This post is the result of the discovery that a male friend of mine was extremely delusional about sex after childbirth. He was horrified to learn of the six-week rule of thumb suggested by many health care professionals, and mystified at the potential reasons to wait: tears or surgical cuts healing, cervix closing, postpartum bleeding, never mind the seismic shift life takes when a newborn enters it. I decided to turn to some wise mothers online to take an unscientific poll about other ways their partners were blindsided by the addition of a baby into their lives, and the strains that it made on their relationships. So this week’s post is What to Expect When She’s Expecting, Dude Edition. I’ve included online comments with only small edits for grammar and clarity, and to change small details to better grant anonymity.
Six weeks sex-free is a rough estimate, and wouldn’t account for more serious injuries that can arise from childbirth. Many women report experiencing pain during sex for many months, even a year or more after childbirth. Besides that, the hormone fluctuations, lifestyle change, and constant physical contact that comes with caring for a newborn can all affect a woman’s sex drive long after the delivery date. While some women are eager to resume or even improve their pre-baby sex life, it is also normal for sex to take a back seat for some time. The variations of timelines is something expecting fathers should be aware of. In fact, it’s possible a new dad can find his own sex drive altered with the arrival of a baby.
“Not just the normal 6 weeks after, but sometimes things can happen before. My second pregnancy I knew something was off when I was 2 months along. Found out I had placenta previa, which meant pelvic rest for the entire pregnancy plus healing from 3rd degree tears afterward. In my case having sex could have caused us to lose the baby or even my life if the placenta had torn.”
“I could not have sex with my ex for several months, I was sore and exhausted. Honestly he didn’t help at all, still doesn’t, and I could not find myself making love like we once did sadly but true, kinda put him on back burner. And him me.. It does happen to soooo many actually, just being honest.”
Physical Stuff and Body Changes:
My husband and I were having dinner with a young, newly expecting couple when my husband was asked to give some imparting wisdom on childbirth to the young dad-to-be. His wise words: You might see things you can’t unsee. Lovely. But true. As much as childbirth gets idealized, romanticized, or sanitized depending on your birthing prepwork, it gets messy. Yes, it’s natural, but that doesn’t mean it can get a little more real than you’re prepared for. Further, contrary to what Hollywood might have you believe, things don’t just spring right back into place. The uterus takes time to contract back to size. Skin stays stretched. Nursing breasts are full and heavy and not in a Playboy way. This new body can be a total shock to new moms. It might be to new dads too, but try as hard as you can not to let it show.
“I would read blogs out loud to my husband before we had our first baby just to prepare us and he was shocked and grossed out with a lot of it. Everything from nipple blisters and cracking, bowel movements after birth, tearing, placenta, boob pads so I wouldn’t leak through shirts and running to the store to get me pads. He was so amazing through everything with both our kids but I think it was a good thing we had a little heads up about it all.”
Hormonal fluctuations affect women from pregnancy through the postpartum stages, and there’s no way to know how intense they will be. For me, pregnancy hormones weren’t terribly noticeable, but my postpartum hormones were off the chain! DUDE! More seriously, postpartum depression and postpartum anxiety affect approximately 15 and 17 percent of new moms respectively. Many women have never experienced an emotional disorder and are completely taken off guard. Further, this is a time of life that society often considers blissful or joyful, so a woman may feel especially guilty or confused by her experience, and family members may not be sympathetic or understanding.
“If they think PMS is bad, they are in for a rude awakening those first few weeks after birth. The hormones are no joke! I was irritable, mean, sad, etc. Luckily my husband is patient and kind to me and knows that that’s what it is. But men need to be patient, caring, and gentle.”
“Postpartum hormones!!!! My poor husband who is the sweetest man on earth I couldn’t stand him for weeks!! Plus I had rage, crying at the drop of a hat!! Pregnancy hormones were nothing compared to pp hormones!! And NO ONE knows how they will be, I never ecpected to be such a raging bitch!!”
“My postpartum hormones were also a million times more extreme than pregnancy hormones. I remember raging that the pacifier wasn’t put back in the place I wanted it. We had like five back-up ones, but OMG IF WE WEREN’T IN THE HABIT OF PUTTING THEM IN THE RIGHT PLACE EVERYONE WAS GOING TO DIIIIIIIIIIEEEEEEEE!!!!
“Omg yes!!!! I didn’t understand why my husband had to start breathing so loudly all of a sudden!!! Lmao!”
While breastfeeding has health and lifestyle benefits, it’s often not as easy or painless as it appears or as some breastfeeding advocates lead us to believe. Just like other aspects of parenting, we all have unique experiences and obstacles related to feeding our babies. I wrote another post about my own early struggles. The first weeks of breastfeeding can be accompanied by pain, stress, exhaustion, and can be a lot more involved or time-consuming than new parents expect. It helps to have a partner who is understanding and helpful. He knows that all those hours of her kicking up her feet are not necessarily always relaxing or easy, and he can pitch in around the house and with the baby in other ways. A nice, tall glass of water is always a good idea too!
“Breastfeeding and having no help overnight is exhausting. If mom is EBF, dad has to help out more in other ways and bond with baby in non-feeding activities.”
“Husbands should be prepared to do half the work in raising a child. Something that was never discussed with either of us much was breastfeeding. It was extremely overwhelming. I think husbands should learn the ins and outs of nursing, even pumping, to offer any support so it doesn’t feel like the mom is doing all the work in the beginning. Even something as simple as washing the bottles and pump before the next session is so significant.”
This can be BRUTAL. Little tip: if you have a freak of nature baby who sleeps through the night at any point within the first year, keep it to yourself. You could jinx it with all kinds of grief in the toddler years.
“Lack of sleep, seriously in my experience/opinion a lot of fights are over lack of sleep. Men are naturally heavy sleepers and it’s always a joke they sleep through anything including baby crying and it’s really hard on relationships.”“Just asked my husband what the hardest thing is and he says the lack of sleep. Although I do everything at night, he still gets disrupted I guess lol”
“Sleep deprivation is the worst torture any human can endure.”
Test of a Relationship:
No matter what your relationship is like, adding a third human to the mix adds a new dynamic. Marriage or longterm commitment is a constant evolution, and it helps to keep this perspective when there are new kinks to work out or new priorities forcing old ones to temporarily fall by the wayside. Lack of sleep, new financial concerns, and division of duties can cause profound stress on new parents. According to the Gottman Institute, 67% of new parents experience conflict, disappointment and hurt feelings.
“Having a baby together is the biggest TEST of a relationship in my opinion. Baby comes first from breastfeeding to sleepless nights etc, etc. And the attention is no longer solely focused on each other. It can and has caused a lot of stress and fighting for a lot of new parents.”
“Lol. My husband said he was jealous of the baby for my time.”
“Some days you still want them to disappear bc in that moment being a single parent seems far easier and more enjoyable than dealing with your partner and their attitude/behavior/overall presence!!!! Then it gets easier again!! It’s a roller coaster, but roller coasters are fun and worth it!”
“Not going to sugar coat it. Wasn’t even the lack of help, it was the lack of connection between us. But it did get better. Enough better that we’re having a second. I’m hopeful that going in with fewer rosy illusions this time will make the difficult part shorter.”
Test of Friendships:
Whether it’s one-sided or mutual, many new parents find their friendships changing as their family grows. Lifestyle changes may make it hard to find time or activities that suit you both, or you may find it harder to relate to each other. As your identity may shift or grow becoming a parent, you may find yourself cherishing and leaning on some relationships and needing to shed or distance others, for all kinds of reasons.
“I think we were surprised how many of our friends fell away from wanting to hang out. Or they stopped inviting us out because we were no longer living the same lifestyle. We pretty much had to make an entirely new set of friends. That was hard, no books really prepare you for that.”
This one deserves its own post. This one is everything. LIFE CHANGES. PERIOD.
“Whether it’s daily sex whenever or going out whenever, or other trappings of youth, the dad has got to be ready to sacrifice some things along with the mom. He has to be able to take the long view and realize that life is going to be very different, and that it will take a while for them to both get used to the new normal and to figure out a balance of responsibilities, work, play, romance, family time that works for everyone. I was left holding the bag while my husband lived as before. Some of his famous last words as a married man were ones accusing me of being “jealous of his lifestyle”. There has to be a sense of WE, and both have to be willing to grow and change as creating a family demands. Through pregnancy and birth, the demands of nursing and caring for young children, the father has a very important job not only in participating but in making sure his wife feels supported and loved during this very demanding and vulnerable time.”
The Need To Spot Each Other To Be Individuals:
Parenthood adds a huge element to your identity, but for most parents, they need a break from it from time to time. They need to remember who they were before becoming parents. From exercise to spending grown-up time with friends, we all have our own “me” stuff that is valuable in helping us recharge and nurture ourselves. And though work may feel like a break, it does not count as a break. Unless you have a sitter available whenever you need it, you need to spot each other breaks. For many couples, if breaks are not effectively equal, resentment can start to set in.
“My husband is an incredibly loving father to our 9 month old daughter but has had a hard time understanding that a daddy’s duties extend beyond love. He definitely has the antiquated attitude that moms do all the work and dads get to maintain their pre-baby lifestyle. When I brought up once that I needed more help with the baby he quipped that he was the breadwinner (I was working but he made more money) and that entitled him to do what he wanted in his free time. As baby has gotten older and more able to play and interact he has become more involved. It is still a work in progress though. He has never woken up early with her and let me sleep in past 7am, I still change 90% of the diapers, cook all the food, do all the cleaning and have yet to have a “girls night out” while he goes out with the boys at least once a week. I told him I needed more “me” time and a break from baby every now and then and he said work was my break and questioned my intentions for needing alone time! Daddies need to understand that being a mom isn’t a job you clock out from. It is 24/7 and sometimes mommies need a break! Going to work isn’t a break! We need time to think and do things without a baby pulling at us and time to remember that we are more than mommies. Daddies need to remember that small gestures go a long way. Offering to take baby on a walk when they are newborns so mommy can shower and rest or taking baby to the park while mommy works out or visits with a friend can do a lot of good for the relationship. Being a mom can at times feel lonely and isolating and we need to know our partner is there to help us and take on the adventure of parenting with us, not just pop in when they feel like it and leave us holding everything together while they have ultimate freedom. I have found myself at times very resentful of my husband at times which isn’t healthy for a marriage.”
“I’ve had to learn to speak up more and not take on the world, and then resent him for not offering to help on his own. As much as daddies need to help, lots of women (myself included) need to learn how to ask for what we need. Communication is key!”
“Sometimes it would be nice if they would just know. I get tired of always having to ask for what I need him to do. Like if he smells his stinky kid that is his clue to change a diaper. Or if he sees the trash is about overflow I shouldn’t have to ask for him to take it out. Things like that. Obviously he can’t really tell if I need a break and that is something I need to communicate. But I shouldn’t need to communicate to him that if he sees his children have a need, fulfill it. This has caused a lot of arguments for us in the past few years. It’s getting better because I have learned how to talk to my husband before I just blow up on him. But it is a work in progress for sure.”
“I think a lot of men suffer from just complete unawareness! Not an excuse but it helps me to know this and try to communicate with my husband before things boil up and I feel like exploding! I also try to everyday remember all the amazing things my husband does do and how much he loves us. We have started a ritual where everyday we tell each other 2 things that we appreciate about the other one. Kinda corny sounding but it has helped us stay connected and we feel appreciated for our respective contributions to our family. Something that we lost for awhile due to the stresses of life and parenthood!”
“Communication is the key. The first year was the hardest. You have no idea how many times I wanted to leave my husband. Mainly because I “expected” him to wake up and realize his new role and that’s not how it works. Through all the sleep deprivation, hemorrhoids, nipple cracking, vagina warping, post partum, along with cooking and cleaning, it takes a large toll. That’s why women have babies and not men! They wouldn’t last lol.”
“Expect the unexpected! Whether you admit it or not, most people have some preconceived notion of how it’ll be. ‘Oh, we never fight, so we’ll probably be relatively laidback with each other. Or, my mom said I was an easy baby so ours will probably be easy.’ But without fail, every parent will experience challenges at some point. Maybe it will hit you like a ton of bricks such as postpartum depression or a health problem with the baby. Or maybe it will creep up later like a strong-willed toddler. But it won’t always be easy. Embrace the challenges and realize this is a new season of life that is full of ups and downs. It is all a lot more fun when you’re functioning as a team.”