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Partnerships under strain

Relationships are often strained by parenthood, no matter what they were like before. Part of the problem is that you have so much less time to spend with each other than you did before the baby arrived and it’s so much harder to get out together and enjoy the things you used to do.

  • Your partner may feel left out.
  • You may feel resentful at what you see as lack of support.

The really hard time, when children take up all your energy, doesn’t last for ever. Try to make time for each other when you can and do little things to make each other feel cared for and included.

Time to listen

Don’t expect your partner, however close you were before the baby was born, to read your mind. Things are changing in both your lives and you have to talk about it. Your partner will not know what you want unless you say what it is and will not understand why you’re resentful or angry unless you explain what’s bothering you.

  • Ask a friend or relation to babysit so that you can have time together – even if it’s just for a walk together in the park.

  • Share the housework to make more time just to be together.
  • Share the babycare too.
  • Talk about how you should bring up your children. You may find that you don’t agree about basic matters such as discipline and attitudes. Try to work out a way of not always disagreeing in front of your children.


Babies and small children don’t make for an easy sex life. Often you’re tired, maybe too strained, and opportunities are limited. This hardly matters if both you and your partner are content. But if sex is a problem in any way at all, it’s important to look at what you can do. Unhappy sex, or just lack of it, can cause a lot of frustration and worry and can really strain relationships.

Immediately after the baby is born many women feel sore as well as tired. They may also be worried about the state of their body or about getting pregnant again.

Men can face problems too. Tiredness apart, a father’s sexual feelings will probably be much the same as before his baby’s birth.

But many men worry about what’s right for their partner, are unsure what to do, and feel worried and frustrated.

  • If penetration hurts, say so. It’s not pleasant to have sex if it causes you pain and if you pretend everything is all right when it isn’t you may well start seeing sex as a chore rather than a pleasure, which won’t help either of you. You can still give each other pleasure without penetration.
  • Be careful the first few times. Explore a bit with your own fingers first to reassure yourself that it won’t hurt and use plenty of extra lubrication such as lubricating jelly: hormonal changes after childbirth may mean that you don’t lubricate as much as usual.
  • Make time to relax together. There’s little point trying to make love when your minds are on anything but each other.
  • Sort out contraception. It’s possible to become pregnant again soon after the birth of a baby, even if you’re breastfeeding, and even if you haven’t started your period again. So, if you don’t want to conceive again quickly, you need to use some kind of contraception from the start. Contraception is usually discussed before you leave hospital after your child’s birth, and at the postnatal check-up. But you can go at any time, before or after a check- up, to your GP or family planning clinic, or talk with your health visitor.
  • If your baby sleeps in the same room as you, you may have to move either yourselves or your baby before you can relax enough to have sex.
  • Don’t rush. Take time.
  • If you’re still experiencing pain two months or so after the birth, talk to your doctor or family planning clinic about it. Treatment is available for a painful episiotomy scar. Ask to see an obstetric physiotherapist.

Getting help

If this is your first baby you may be feeling very lonely and left out of your old life. Your partner can’t supply everything that you used to get from work and friends. You need other people in your life too for support, friendship, and a shoulder to cry on.

If you feel your relationship is in danger of breaking down, get help. RELATE (National Marriage Guidance) has local branches where you can talk to someone in confidence, either with your partner or alone.

Counselling is offered on all sorts of relationship difficulties: you don’t have to be married to contact marriage guidance. To find your local branch, look under RELATEor Marriage Guidance in your phone book.

Domestic violence

If you need to speak to someone or to get help, information or advice, you could ring one of the following numbers. All are 24-hour helplines.

Northern Ireland Women’s Aid Federation
028 9033 1818

Women’s Aid Federation of England
0345 023468

0990 995443 

Rape Crisis
020 7837 1600

One in three women experience domestic violence at some point in their lives. This may take the form of physical, sexual, emotional or psychological abuse. Thirty per cent of this abuse starts in pregnancy and existing abuse may worsen during pregnancy or after birth. Domestic violence should not be tolerated. It risks your health and that of your baby before and after birth.

You can speak in confidence to your GP, midwife, health visitor or social worker. If you wish, they can help you take steps to stop the abuse or seek refuge. You may prefer to contact one of the organisations listed under domestic violence at the back of this book, again in confidence.

We are indebted to Health Promotion England for their help in compiling this section.