The Before Baby Relationship Checkup: Strengthening Couples’ Bonds Before Parenthood


“The Before Baby Relationship Checkup: Strengthening Couples’ Bonds Before Parenthood” is an article that discusses the importance of addressing the challenges and transitions that couples face when transitioning to parenthood. It highlights the vulnerability that women experience during the perinatal period and the increased risk of mood and anxiety disorders, particularly perinatal depression. The article introduces The Before Baby Relationship Checkup, a brief intervention designed to support couples during pregnancy by easing the transition to parenthood and reducing the risk of perinatal mood disorders. The article also features an interview with Dr. Ellen Darling, a clinical psychologist specializing in couples therapy and perinatal mental health. She shares insights and information about the checkup, including its purpose, components, and the benefits it offers to couples.

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Who is Ellen Darling, PhD?

Dr. Ellen Darling is a clinical psychologist based in Providence, RI, with expertise in couples therapy, young adult mental health, and perinatal mental health. She received her PhD from Clark University, where she trained at the Center for Couples and Family Research. Dr. Darling is dedicated to helping couples navigate various challenges, such as intimacy difficulties, communication issues, infidelity, and parenthood transitions. She practices Integrative Behavioral Couple Therapy (IBCT), an evidence-based approach that aims to identify and address patterns that contribute to disconnection within relationships.

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What Did We Discuss?

In this podcast episode, we had the privilege of chatting with Dr. Ellen Darling about the Before Baby Relationship Checkup. This checkup is a specialized couples intervention designed to support maternal mental health during the perinatal period. We covered a range of topics related to perinatal depression and the importance of early detection and intervention. Some of the key questions discussed include:

  • What is perinatal depression, and why is it often overlooked?
  • What are the risk factors associated with perinatal depression?
  • What are the long-term risks for a woman if perinatal depression remains untreated?
  • How does the quality of a relationship influence maternal mental health?
  • What is the Before Baby Relationship Checkup, and why is it essential for expectant mothers to be aware of it?
  • What does the relationship intervention offered in the checkup entail?
  • How are the results of the checkup addressed, and what steps are taken next to support the couple?
  • What are the benefits of participating in a Before Baby Relationship Checkup?
  • Why is early detection crucial in the context of maternal mental health?
  • What can couples do to strengthen their relationship before entering parenthood?
  • How can spouses support mothers experiencing perinatal or postpartum depression?

What is perinatal depression, and why don’t we hear much about it?

Perinatal depression refers to depressive symptoms experienced by women during pregnancy or after childbirth. It is a significant medical complication of the postpartum period, yet it often doesn’t receive as much attention as it deserves. Perinatal depression affects approximately 15% to 20% of women, making it the most common maternal mental health disorder.

There are several reasons why perinatal depression is not widely discussed. Firstly, societal stigma surrounding mental health issues, including depression, still persists, which makes it difficult for women to openly discuss their symptoms. Additionally, there is a lack of awareness and education among healthcare professionals and the general public about the prevalence and impact of perinatal depression. This lack of understanding contributes to a hesitancy to address the issue openly and provide the necessary support and resources.

What are some of the risk factors for perinatal depression?

Several factors can increase a woman’s vulnerability to perinatal depression. These risk factors include:

  1. History of mental health issues: Women with a personal or family history of depression, anxiety, or other mental health disorders are at a higher risk.
  2. Hormonal changes: The significant hormonal fluctuations that occur during pregnancy and the postpartum period can contribute to mood disturbances.
  3. Stressful life events: Experiencing significant life stressors, such as financial difficulties, relationship problems, or a loss, can increase the likelihood of developing perinatal depression.
  4. Lack of social support: Adequate social support from partners, family members, friends, or healthcare professionals is crucial in preventing and managing perinatal depression.
  5. Previous traumatic birth experience: Women who have had a traumatic birthing experience in the past may be more prone to perinatal depression in subsequent pregnancies.

Identifying these risk factors and providing appropriate support and intervention can help mitigate the impact of perinatal depression on women’s mental health.

If untreated, what are the risks beyond pregnancy for a woman with perinatal depression?

If perinatal depression goes untreated, it can have severe consequences for women’s mental health and overall well-being beyond the pregnancy period. Some of the risks include:

  1. Continued depression: Perinatal depression can persist or worsen if left untreated, leading to chronic depressive symptoms and impaired functioning.
  2. Increased risk of recurrences: Women who have experienced perinatal depression are more likely to develop depression in future pregnancies or experience depression at other stages of life.
  3. Impact on mother-child bonding: Untreated perinatal depression can interfere with the development of a healthy bond between the mother and her child, potentially affecting the child’s emotional and cognitive development.
  4. Interference with parenting capabilities: The symptoms of perinatal depression, such as fatigue, irritability, and difficulty concentrating, can impact a mother’s ability to provide consistent care and respond to her infant’s needs.
  5. Relationship strain: Untreated perinatal depression can strain the couple’s relationship, leading to increased conflict, communication difficulties, and emotional disconnection.

Therefore, early detection and intervention are crucial to minimize the long-term risks and provide the necessary support for women experiencing perinatal depression.

How does a relationship play a part in maternal mental health?

The quality of a woman’s relationship with her partner has a significant impact on her mental health during pregnancy and the postpartum period. A supportive and loving relationship can serve as a protective factor against perinatal depression and contribute to overall well-being. On the other hand, relationship difficulties and strain can increase the risk of developing perinatal depression.

During pregnancy and the transition to parenthood, couples often face numerous challenges and adjustments. Sleep deprivation, changes in roles and responsibilities, financial stress, and decreased romantic or intimate time together can all place strain on the relationship.

Having a strong and healthy relationship can provide emotional support, reduce stress levels, and promote open communication. Conversely, relationship conflict, lack of support, and unresolved issues can contribute to feelings of isolation, anxiety, and depression for the expectant or new mother.

Recognizing the crucial role of the relationship in maternal mental health, interventions such as the Before Baby Relationship Checkup focus on strengthening the couple’s bond, improving communication, and providing tools to navigate the unique challenges that arise during this period.

Tell us about the Before Baby Relationship Checkup. What is it, and why do pregnant women need to know about it?

The Before Baby Relationship Checkup is a specialized intervention designed to support expectant couples in preparing for the transition to parenthood and promoting maternal mental health. It involves a comprehensive assessment of the couple’s relationship dynamics, identifying potential areas of concern or risk factors for distress.

Pregnant women and their partners are encouraged to participate in the checkup to gain insight into their relationship strengths and areas that may need attention. By proactively addressing potential issues before the baby arrives, couples can enhance their communication skills, strengthen their connection, and develop strategies for managing the stressors of parenthood.

The checkup is vital for pregnant women because it provides an opportunity to address relationship concerns early on, before they escalate or contribute to perinatal depression. It equips couples with the tools and resources necessary to navigate the challenges of the perinatal period, fostering a healthier and more satisfying relationship.

What does the relationship intervention consist of?

The relationship intervention offered in the Before Baby Relationship Checkup is tailored to address the unique needs and concerns of expectant couples. It typically consists of the following components:

  1. Assessment: A comprehensive assessment is conducted to evaluate various aspects of the couple’s relationship, including communication patterns, conflict resolution strategies, emotional connection, and overall satisfaction. This assessment helps identify areas of strength and potential areas that require attention.
  2. Feedback session: Following the assessment, couples engage in a feedback session with the clinician or therapist. During this session, the results of the assessment are discussed, focusing on both the strengths and areas of concern identified. This feedback session serves as a starting point for developing an individualized intervention plan.
  3. Intervention plan: Based on the feedback session, a personalized intervention plan is developed. This plan may include evidence-based techniques and strategies to improve communication, strengthen the emotional bond, promote conflict resolution skills, and enhance overall relationship satisfaction.
  4. Skill-building sessions: Couples attend skill-building sessions where they learn practical tools and techniques to apply in their relationship. These sessions may address effective communication, active listening, conflict management, and coping with stress and change.
  5. Ongoing support: Throughout the perinatal period, couples receive ongoing support from the clinician or therapist. This may involve regular check-ins, additional sessions as needed, and access to resources and referrals for additional support.

The relationship intervention is tailored to the unique needs and preferences of each couple, ensuring that they receive the support and guidance necessary to navigate the challenges of becoming parents.

How are the results of the checkup addressed, and what are the next steps?

Once the results of the Before Baby Relationship Checkup are obtained, they are addressed during a feedback session with the clinician or therapist. This feedback session serves as an opportunity to discuss the strengths and areas of concern identified in the assessment and develop an intervention plan.

During the feedback session, couples are provided with a comprehensive overview of their relationship dynamics, communication patterns, and areas that may require attention. This discussion may highlight specific skill-building areas, potential risk factors for perinatal depression, and strategies to foster a healthier relationship.

The next steps following the feedback session involve implementing the intervention plan. Couples engage in skill-building sessions, where they learn and practice techniques to improve their relationship. They may receive ongoing support, check-ins, and further sessions as needed to address specific concerns or challenges.

The ultimate goal of addressing the results of the checkup is to equip the couple with the necessary tools, resources, and support to enhance their relationship and promote maternal mental health throughout the perinatal period.

Ellen’s Resources

For more information on Dr. Ellen Darling and her work in couples therapy, young adult mental health, and perinatal mental health, please visit her website:

Dr. Darling’s website provides valuable resources, including information about her therapeutic approach, contact details, and additional support options for couples seeking guidance.

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