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Psychological Changes in the Father-to-be

Published October 18, 2007        by Nicole

As a father-to-be, you may also undergo a psychological process during a pregnancy. Although there is no physiologic basis for this, it is nevertheless very real and to some degree, predictable. A father-to-be, particularly in the third trimester, may feel a need for a creative outlet. You may want to paint or decorate the nursery, make a cradle, help mom buy baby clothes, or begin a garden as a way of becoming involved in the forthcoming birth.

Men, as well as women, bring to a pregnancy their own emotional “baggage” as well as the echoes of their childhood fantasies about the mechanics and significance of pregnancy, birth and parenthood. How the father-to-be perceived his own parents can directly affect his feelings about becoming a parent himself. For some men, being able to father a child may also create a heightened self-esteem regarding their masculinity. Conversely if there were previous losses or a history of infertility, the father-to-be may see the creation of life as a fragile phenomenon.

Impending fatherhood also seems to bring with it all the memories and emotions of a man’s relationship with his father. In some ways becoming a father means giving up the idea of being a son. It also means reconciling the experience that one had as a child with being a father. It seems that these feelings are stronger during the pregnancy than the months following the birth of the child.

During most men’s childhoods there was little emphasis on learning fathering functions, except perhaps the provider role. Television and cartoons from the 1950’s and early 1960’s portrayed fathers as helpless and inadequate in handling a young child. Women were seen as having the primary duty of raising their children.

For fathers-to-be there is no internal reality-no physical changes to feel. You must rely on your partner’s reports about her feelings in experiencing the pregnancy. Perhaps not until fetal movements are obvious will you perceive the fetus as a growing child, and often this does not occur until the seventh month of gestation. Participating in prenatal visits may be a way to allow greater awareness of the reality of pregnancy. If an ultrasound study is indicated, viewing the ultrasound scans can be an invaluable experience because on the screen you will have visual conformation of the existence of your baby.

Pregnancy can elicit feelings even in a man who has had previous children. It provides an opportunity to think about the kind of father he has already been to the children that he has, as well as the increasing responsibility he will be facing. If the father-to-be is proud of his prior fathering experience, and if the new child is wanted, he may feel extremely happy about the new pregnancy.

It is still rare for men to admit openly that they have concerns, fears, and perhaps ambivalent feelings about their partners’ pregnancies, yet, those feelings are nearly universal. Studies indicate that more than one out of ten men will have psychogenic [having an emotional or psychological origin] physical symptoms in relation to a pregnancy. These symptoms tend to appear by the beginning of the second trimester of pregnancy. There may also be increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

The relationship between you and your partner may also undergo profound changes from your perspective. Previously, you may have had a sense of predictability in your partner’s reactions, but her reactions may change significantly during the pregnancy. You may also have significant feelings about the changes in her body proportions, as well as her shifting sexuality. While you are wrestling with the feelings of added responsibilities of fatherhood, you may have to simultaneously “mother” your wife. This is particularly true in our culture, where the extended family is often not ready to provide support.

The father-to-be’s task during the first trimester include both acceptance of the pregnancy and provision of some emotional support for his wife. Many men are ecstatic about being perspective fathers, but some may be frightened by this as well. The mother-to-be has a role of shaping her partner’s attitude and initial reaction, but mutual support, open lines of communication, and reassurance are the responsibilities of both partners.

By the end of the first trimester the obligations of becoming a father may weigh on you. You may reevaluate your job, salary and savings. It is important for you and your partner to begin talking to each other about your fantasies, anxieties, and expectations at this time.

During the second trimester, you will be able to feel the baby moving. Concerns about sexual activity any begin during this time, and obtaining reassurance from the doctor can be very important. On the other hand, a man may not be sexually attracted to a woman’s body that seems to be so different from the woman he married. It is critical that you and your partner talk about your sex life, if you are having problems adjusting to the pregnancy.

During the third trimester, many couples experience a renewal of their relationship in a romantic bond that may have been missing during the previous few months. However, the woman’s increasing size may present an obstacle for comfortable sexual activity. A physician or childbirth educator may be able to offer some suggestions for coping with this temporary problem.

If you participate in a prepared childbirth class, you may have some heightened concerns about your ability to coach during labor. Again, talking with men who have previously had this experience can be valuable. Often, childbirth education classes provide this opportunity.

Just as it was assumed in the 1950’s that no father could adequately participate in the labor and delivery experience. It is now assumed that most fathers should. If you, however, feel that you will not be able to participate in the labor and delivery, this should be discussed and resolved prior to the event. Further, you should not feel that your decision is in any way wrong.