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What to expect when your wife's expecting

Women are not the only ones who go through a lot of changes during pregnancy. Personal trainer and dad Andrew Cate looks at the challenges an expectant father might face.
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What to expect when your wife's expecting
What can fathers expect from pregnancy?
The process of becoming a father for the first time is a dynamic period of change in a man's life. Altering the family structure and function will more than likely lead to changes within the family members themselves. 

According to research published in the Journal of Perinatal and Neonatal Nursing, some expectant fathers experience physical and behavioural symptoms similar to their pregnant spouses. 

This phenomenon is referred to as the couvade syndrome, and includes:
  • Physical symptoms - Nausea, weight gain, abdominal bloating, heartburn and abdominal pain.
  • Behavioural symptoms - Changes in sleep habits, alterations in appetite, tension, anxiety and reduced libido.

These changes are more likely to occur in the first trimester and just before birth, while they may diminish during the second trimester. And additional research has shown that pregnancy is a more stressful period for most men compared to after the baby is born.

4 phases of change identified for dads-to-be
Research published in the Australian Family Physician outlined four phases that expectant fathers are likely to experience, which may help to better understand their difficulties or problems.

1. Developing an attachment to your unborn child
In the early stages of pregnancy, both parents may feel a sense of unreality about the baby bump. However, around 16–20 week mark, a dramatic increase in attachment usually occurs. This coincides with the baby kicking and moving more, or ultrasound examinations.

2. Adjusting to the third family member
For first time expectant fathers, you'll have to get used to sharing your partner’s emotional involvement with a third party. This can lead to resentment in some men, especially if it is associated with a reduction in sexual relations.

3. Seeing yourself as a father
During pregnancy, it's helpful for first time fathers to work through and develop a sense of acceptance of the anticipated lifestyle changes of fatherhood. There are negatives, and some men may feel a sense of loss of their younger, needy selves. But there are also many positives. 

4. Discovering the type of father you'll be
Expectant fathers may begin to discuss and examine an acceptable style of fathering. However, men are much less likely than women to want to emulate their own same sex parent in terms of their relationship with their future child. 

Practical tips for expectant fathers
These findings may help new fathers to gain some realistic expectations of the journey ahead. 

Some practical tips that may also help the dads-to-be:

  • Take care of your health - New dads-to-be can experience weight gain, anxiety and changes in sleep habits. Prioritise a healthy lifestyle to minimise the impact of these potential changes, including a nutrient rich diet and regular exercise. Taking care of your health after the baby is born is also vital.
  • Talk to other fathers - Talk to other friends and family members who are fathers. They may be able to offer valuable insights into what you can expect.
  • Learn from the past - Often the only parenting role model you have is your own mum and dad. Why not identify two things about their parenting style you'd like to adopt, and two things you'd like to avoid.
  • Expect less sex - According to research, a decline in sexual activity occurs with the majority of couples. If you know what to expect, and communicate with your partner, this may be less of an issue.
References available on request

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