After having a baby, it may be a seemingly simple thing that sends you into a quiet stew of resentment toward your partner. Maybe they offered a sunny, “Have a nice day!” before heading out the door to work. Maybe they innocently asked, “Are you OK?” as you quietly folded laundry. Maybe it’s an intrusive memory of taking your first steps after giving birth, your body throbbing in pain as you struggled to believe you might ever feel “normal” again. Any or none of these things could place you in the center of an emotional sandstorm so disorienting, you couldn’t imagine coming through the other side.
Relationship problems after having a baby can be common. Mathematically speaking, there are more relevant topics about which new parents can argue. But what happens if you begin to feel neglected by your partner? Turns out, that can happen, too. “Life with a newborn can be a time of immense transition and transformation for both parents, as they figure out their new roles and identities,” says advanced birth doula and postpartum educator Adriana Lozada. “If there hasn't been some level of preparation as to what those roles entail — so that you are both on the same page, if you will —then the person who gave birth can certainly experience feelings of neglect if they are taking on most of the baby care… while at the same time recovering from being pregnant and giving birth.”
It’s not unexpected to feel overwhelmed while caring for a new baby. Moments of fear, worry, and exhaustion are all but guaranteed. And if you’re one part of a couple, your emotional, mental and physical states can all potentially impact the partnership. Silently harboring negative feelings may only make relationship problems after having a baby worse. So while the emotions one might feel after childbirth are complex, their motivations and causes varied, communication and understanding between partners is critical to moving forward together.
What Causes All These Feelings?
“It's normal to experience a wide range of emotions after any major life transition, especially giving birth,” says psychotherapist Amy Morin, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind. Hormones can play a big part in prompting emotional waves, shared The American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG). Estrogen and progesterone, once high during pregnancy, take a dive post-birth, as might thyroid hormones.
A traumatic pregnancy or delivery may make it harder to move forward. Processing events — and discussing them with your partner, trusted friend, or therapist — may help address the pain and promote healing.
Consider also that the realities of bringing home a new little human, completely dependent upon others for survival, can weigh heavily. Some people have families and larger support networks that offer buoys like childcare (which can provide time for restorative sleep), paid leave or time-off, and say-anything-anytime text chains for emotional conversations. Others do not. That lack of support can contribute to feelings of worry and apprehension after delivering a baby.
Why Do I Feel Neglected By My Partner Right Now?
In the days or weeks after delivery, “some women may experience resentment, along with stress and isolation, as they adjust to motherhood,” says Osborne. “One recent study in Australia found that over a third of women reported relationship dissatisfaction in the year after giving birth. While this study was done in healthy women, we also know that such feelings are increased in women suffering from postpartum depression.”
If someone is diagnosed with postpartum depression after childbirth, the condition could have an impact on feelings of neglect or resentment. “Feelings of low self-worth, inadequacy, and rejection sensitivity are common in women with postpartum depression, and such feelings can lead to feelings of neglect or resentment, as well as to perceived lack of partner support,” says Osborne. “In addition, in our society, there is often an uneven distribution of at-home work between partners. That can leave a mother feeling tired, overwhelmed, and stressed out — so this actual lack of partner support can combine with a perceived lack that is brought about by the emotions of depression, and that can heighten feelings of resentment,” Osborne says.
But again, you don’t have to necessarily be experiencing postpartum depression to experience moments of resentment, or feelings of neglect. Outlets like the New York Times have recently reported on the negative hit relationships can take after welcoming a child into a twosome, and potential explanations, such as a perceived unequal distribution of domestic and emotional labor. Journalist Jancee Dunn wrote a book How Not To Hate Your Husband After Kids, which offers advice (and knowing laughs, when you’re ready).
How Can I Reconnect With My Partner After Having A Baby?
First, try not to minimize your feelings, or your experience. Addressing what you’re feeling, and seeking help, is healthy for you and everyone around you.
“It's important for new moms to have healthy coping skills that allow them to reduce the intensity and duration of their distress,” says Morin. “Coping skills could include things like reading a book, calling a friend, going for a walk, or meditating.”
And while it might be tempting to pack away your feelings and do your best to ignore them, don’t. Morin tells Romper, “Suppressing emotions only makes them grow stronger. A mom who tries to pretend she’s fine, or one who tries to ignore her pain, may begin feeling worse.” So engage your partner in conversations that may seem difficult at first. “Having clear expectations, the desire to work as a team, and open communication are key elements to a balanced postpartum,” Lozada says.
How Do I Communicate Feeling Neglected To My Partner?
A good first step, says Lozada, can be “having a calm conversation at a time where neither person is triggered.” When explaining your feelings, try using “I” statements, which can help your partner feel less combative, or on the defensive. For example, “Saying, ‘I'm having a hard time keeping up with the laundry,’ will be much more effective than, ‘You never do anything around here,’” Morin says. “Keep in mind that your partner can't argue with your emotions. When you say things like, ‘I'm tired,’ or ‘I'm frustrated,’ your partner can't deny it.” At times, laying blame may be counterproductive.
“Again, this is hard work and requires much vulnerability at a time where everyone is probably tired and overwhelmed,” Lozada tells Romper. “For these reasons, it can be helpful to bring in a mediator, counselor, or mental health specialist.”
In addition to sharing your feelings, you can share what you might need in order to move forward. “Get specific by saying something like, ‘It would be really helpful if you could do the dishes after dinner,’ or ‘It would reduce my stress a lot if I could get some sleep tonight and I would appreciate it if you could get up with the baby,’” Morin says. If you start to see changes and an effort being made by your partner to meet your needs, think about sharing your gratitude. “This can reinforce the behaviors you want to see more often,” Morin says.
Reconnecting After Having A Baby: Will Things Get Better?
Faced with the daily realities of a new normal and emotions running high, all relationships are bound to experience some stress “Sometimes the partner may feel like they don't know what they can do,” says Lozada. Encouraging a partner to offer a simple “How can I best support you?” once a day can make a great difference, Lozada says. And being truthful with one another is the basis of this effective, constructive communication. “Trying to define what would be most impactful requires an honest conversation between the couple, but for me personally, the ultimate action would be to take responsibility of some of the mental load of caring for a newborn and running the household,” Lozada says. “By this I mean taking charge, for example, of calling to coordinate the pediatrician's appointment, putting it on the calendar, and being the one in charge of making sure the diaper bag is well stocked, baby is dressed, everyone has snacks and water, and getting them there on time. Bonus points if that allows for their partner to take a shower without having to worry about the baby.”
Whatever changes you and your partner decide to make, keep the lines of communication wide open. “Keep checking in to talk about how you're doing,” Morin says. “Describe your feelings and the steps you're taking to cope with them. Be open about telling your partner what you need on an ongoing basis.” And try to support each other — mentally, emotionally, and practically — every step of the way.
Do I Just Have The Baby Blues Or Postpartum Depression?
Not all feelings of sadness equal depression, and not all moments of anxiety are symptomatic of a longer-term disorder. Often referred to as “Baby Blues,” The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shares that down spells of worry and tiredness are common in the days after delivery. “Nearly all women experience the ‘baby blues,’” says Lauren Osborne, M.D., assistant director, Johns Hopkins Women's Mood Disorders Center. “This is a period of heightened emotional lability in the days and weeks after giving birth; women may feel especially sensitive or cry more easily. It’s likely related to the extreme decrease in hormones that women undergo at childbirth, when estrogen and progesterone drop dramatically in the first 24 hours.”
But if the “Baby Blues” last longer “than two weeks, or is associated with severe symptoms, such as thoughts of suicide, it is more than the baby blues and requires evaluation by a mental health professional,” Osborne tells Romper.
Postpartum depression can be described as a condition that includes longer and more severe periods of sadness, anxiety, hopelessness, detachment, anger, or even insomnia and loss of appetite, shared the CDC. It can make it tough to go through the actions of your day. “The diagnostic manual for psychiatry defines postpartum depression as an episode of depression that begins during pregnancy or within the first four weeks postpartum, but that doesn’t really capture the unique properties of the illness,” Osborne tells Romper. “Some women, particularly those with preexisting depression, may be depressed in pregnancy and then either stay depressed or become depressed again postpartum. Other women experience symptoms for the first time after giving birth, with the most vulnerable period being the first four to six weeks; that may be, biologically, a different phenomenon from that of women who stay depressed throughout.”
It’s key to know the symptoms of depression and maintain an open dialogue with your healthcare providers. “Symptoms of depression include sad mood, guilt, social withdrawal, loss of interest, poor energy and concentration, appetite changes, sleep difficulties, and sometimes suicidal thoughts,” Osborne says. “In the postpartum period, anxiety is also very common, either on its own or as part of a postpartum depression.”
While the condition can present in the first few weeks after delivery, or up to a year after, as shared by the ACOG, new information from the November 2020 issue of Pediatrics, Official Journal Of The American Academy Of Pediatrics, shows that symptoms can present within three years post-delivery. Staying connected with your doctors past your post-birth visits is smart practice. And it’s important to remember: “A mom doesn't necessarily have to be diagnosed with postpartum depression to experience sadness, anger, or other intense feelings,” says Morin.
What To Do If You Think You Might Be Experiencing Postpartum Depression
The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimated that, nationally, one out of eight women may experience the fluctuant condition. What makes the condition sometimes tough to pin down is the fact that, as stated the CDC, it might look or feel different within every person. It’s been reported that perhaps 50% of depressed pregnant people went without treatment. And, if left untreated, some experts believe it can take longer to fully heal.
If you’re struggling, seek help. If you experienced postpartum depression with one child, you might experience it again with the pregnancy of another; in this case, it’s great to think ahead and discuss with your healthcare providers support systems to help potentially come through the condition again.
If you or someone you know is experiencing depression or anxiety during pregnancy, or in the postpartum period, contact the Postpartum Health Alliance warmline at (888) 724-7240, or Postpartum Support International at (800) 944-4773. If you are thinking of harming yourself or your baby, get help right away by calling the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255, or dialing 911. For more resources, you can visit Postpartum Support International.
Adriana Lozada, AdvCD (DONA), CSC, CEMC, CBP, advanced birth doula, postpartum educator and child sleep consultant
Amy Morin, psychotherapist, LCSW, editor-in-chief of Verywell Mind
Lauren Osborne, M.D., assistant director, Johns Hopkins Women's Mood Disorders Center