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Expectant Dads: Why You Worry, How to Get Help

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During the first three months of my wife's pregnancy with our son, her weight stayed the same. I put on 10 pounds. Other "pregnant" fathers complain of morning sickness, food cravings, and backaches——things they expect in their wives, not in themselves.

Physical Symptoms

Looking for Guidance

Emotional Symptoms

How to Help Yourself

Signs You May Be Overwhelmed

Physical Symptoms

Researchers say that up to 60 percent of men experience some sort of physical symptoms when their wives are pregnant. (Dr. Jerrold Lee Shapiro, an expert on the subject of expectant dads, admits that he gained 30 pounds during each of his wife's two pregnancies.) These changes are most likely the result of men's desire to participate——to be more a part of the pregnancy, which will, after all, transform their life. They're preparing for their new role as a father. 

Another kind of participation occurs in cultures that give fathers equal time for their own "labor" and "delivery." When time comes for Mom to give birth, Dad will lie in bed too—in labor and in apparent agony! Occasionally, he'll get more time to recover than she will. That's really taking sympathy pains about as far as they can go.

Looking for Guidance

Although dads in most Western cultures are expected to actively participate in labor and delivery, they receive little guidance about their involvement. What should they do? How should they feel during the nine months? The roles played by their own fathers often don't give them clear direction. And sometimes good-natured kidding from friends and coworkers will increase, not lessen, their anxieties. 

The tension may swell when men go with their wives to prenatal exams or other "women only" activities. Expectant dads feel awkward and wonder: Where should I stand? What should I look at? How should I feel about this other person touching and intimately examining my wife? Can I ask questions without appearing stupid?

Emotional Symptoms

Many men also experience emotional changes during pregnancy——especially moodiness and depression. These symptoms may be linked to their worries about losing their wife's love and affection once the baby is born. 

Just as expectant moms fix up their homes to prepare for the baby's arrival, men often show predictable concerns and behaviors during pregnancy. One common concern is protecting the family. Some fathers take this literally by installing new locks or repairing anything broken around the house; others focus on whether they're earning enough money and may take on extra work.

How to Help Yourself

Though soon-to-be dads sometimes feel clueless about how to act during pregnancy, solutions can be simple. Talking things out helps you face your worries and may help resolve them, too. There's another benefit to talking: While you are being more open about your concerns, you're also exploring what kind of dad you'd like to become. 

The following to-do list can get you started:

1. Talk to your wife about how you feel about becoming a father.

2. Accompany your wife to as many of her prenatal checkups as you can. Remember that these are a time for you as well as your wife to ask questions. 

3. Attend childbirth education classes together.

4. Share your fears with your spouse and, if possible, with other men. This can help prevent feelings of isolation, which can damage a relationship.

5. Talk to your baby before it is born. Not only is this fun, but it will help make the baby more real to you.

Signs You May Be Overwhelmed

There may be times when you need a little extra help, as many expectant fathers do. One sign is taking on all sorts of extra projects. If this happens, it could be due to issues that haven't been resolved. Again, talk to your wife, your friends, other men. You can also turn to a mental health professional for some short-term help. 

Underlying issues an expectant dad may need some extra help with include:

    • An unwillingness to accept the pregnancy. Are you very concerned about the number of changes you will soon be facing? Do you see most of those changes as negative?
    • Strong concerns that something will be wrong——with the child or the pregnancy. While it's natural to be a little worried, are you convinced that there will be a problem? Are you uncomfortable discussing this with your obstetrician or family physician?
    • Mourning the loss of something in your own life. It might be your youth, your freedom, or something else entirely. What does becoming a father mean to how you perceive yourself?

Don't be surprised if you find yourself going through emotional or physical changes during pregnancy——pregnancy hits most men that way. For instance, my own experience made me much more aware of family finances. But it did take me several years to drop those extra pounds.



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