Having a baby is a period of great change. A new, sleep-deprived mom may feel overwhelmed because she is taking care of a newborn and scared by all the major life changes taking place. Up to 15% of new moms may experience Postpartum Depression. Postpartum Depression is most commonly understood as the result of hormonal changes that occur after childbirth. This picture may be too narrow because it focuses only on the physical changes that occur after having a baby. Seeing Postpartum Depression through the lens of hormonal changes ignores the mother’s full experience and her need for emotional help. It also denies the complexity of the change that occurs when a couple becomes a family.
THE BIRTH OF A BABY PUTS PRESSURE ON THE RELATIONSHIP
The birth of a baby puts high demands on both partners. There is more work to do with less sleep and less money. As the couple becomes a family both partners go through significant changes. New fathers feel increasingly responsible to financially support their families, and they turn themselves to work. They may stay in the office more to assure their position or to earn more. Women take on care of the baby and the house. It is said women may even triple their workload. Often, new mothers stay home all day with their baby and feel alone while their partner is at work. This extended, anxiety-filled alone time is exacerbated when partners work long hours. In addition, most new moms have to quickly return to work after only a 6-8 week maternity leave. While work and childcare demands are high for both parents, usually there is little outside help. Grandparents are not always available as they can live far away and many times they cannot babysit on a daily basis. Finding nannies can also be costly and difficult.
Conflict increases in couples with babies. It is said three years after the baby arrives marital satisfaction declines significantly in over 65% of couples. Parents burdened with work and childcare can start to grow apart. They can feel alone and isolated. There is usually too little time or energy to spend alone time as a couple. Their intimacy and sex life may suffer as well. The couple may become out of sync with each other.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN MOMS ARE UNDER STRESS?
Attachment research shows that under stress, our need for a comforting and secure relationship is heightened. When the new mom feels stressed and uncertain about how to take care of her baby she turns to her partner for comfort. If he responds to her need for comfort, she calms down and regains her balance. Her confidence as a mom increases. Their bond will strengthen, and partners feel more connected. On the other hand, when the new mom feels overwhelmed and lacks support from her partner, she can become stressed out and eventually depressed. Hormonal changes in the postpartum period can contribute to Postpartum Depression. Relationship distress and a lack of partner support tend to worsen the Postpartum Depression symptoms. Eventually, a vicious cycle can develop. Partners who feel distanced and unsupported have more conflict, which can lead to depression. This increased conflict and distancing can even lead to divorce.
HOW A RELATIONSHIP CAN HELP
Improving the relationship between partners is the best way to prevent Postpartum Depression. A supportive relationship will instill confidence in the new mother, ease her worries, and improve her ability to cope with the stresses of motherhood. If the couple take on the transition into parenthood as a team, they improve their chances of success. Couples who take the team approach tend to have kids who are emotionally better adjusted. Secure relationships protect not only moms, but their children from the negative impacts of stress.
COUNSELING CAN HELP
There is an effective treatment for Postpartum Depression that involves viewing the couple as a team. Research shows that a form of couples counseling called Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT), that involves both the mother and father, is more effective than treatment that involves only the mother. When mothers and fathers were able to discuss the division of chores and childcare together, they reported increased relationship satisfaction and the moms reported less depression.
If you are feeling overwhelmed as a new mom, and don’t know how to ask for help, specialized EFT couples therapy can help. As a couple with a new baby, you deserve support. Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy (EFT) can help you learn how to cope with the demands of having a baby as a team.
If you want to help in building a strong relationship after you had a baby
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