There's a good reason most pregnancy books, magazines and even television programs are targeted at women: They are the ones having the babies. But pregnancy can be a transforming experience for expectant fathers, too. The prospect of becoming a dad can generate strong feelings, including joy, excitement and, sometimes, anxiety.
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Dad-to-be anxiety can take many forms. When it's mild, it may manifest as nighttime worries about the financial challenges of growing your family or worry about your wife's or baby's health. In extreme cases, paternal anxiety can manifest as a condition called couvades syndrome, more commonly known as sympathetic pregnancy. Men who develop couvades syndrome may experience the symptoms of pregnancy--including weight gain, nausea and backaches.
Several factors can cause pregnancy anxiety for men, but a study published in 2007 in "Fathering: A Journal of Theory, Research, and Practice about Men as Fathers" suggests that a man's own childhood plays a significant role. In the study, which examined the effects of pregnancy on 152 couples, men who had very strong or very distant relationships with their own parents were less likely to feel anxious about becoming fathers. Not surprisingly, men who believed their fathers had done a good job parenting felt more confident--and less anxious--about their own parenting abilities.
Men who are anxious before pregnancy may be more prone to depression after their child is born, which can have serious consequences, suggests a study published in 2006 in the "Medical Journal of Australia." Researchers led by Richard J. Fletcher state that postpartum paternal anxiety or depression increases the risk that a child will have behavioral or emotional problems. Paternal anxiety may also increase a new mother's risk for postpartum depression or exacerbate existing depression issues, according to the study.
Armin Brott, author of the McClatchy-Tribune's "Ask Mr.Dad" column and of the book "The Expectant Father," said in a 2007 column for the "Los Angeles Times" that the best thing expectant dads can do to quell their anxiety is to get social support in the form of other expectant or new dads. Research published in 2006 in the "Medical Journal of Australia" recommends expectant dads get as involved as they can in the pregnancy process by attending prenatal classes and doctor visits.
Expectant moms can be self-focused during pregnancy, says Brott, which can make things even more difficult for anxious dads. The mother-to-be is likely to be so caught up in her own experiences that she might not even notice how the dad-to-be is feeling. Your partner might be upset if you bring up your own worries instead of simply supporting her. This doesn't mean you shouldn't turn to your partner for support, but don't be surprised if she can't give you the kind of emotional support you would expect in other situations.