When a Newborn Brings New Problems

Jacob Wilhelm

Welcoming a newborn into the family can offer an inundation of questions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. This new life is the catalyst for you to become new parents, and being new parents will undoubtedly change your relationship with your spouse.

In this article, Jacob Wilhelm, MA, PLPC will briefly discuss some of the changes that may occur within the individual parent and within the relationship, and some tips on how to stay unified in your marriage to help focus on the marriage’s needs.

In This Article

  1. Newborn, New Parents, New Problems
  2. Changes in a New Mother
  3. Changes in a New Father
  4. How to Survive & Thrive as New Parents

About the Author

This article is based on scientific evidence and clinical experience, written by a licensed professional and fact-checked by experts.

Jacob Wilhelm, MA, PLPC is a professional counselor specializing in Marriage Counseling, Family Therapy, and Anxiety & Depression in Men. You can schedule an appointment with Jacob for online counseling or in-person at our Columbia, Missouri counseling center.

Newborn, New Parents, New Problems.

Will I be a good dad?

Will I be a good mom?

How will this change our relationship?

Are we ready?

How will this change her?

Will we struggle in our marriage?

How will this change him?

Will I ever have freedom again?

Do these questions sound familiar? Welcoming a newborn into the family can bring an inundation of questions, thoughts, feelings, and reactions. This new life is the catalyst to becoming new parents, which will undoubtedly change your relationship with your spouse.

Changes are everywhere! For instance, hormones change, sleeping patterns change, responsibilities change, and now you are taking care of a baby that is 100% dependent on you…without a doubt, that’s a lot to take in and a lot of pressure.

However, change is not bad, and many of the changes are simply not in your control. So, what do you do? How will you navigate through these changes? How will you maintain the priority of your marriage?

This article will briefly discuss some of the changes that may occur within each individual parent, and within the relationship overall. It will also look at some tips on how to stay unified and focused on the needs within your marriage.

Physiological changes will help to shape our experience and perspective of the situation. Understanding what is going on inside our bodies is important in order to give light to what might be influencing and creating our experience.  Furthermore, here are just a couple of the physiological changes that may occur in both a woman and a man after the child is born.

Changes in a New Mother

A woman’s body goes through a wealth of changes both during and after pregnancy; while the body once kept the baby alive in the womb, now it transitions into helping keep the baby alive outside of the womb.

Oxytocin, colloquially called the “love hormone” or “cuddle hormone,” is a key building block to bonding with the baby. Oxytocin can be increased by activities like staring at your baby’s eyes, hugging, or cuddling. Because of this, some hospitals will place the newborn directly on the mother’s skin to accomplish just that!

Some moms don’t experience that bonding right away, and that is not their fault! Bonding can happen over time. However, what can inhibit the initial bonding experience are two little variations in the oxytocin gene, and one variation in the oxytocin receptor gene. In these situations, there is a slight variation in those three genes. Research shows that the probable reason for the change is due to experiencing adversity growing up.

Furthermore, this variation in the oxytocin sites can modify the experience and regulation of stress. Prolonged feelings of stress and loneliness are two symptoms of the“baby blues” and postpartum depression. “Baby blues” occurs in about 80% of new mothers, and out of that 80%, postpartum depression occurs in 10-20%. “Baby blues” can be described as experiencing a few days to two weeks of mild ups and downs, weepiness, and stress. Similarly, postpartum depression displays similar symptoms. However, the symptoms are increased in duration and severity.

Here are some postpartum depression symptoms to look out for:
  • Depressed mood or severe mood swings
  • Excessive crying
  • Difficulty bonding with baby
  • Withdrawing from family and friends
  • Unusual eating habits
  • Unusual sleeping habits
  • Overwhelming fatigue
  • Reduced interest and pleasure in activities
  • Intense irritability and anger
  • Hopelessness
  • Worthlessness, shame, guilt or inadequacy
  • Anxiety
  • Thoughts of harming yourself or baby
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Those experiencing postpartum depression deserve care and attention. Furthermore, if you see your spouse experiencing postpartum depression, keep the following things in mind.

  • Research shows that consistent spousal support can improve the wife’s mood
  • Practice empathy by listening
  • Look for areas where you can offer help and support
  • Practice patience
  • Spend time together
  • Reinforce your love and care for her
  • Encourage self-care
  • Practice self-care
  • Possibly encourage professional help

 

Changes in a New Father

Did you know that dads can experience postpartum depression? Paternal postpartum depression is believed to be caused by changing hormone levels of testosterone, estrogen, cortisol, vasopressin, and prolactin. In rare cases, some men share symptoms of pregnancy. For instance, they experience things like nausea, vomiting, and fatigue and this phenomenon is called “couvade syndrome”.

There is some evidence that levels of testosterone can decrease in men after their wife gives birth. This drop in testosterone is believed to assist the father  in bonding with the newborn, showing greater sensitivity and care, showing a greater commitment to their wife, and decreasing aggression. In addition, oxytocin, as previously mentioned, helps bridge the gap for bonding as well.

To help protect against paternal postpartum depression, look for ways to bond with the baby and your wife. For example, hold the baby skin to skin, and simply stare into the eyes of the newborn.

These Changes are Normal

Who knew there was so much going on? These experiences may scare you, and may cause some friction in the marriage. Above all, know that with all of these changes, it is okay, it is normal, and there is help!

So far, we have been looking at the changes that can happen in the body, discussed some ways to help your spouse go through the transition into motherhood/fatherhood, and some things to be mindful of while navigating through these changes. Not only is it important to recognize what your spouse is experiencing; it is also important to stick together to help the marriage survive and thrive.

How to Survive & Thrive as New Parents

 In his book, Your Marriage Can Survive a Newborn, Focus on the Family’s Glenn Williams mentions some areas to focus on to help your marriage stay alive while caring for your newborn:
1. Don’t compare yourself to other parents. Each newborn and marriage is different; work to understand the specific needs within the family.
2. See this as a valuable time for learning. Think of this time as an adventure, and with any new adventure mutual encouragement helps the journey go well!
3. Confront unrealistic expectations. Discuss with your spouse the expectations you both have, are the expectations realistic? Grab advice from people you trust (Proverbs 15:22), modify the list of expectations.
4. Recognize the power of words (Proverbs 15:4; Proverbs 15:28). Stress is inevitable, consider ways how you can take care of yourself. Encourage your spouse often with genuine words, and consider ways how you can alleviate your spouse’s stress.
5. Help each other get the sleep and space you need. Give yourself breaks, and maybe consider creating a schedule.
6. Recharge your spouse. Think of ways to refresh your spouse (Proverbs 11:25).
7. Be honest. Trying to keep up appearances is like trying to take a “selfie’ with a mirage, over time it fades away.
8. Don’t stop having fun! When you feel comfortable with getting a babysitter, consider going on dates, or picking up a hobby to refresh yourself.
9. Embrace the future. Dream together!
10. Keep the spark of romance lit. Intimacy is more than sex; it’s about the connection between the two of you.

In conclusion, having a newborn changes things. The addition to the family can deepen your relationship, or it can make you feel more distant. However, experiencing distance during this time is not uncommon, and is not something you have to experience alone. Connecting with a counselor can offer direction and support for you to survive and thrive.

References

  1. Williams, G. and Williams, N. (2005). Your marriage can survive a newborn. Broadman and Holman Publishing. Nashville, TN
  2. Kim, P. and Swain, J. (2007). Sad dads. Paternal postpartum depression. Psychiatry. Feb. Vol.
    4. Issue 2. Pages 35-47. PMCID:PMC2922346
  3. Matthey, S. et al. (2003). Diagnosing postpartum depression in mothers and fathers: whatever happened to anxiety? Journal of affective disorders. 74. Pages 139-147. doi:10.1016/S0165- 0327(02)0012-5
  4. Kleiman, K. (2000). The postpartum husband: practical solutions for living with postpartum depression. Xlibris Corporation.
  5. Craig, A.D. (2009). How do you feel–now? The anterior insula and human awareness. Nature reviews neuroscience. Vol.10. Issue 1. Pages 59-70
  6. Shoshana, B. (2016). Do I have the baby blues or postpartum depression? Retrieved from:
  7. Saxbe, D. Et al. (2017). High paternal testosterone may protect against postpartum depressive symptoms in fathers, but confer risk to mothers and children. Hormones and behavior. Vol. 95. Pages 103-113. Doi. 10.1016/j.yhbeh.2017.07.014
  8. Gordon, I. Et al. (2010). Oxytocin and the development of parenting in humans. Biological Psychiatry. Volume 68. Issue 4. Pages. 377-382. Doi: 10.1016/j.biopsych.2010.02.005
  9. Bell. A. Et al (2015). Interaction between oxytocin receptor dna methylation and genotype is associated with risk of postpartum depression in women without depression in pregnancy. Frontiers of genetics. Doi:10.3389/fgene.2015.00243
  10. Jones, W. Et al (2013). Genetic variation in oxytocin rs2740210 and early adversity associated with postpartum depression and breastfeeding duration. Genes, brain, and behavior. Vol. 12. Pages 681-694. Doi: 10.111/gbb.12069
  11. Cox, E.Q. Et al. (2015). Oxytocin and hpa stress axis reactivity in postpartum women. Psychoneuroendocrinology. Vol. 55. Pages 164-170. Doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2015.02.009

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