Expectant Fathers' Symptoms and Challenges
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.
Researchers say that up to 60 percent of men experience some sort of physical symptoms when their partners 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.
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 partners 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 partner? Can I ask questions without appearing stupid?
It's not just pregnant women who experience pregnancy mood swings. Many men also experience emotional changes during pregnancy, such as moodiness and depression. These symptoms may be linked to their worries about losing their partner's love and affection once the baby is born.
Just as expectant moms may tend to 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 partner about how you feel about becoming a father.
2. Accompany your partner to as many of her prenatal checkups as you can. Remember that these are a time for you as well as for her 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 he is born. Not only is this fun, but it will help make the baby more real to you.
6. Get involved in things like choosing the baby name together with your partner. It may seem daunting at first, but tools like the Pampers Baby Name Generator can help.
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 partner, 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 many 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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