She says she’s pregnant, but you don’t see the changes right away. Within a few weeks her nausea and fatigue are followed by what you might perceive as ‘weight gain’, but really it’s her pregnancy. And about the baby? Well, most fathers say that the baby does not feel “real” to them until the baby is born.
Couples often find that pregnancy creates stress in their relationship. She is thinking of the baby and feeling pregnant every moment of her day. After the ‘announcement’ phase of the pregnancy, life for you may turn back to ‘work as usual’, and this difference in experience can make communication awkward. The reality is that you each have a different experience of the pregnancy.
Both you and your partner may experience emotional changes in pregnancy. You may be anxious about your partner’s health during pregnancy. You may have tension in your relationship now that she is pregnant. Some couples or individuals seek counselling or support to deal with these changes.
It is very normal for a woman to have mood swings during pregnancy. Some of these feelings are caused by normal physical and hormonal changes during pregnancy. Other feelings are a result of changes that pregnancy and impending parenthood bring to your life and your relationships.
If your partner has long periods of sadness and crying, poor sleep or inability to eat, she may have depression. Depression can occur during pregnancy just as at any other time of life. Talk to your partner and health care provider if you think this is the case. Along with rest and social support, some women need medications to help them with severe depression in pregnancy. Her physician will know of the medications that are safe for use in pregnancy.
The 24 hour telephone support at 811 (Health Link) can connect you with a nurse to ask questions and get help if you are wondering about depression in your partner or yourself.
Some men experience pregnancy symptoms such as nausea, weight gain and changing emotions. This may be quite a surprise to you, considering that it’s your partner who is pregnant!
Take heart. If you are one of the one in nine Dads experiencing ‘couvade syndrome’, you are not alone. Research has found that you’re likely very in tune with your partner’s pregnancy and ready to take on the role of father not just in pregnancy, but when your baby arrives.
Being involved in the pregnancy
By staying connected to your partner and the pregnancy, the baby will seem more real to you. This will also help ease your own adjustment to fatherhood, and help others see you as a parent. Here are some ways you can take an active role:
- Feeling the baby move
- Hearing the baby’s heartbeat
- Seeing the baby on ultrasound
- Telling friends and family about the pregnancy
- Giving the baby a nickname
- Reading or singing to your baby before birth (babies can hear as early as week 20 of the pregnancy!)
- Attending doctor’s appointments with your partner and asking your own questions
- Attending prenatal classes
- Reading books and websites about pregnancy and fathering
- Thinking about the kind of father you want to be
- Talking with your partner about the kind of father you want to be
- Talking with other men about fatherhood
- Getting involved in daily household activiities.
Every healthy relationship, whether it is with your partner, your baby, your own parents, your friends or your neighbours begins with respect. This applies to a healthy sexual relationship also. Both parents-to-be go through changes during pregnancy that may have an effect on their emotions, sexuality, and overall relationship. In the resource Healthy Parents Healthy Children (pp: 58 – 64) there is some great information along with suggestions and tips for healthy sexuality, etc.
For information about relationships, sexuality, support, etc.. check out the Healthy Parents Healthy Children website for more information.
Preparing for Parenthood
Parenthood starts in pregnancy, so it’s never too early to get involved. Participating as much as possible with the pregnancy helps because:
- Your transition to fatherhood will be easier
- You will be less worried during her pregnancy
- It is easier for your pregnant partner to reduce risky behaviours (like smoking, drinking or using recreational drugs), follow through on regular prenatal care and attend prenatal classes
- Your partner is likely to have an easier labour and birth experience
Pregnant women have identified a father’s “involvement” as how their partner provides practical, emotional and informational support. Pregnant women appreciate it when their partner:
- Understands her changing emotional needs and mood swings
- Shows interest in the baby’s development
- Talks about the baby and how you will adapt your lives
- Goes with her to prenatal visits and classes
- Helps with household tasks
- Reassures her that she will be a good mother
- Provides for the family financially
- Reassures her of their love by accepting her changing body
- Understands that her desire for sexual relations may vary
Men often take on the ‘strong’ role to avoid upsetting their partner during her pregnancy. This means that you may not have given yourself permission to share negative feelings you may be experiencing.
Fathers have shared that they felt:
- Ambivalent about the baby
- That the baby is not ‘real’ in the way that it is to their pregnant partner
- Worried and confused by changes in relationship with partner
- Sad, mourning loss of the couple they were, or changes in future life
- Distant from their partner as she focuses on the pregnancy
Make time to talk about these issues with your partner, friends, family or a counselor or physician. Taking time to talk about what you are feeling can help you be ready for fatherhood.
Family finances can also be a source of emotional stress during pregnancy. Talk with your partner and make a plan about how you will manage. You may be moving from two incomes to one, or making decisions about who is in the best position to provide financially for the family. Find out about parental benefits you may be eligible for at work or through Service Canada.