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Will Baby Strengthen or Strain Your Marriage?

How relationships change with the arrival of a new baby.

Talk to Each Other

Once you carve out couple time, Kovacs suggests using some of it for honest conversation about the changes you're experiencing. He points out that parenthood is a major adjustment for both partners.

"The woman has to deal with all the physiological changes," he tells WebMD. "The man has to adjust to feeling a loss of companionship. He now has to share the woman who has been by his side. ... His emotional and practical needs come in second or third, so he gets demoted."

Lori Freed, a pharmaceutical sales representative with a 2-month-old son, says she has noticed the strain on her marriage. "It's like my son has become the new man in my life," she tells WebMD. "I'm always either holding him or feeding him or changing him."

Kovacs says many first-time dads are caught off guard by this change in family dynamics.

"There's an emotional or psychological transition that men have to go through that is particularly hard. Until their wives are pregnant, they have a friend, companion, and young lover by their side. Then this person becomes a mother. Now they have to make love to and cherish a mother instead of a young lover."

If couples feel a sense of loss during this transition, how should they cope?

"Laugh about it and talk about it instead of hiding it," Kovacs says. "The most important thing is to talk. The quality of a relationship can only be sustained if the couple shares fears and worries as well as positive feelings."

Sex After Baby

How soon couples resume having sex depends on the mother's physical and emotional readiness. In the early months, men usually have their normal sex drive, but women may not, especially if they're breastfeeding.

"While breastfeeding, estrogen levels are very low and that may affect libido," says Jennifer Niebyl, MD, head of obstetrics and gynecology at the University of Iowa College of Medicine. She adds that low estrogen levels can cause vaginal dryness, a problem that may be relieved with lubrication.

But she says the biggest threat to new parents' sex lives is usually exhaustion. "You'd rather go to sleep than have sex. So it's a combination of fatigue and changes in hormone levels."

Niebyl tells WebMD the problem occurs more often in first-time moms because the adjustment to parenthood can be so stressful. "After having a second or third child, women are sometimes more relaxed," and that has a positive effect on libido.

If stress is a factor, Niebyl recommends having a babysitter or family member whisk the baby away for an evening. "It's hard to relax when you know the baby is about to cry in the next room."

Weekend Getaway

Even better than an evening off is a whole weekend to reconnect. Try to plan a getaway before your baby is old enough to experience separation anxiety, which usually develops around 8 months to 1 year.

If you're breastfeeding, you can still manage a short trip -- just freeze a stash of breast milk to leave with your baby's caregiver and bring along a pump to prevent engorgement.

According to Kovacs, "It won't hurt an infant younger than 6 months to be left with a different caretaker for a day or two so you can get away. If the parents want to take a quick second honeymoon, that is the time to do it."

Edited by Michael W. Smith, MD on August 01, 2005

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