Parenting Classes Improve New Mothers’ Relationship Satisfaction

Becoming a parent changes a person’s life. Couples who experience the joy of having a child together also experience the drastic shifts their relationship undergoes from couplehood to parenthood. The sleepless nights, the additional financial burden, and the physical toll of caring for a child can cause significant distress. The spontaneity that was enjoyed before children must be carefully crafted. All of these changes can upset a loving relationship. Research has shown that programs designed to help partners make the transition from couplehood to parenthood can have a positive impact. But few studies have examined how these types of classes help men versus women, and if their effectiveness is dependent upon the teacher.

To explore these questions, Jemima F. Petch of Relationships Australia Queensland in Eight Miles Plains, Australia, recently conducted a study that compared two types of relationship education programs in new parents. Petch assigned 125 expectant couples to the Couple CARE for Parents (CCP) program, a class designed to enhance parenting and relationship skills. Another 125 couples expecting their first child were assigned to a traditional mother-focused skills class called Becoming a Parent (BAP). The couples were assessed after they completed the program, and again 4, 16, and 28 months after they gave birth. Petch evaluated the parents through observations and self-reports to gauge their levels of stress and their overall relationship satisfaction.

Petch found that the participants in the CCP program had higher levels of relationship satisfaction and fewer conflicts than those in the BAP program, however the differences were moderate. Specifically, the results showed that CCP was most effective at reducing stress in high-risk women. In those with relatively positive relationships prior to childbirth, CCP had little effect. With respect to parenting skills, both interventions seemed to have similar results. Petch also found that the majority of couples in the study had declines in relationship satisfaction after they welcomed their child. She also discovered another interesting result. Petch said, “CCP had no detectable effect on relationship adjustment for low-risk couples, but reduced rates of relationship distress by half in high-risk couples.” The other noticeable effect revealed in her study was that the outcome was directly influenced by the teacher. The participants who enrolled in the program taught by highly trained nurse midwives saw much smaller gains than those taught by psychologists. This suggests that although the midwives were trained in the specifics of the class, the experience and education that psychologists possess may provide them with the additional skills and resources necessary to achieve sustainable results.

Petch, J. F., Halford, W. K., Creedy, D. K., Gamble, J. (2012). A randomized controlled trial of a couple relationship and coparenting program (Couple CARE for Parents) for high- and low-risk new parents. Journal of Consulting and Clinical Psychology. Advance online publication. doi:  10.1037/a0028781

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Kenny l

    Kenny l

    July 7th, 2012 at 4:07 AM

    Those classes that we had to take thru the hospital when my girlfriend was pregnant, well there we jusy a bunch of teenage kids in there having to take the same class so they could get their medicaid. They didn’t want to be there and we couldn’t really get that much from the class either because it even felt like the instructor was just going through the motions too.

    But the class that we took after the baby came, and we were in there with other couples who wanted to be there and learn like we did, that class was so much more helpful. Maybe some of the nerves and anxiety about the baby coming were gone by then and all of us could feally focus. But it was uch more geared to answer all of our questions and made a difference for us as new parents.

  • Agnes


    July 7th, 2012 at 8:15 AM

    I disagree that most couples have less relationship satisfaction after the birth of their child. My husband and I have a much better relationship together now then we even did before and I strongly feel that the birth of our child has brought us together in ways that we never knew was possible before. Having a child together is something that cannot be experienced until you actually do it, and then once you do it is hard to imagine life before that child. I think that the couples who have a hard time after the child is born are the ones who had some underlying issues beforehand and just did not do much to address them, and then when they have a baby this is the excuse that they give for things going wrong.

  • tiff


    July 8th, 2012 at 8:29 AM

    No matter whether a new mom is in a relationship with the dad of the baby, parenting classes certainly won’t hurt.

    I wasn’t lucky enough to be married to the father of my son and we did not stay together until I had the baby and really have very little contact with each other now, but I nonetheless took some parenting classes after having Eli and that helped me so much.

    I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know about being a good mom until I took those classes, but especially since I didn’t have a partner to rely on for support, this was a wonderful chance for me to make some new friends and to learn more about what it means to be a good parent.

  • Taylor P

    Taylor P

    July 9th, 2012 at 4:23 AM

    Why would I go to a class like this taught by a midwife?
    A midwife delivers babies, and is not trained to offer this kind of education. I know they’re smart and all but maybe we should all just stick with our own areas that we are the strongest in instead of always trying to be more, and more in a way that is not helpful to these new moms and dads?
    A psychologist will have a better grasp of what is going to help hold couples together after the birth of a child.

  • dr kim

    dr kim

    July 9th, 2012 at 11:23 AM

    It is so important after a couple has a baby to find ways to spend time with each other that does not have to revolve around feeding or changing. I think that these classes after the child is born is a wonderful way for couples to reconnect while talking about their child but also about how this new life has changed them. I think that it is a chance for them to not only learn from each other but to also have the chance to learn from what other couples are experiencing as well. If the class is taught by someone who is engaging and thoughtful and knowledgeable about the subject, and who has a lot to add to the class, then it could be taught by just about anyone. I think that the more important and primary objective here is just to give some additional support to these couples and to allow them to see that this may change their relationships in some ways, but that it can also enhance it.

  • Greta clark

    Greta clark

    July 10th, 2012 at 4:28 AM

    These classes answer questions, give validation when you are doing things right, and overall provide you an increased sense of confidence that you can simultaneously be a good parent and a good partner.

  • christy


    July 10th, 2012 at 11:33 PM

    newer programs designed with better research are bound to have better rates of success.always a great plan to go in for such a program especially for first time parents.seen my sisters benefit from these kind of programs too.

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