The question: My wife and I just had our first child. I know the baby requires a lot of our attention, but is it normal for me to be jealous of the baby?
The answer: The first few weeks with a new baby can be incredibly demanding, particularly for first-time parents. As such, it is not uncommon to feel a whole host of emotions, including joy, worry, anxiety, anger and jealousy. All of these emotions are further heightened by the inevitable sleep deprivation that accompanies a newborn. No matter how many baby books you read, your world has been turned upside down. This can take a toll on your relationship with your spouse in unexpected ways, including feeling jealous of your baby.
New fathers need to keep in mind that for the first six months of a baby's life, virtually all of your wife's energies (and yours too) will need to be focused on caring for the newborn. There may not be much physical, psychological or emotional energy left at the end of the day for romance and marriage enrichment. One of the best ways for fathers to overcome jealousy is to become more involved in the care of their baby.
Although you may not be able to breastfeed, there are many other ways to contribute and bond with your child including playtime, bath time and diaper changes. Particularly if your wife is at home during the day and you are working, make the evenings your time to care for the baby and share the middle-of-the-night duties as much as possible.
Talk to your wife and let her know how you are feeling and ask her what you can do to both support her and be more involved in baby care. Even if she is breastfeeding you can still snuggle up and watch a TV show together. Order take-out to enjoy while baby is napping. Although this may not be your idea of a five-star romantic getaway, these are golden moments that you will eventually come to cherish. Be reassured that after six months or so, life generally becomes easier as babies start sleeping through the night and adopt a more predictable schedule.
Mothers, be aware that your partner may be feeling left out. This may particularly be an issue if you are breastfeeding and have an infant that wants to feed frequently. Resist the impulse to be the "super mom" who does everything, and make sure that your partner gets a chance to bond with the new baby.
Be aware that both mothers and fathers can suffer from postpartum depression, a serious condition that can include symptoms such as irritability, mood swings and overwhelming sadness. If you think that you or your partner may be suffering from postpartum depression, seek medical attention immediately.
Dr. Michael Dickinson is the head of pediatrics and chief of staff at the Miramichi Regional Hospital in New Brunswick. He's a staunch advocate for children's health in Atlantic Canada through his involvement with the Canadian Paediatric Society.
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