is something you are looking forward to. Usually we do “baby edition” and “no baby edition” so that we are discussing a mix of topics.
You think of a person, place or thing and your partner asks yes or no questions to figure out the noun.
Would You Rather
Do a “parent edition” and “non-parent edition”. For example, would you rather only change poopy diapers until your baby is potty-trained or suck snot out of their nose until they’re 18 years old? It can be hilarious and break any tension or a bad day in an instant.
Focus on Your Relationship Now
Pregnancy is an amazing time to be extra present and involved in each other’s lives. Find time now to go on dates and live it up. Consider going on a babymoon or doing some fun day trips. Go on special expecting date nights, I recommend planning two per trimester.
5. Say Thank You
This might be the simplest tip of the list and it packs a big impact. Remember to appreciate and thank one another during the early weeks with baby. Saying thank you as often as you can let’s your partner know how much you appreciate them. It acknowledges their hard work and sacrifices to support you.
Talk about this ahead of time and they will be prepared to thank you as well. You will both be carrying heavy and different weights. Neither is more or less important. Together you will survive the first weeks of parenthood. Appreciation and thanks goes a long way in keeping the mood light. It will help there be less snapping and bickering.
By thanking each other regularly for even the most mundane tasks, you will also avoid falling into the trap of score-keeping.
6. Apologize Now
In the same vein as saying thank you, go ahead and apologize to each other now. Know that you are going to fight, snap and bicker. No matter how many ‘thank you’s are uttered some of it is simply unavoidable.
You will be tired and your patience will be spent on your new baby. The fog of being a new parent is intense, but like many before, you will survive. You’ll come out on the other side and if you were compassionate and forgiving your relationship will survive too 😊
7. Get Educated about Baby Blues and PPD Together
Another great way to prepare your relationship is by learning about the emotional roller coaster that many mother’s experience after birth. It is essential that your partner also be aware and educated on the topic of postpartum depression and other mood disorders so that they can be on the lookout for red flags.
If your partner knows the warning signs they will be better able to support and advocate for you. Should things go from more normal baby blues to something more serious they will know what’s happening.
The baby blues are feelings like depression that include loneliness, worry, and sadness associated with your role of being a new mother. These are extremely normal and usually resolve within a week or two. If you have symptoms like this that are interfering with your ability to care for your baby or last longer than 2 weeks don’t wait to get professional help. Postpartum depression effects 1 in 7 mothers and is very treatable with the right supports in place.
8. Talk about Parenting Philosophies
I don’t mean you need to know exactly how you plan to go about getting your baby to sleep, or the way you plan to handle toddler tantrums. However, it is a good idea to discuss some overarching parenting philosophies, goals, and experiences.
It is a good idea to talk about what the roles of mom and dad looked like in your lives growing up.
- What was the division of labor like?
- What memories do you have surrounding discipline and sleep?
- How about meal times and mornings?
- Was your house more of a tight ship or laid back?
The parenting we had modeled for us heavily affects the way we parent our kids whether we want it to or not. The reality is that it can also cause clashing if the households the parents grew up in were different.
Share your experiences, the good and the bad. Talk about ways you think your experiences will inform the way you parent. Maybe you want to do the complete opposite or maybe you love things about your childhood. The more you talk and share the more in sync you two will be for making parenting decisions as they come.
This is also a good time to talk about goals and non-negotiables
For example, set the expectation now about how long you want your baby to co-room with you, or if and how long you plan to breastfeed. Think about what your nighttime goals are and if a routine is important to you.
Discuss when you expect your maternity leave to end and what your childcare preference is. Maybe your husband had great experience with in-home daycares while you had a nanny. Perhaps you hope to stay home with the baby but your finances aren’t going to allow it. Talk about sacrifices you might be able to make to make it work if it is important.
Hashing these things out before your baby arrives will set you up for success. These parenting decisions will be easier to make if you discuss them before the baby comes.
9. Talk about your Hopes and Fears
This was one of the best exercises that Patrick and I did before N was born. We were involved in a prenatal group which provided a few worksheets on this topic. The goal is to share your thoughts and emotions with yourselves and each other on the topics of birth and parenthood.
Without this explicit advice, I may not have given a lot of intentional thought to these topics, but I know that we were better off for it. I recommend thinking about these topics before discussing. Ideally write down your thoughts too. A huge benefit to us was answering not only for ourselves but for the other person as well. It was helpful to hear Patrick’s perceived strengths and challenges he thought that I would face and vice versa.
Be sure to explicitly discuss labor, delivery and birth before it comes. Taking a class to prepare for childbirth as a couple is a great idea. Education goes a long way in feeling confident about childbirth.
I love the Online Couple Prenatal Course designed and taught by Hilary, an L&D nurse. It is very similar to the childbirth classes you take at a hospital, but it can be done from the comfort of your own home. The bonus is that each lesson ends with a variety of thought-provoking and important couple-questions to get you talking beyond the lesson.
When you are discussing birth, here are some questions to consider:
- What will my strengths be during labor and delivery?
- What are my partner’s strengths that will support me during labor and delivery?
- What will be my challenges?
- What will be difficult for my partner?
- What experiences have I had that can relate to childbirth?
- What experiences has my partner had that will help him support me during childbirth?
- What are my birth wishes and hopes?
- What are my partners hopes?
- What am I most afraid of?
- What might my partner be afraid of?
- What will make me feel comfortable and supported?
- What can my partner do to make me feel safe?
You and your partner should both answer these questions. Share and discuss your results and remember that the more honest you are the better prepared you will be.
Are you interested in worksheets and checklists to help get your prepared as a team?
You can find over 20+ pages of content, worksheets and checklists dedicated to preparing your relationship and preparing for birth as a team in the Nesting Planner.
Take the same question ideas and apply them to parenthood and life with a new baby. Again, I want you to answer for yourself and for your partner. It is really helpful to hear the way that your partner believes in and sees your strengths. For me it was a huge confidence boost and eased a lot of my anxieties before becoming a mom to hear what Patrick had to say.
- What will my strengths be as a new parent?
- What will be challenging for me?
- What am I afraid of?
- What are my hopes for motherhood?
- What are my goals?
- How can my partner support me?
Start Preparing Your Relationship Today
Now that you have 9 essential tips to help you intentionally prepare your relationship, get started! Most of these are rooted in open and honest conversations with your partner. The more you work on strengthening your lines of communication now, particularly on the topic of baby, the smoother your transition will be.
Knowledge is power with all endeavors in life, and getting educated and learning as much as you can about labor and delivery together is key. The tricky part is finding a class that you can both regularly attend in-person.
An online prenatal class designed just for couples might be just what you need to get completely educated and prepared on your own time. Give yourself peace of mind by taking this class together, on your own time and schedule.
For even more support and ways to prepare your relationship, and the other four essential aspects of nesting, enroll in our FREE Nest Smart email course today. This 7-day crash course in nesting will get you, your home, your relationship and more ready for baby fast and effectively.
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Alli Wittbold is a wife, mama, blogger, and online teacher. She feels passionate about connecting expectant mothers with childbirth class educators, and supporting them to achieve the birth they desire. After having her first baby delivered by a Certified Nurse Midwife, Alli is an advocate for midwifery prenatal care. She has learned so much about labor and delivery by attending and reviewing dozens of birth classes to help mothers learn and explore options. Alli co-authored the Week-by-Week Bump Smart Course, the Nesting Planner and the Breastfeeding Handbook, resources she is proud to share with as many expectant and new mothers as possible. Read more about Alli.