Prenatal Care and the Pregnant Father

While the primary focus during pregnancy is often on changes the mother experiences, as the father, you also go through your own set of emotional changes. These, too, deserve attention and support.

Emotional Changes

Impending fatherhood undoubtedly brings a rush of feelings and fears. Initially, there may be a period of shock and disbelief when you hear the news. Whether the pregnancy was planned or unexpected, the magnitude of the news may cause you to examine your feelings about everything-from your relationship with your partner, to your feelings about becoming a father, and to your relationship with your own father. You may worry about being a good father, the health of the baby, or the financial implications of a baby. Becoming a father can also be a source of great pride. You may start to imagine the type of things you and your child will do together-learning and growing, going to birthday parties, taking family trips, and enjoying holidays.

Your partner may look to you to validate her feelings, and your reaction to the pregnancy is critical in helping her feel comfortable with her feelings. Remember, this is new to her, too. If your partner senses that you are not comfortable with the pregnancy, this may make her question the validity of your relationship and your feelings toward the baby. This is a good time to talk openly about the joys and fears you both may be experiencing. Talk about how you see the pregnancy affecting your life together.

During the second month of the pregnancy, you may notice your partner starting to connect emotionally with the baby. She can feel the changes going on within her body, many of which you cannot see or share. It is common to feel detached from the baby at this point. The concept of a baby entering your life and all that entails has probably begun to sink in, but feeling connected to the baby may take more time for you than for your partner. Once your partner begins to show and grow larger, you may be able to visualize more of the changes happening with the baby. The first time you hear the baby's heartbeat or feel the first kick, you may begin to sense that it is a real person and feel more connected to the baby.

During the first trimester, it is common to have a realistic fear of miscarriage. Many people choose to delay telling friends and family of the impending birth until after the first trimester, in case of a miscarriage. You may feel safer telling family first, and, once the first trimester is over, spreading the news to friends and colleagues. If your partner has a history of miscarriage, or there are risk factors that predispose her to miscarriages, discuss your concerns with the doctor during the first prenatal appointment.

Your Relationship

As the months pass, many decisions will need to be made-from where to give birth, to what to name your child, and to what type of birthing classes to attend. Many aspects of your life with your partner will change as well, including your sexual pattern. This is not the time to stick with a rigid set of rules. Be flexible and willing to compromise and change how you do things without warning.

Sexual Response

Most women have less interest in sex during the first trimester, followed by an increase in the second trimester, followed by another decline during the final trimester. If you think about what your partner is experiencing during each trimester, this makes sense. During the first trimester, fatigue and morning sickness are usually common. The second trimester is a time to really enjoy being pregnant, since the problems that accompany the hormonal changes in the first trimester have usually subsided. The third trimester may include periods of physical discomfort that accompany carrying a growing baby. A woman's sexual desire during pregnancy can be influenced by a number of other factors:

  • her attitude toward herself;
  • her attitude toward sex;
  • information learned about sex during pregnancy; and
  • the attitude of her partner.

Your attitude may play one of the largest roles in how your partner feels about sex during the pregnancy. Some men feel a tremendous sense of arousal with the physical changes (enlarged breasts and abdomen) that take place during pregnancy, while others feel a decrease in desire with these same physical changes. The ability to be spontaneous without having to worry about contraception or a schedule to increase the chance of conception may increase the sexual interest in both you and your partner during the first trimester, especially if you have been attempting to get pregnant for an extended period of time. Discuss your feelings about sexual desire with your partner to avoid misunderstandings.

What You Can Do for Her

During the first few months of pregnancy, most women are fatigued, and roughly 70to 80% develop morning sickness, which can occur at any time of the day. You can help make her feel better.

Morning sickness may include nausea, vomiting, queasiness, shortness of breath, a sense of suffocation, or dry heaving/retching. Talk to your partner about what she is feeling, so you know what not to do to compound the problem. Following are a number of suggestions that may help:

  • encourage her to drink plenty of fluids;
  • be sensitive to the smells that make her queasy;
  • encourage her to eat small meals throughout the day;
  • help her maintain a high-protein, high-carbohydrate diet; and
  • remind her to take prenatal vitamins.

Rest is essential for a healthy pregnancy. There are tremendous cellular and hormonal changes in a woman's body that must be supported, along with daily demands. Help her to cut back on the normal routines around the house to increase the amount of rest time she gets each day.

A healthy pregnancy also requires good nutrition. Educate yourself, and eat healthy, if you don't already. A good place to start is with the Food Pyramid. This will show you what should be included in a balanced diet. Your partner will have slightly different nutritional requirements as she progresses through her pregnancy.

Help your partner get proper exercise. If she did not exercise before becoming pregnant, she can still start now in ways that will benefit both her and the baby. If your partner already has a regular exercise program, she may be able to continue with that program, with some adjustments as the pregnancy progresses. Your partner should always check with her doctor before starting any new exercise program. Exercising together is a good opportunity to spend time together talking about how you both are feeling about the baby and the changes occurring in your life. Some activities you can do together include:

  • walking;
  • swimming;
  • noncompetitive tennis;
  • golf; and
  • yoga.

Remember, encouragement can make a huge difference in how your partner feels about the physical and emotional changes taking place within her. Plus, a little exercise for you may not be a bad thing.

Talking to Your Doctor

At the first prenatal appointment (usually in the second month), ask your doctor for information on a proper diet, as well as recommendations for good ways to exercise.

Prenatal Appointments

A good way to connect with your baby from the beginning is to get involved with every aspect of the pregnancy. Going to the prenatal appointments with your partner will not only help you connect with your baby, but your partner will likely appreciate your interest and attentiveness. The excitement of hearing the baby's heartbeat for the first time or seeing the baby move on the monitor during an ultrasound are experiences that will stay with you forever.

Prenatal care is one of the most important ways to help ensure a healthy baby. At each appointment, discuss any physical, emotional, or practical concerns that have arisen since your last appointment.