Preparing for fatherhood? A doctor answers some FAQs

It's important to support your partner during pregnancy. An engaging and supportive partner can make the journey of pregnancy and childbirth smooth for a woman.

By Dr Chandrika Anand

Pregnancy and childbirth are wonderful events for a family. There is often a belief that pregnancy and childbirth are exclusively a woman’s concern, which is untrue. For many couples, it is a life-changing journey. Every effort should be made to make that journey pleasant and joyful for the mother. Understanding each other’s roles goes a long way in making the whole experience a memorable one.

Why should partners be involved?

An involved and supportive partner during pregnancy will find the transition to parenthood smooth. Such involvement also has a positive effect on the child and mother. Various international agencies like UN, WHO, and national programmes have stressed the importance of partner involvement in mother and child care. There are efforts to mainstream partner involvement in pregnancy and childbirth.

What role does a partner have during pregnancy?

Pregnancy is associated with significant physiological changes. Early pregnancy can be an emotional time for a woman. The involvement of the partner must start as soon as the woman is pregnant. Listening to the partner and offering support can help a woman adjust to pregnancy-related changes. Partners can be present for some aspects of antenatal care such as ultrasound scans and other screening tests. They can take time off to accompany their partner to clinic appointments. It is reported that men react objectively and cognitively, without allowing themselves to become emotionally involved in decisions involving medical procedures during pregnancy. Partners can help in making informed choices with medical problems.

Simple tasks such as eating healthy meals together, and making sure that she gets plenty of rest to improve wellbeing. Exercise during pregnancy is also important. Such involvement will go a long way in maintaining healthier maternal behaviour and preventing adverse outcomes. Men can choose to attend antenatal education classes, find information about pregnancy, and participate in decision-making. Psychological support is very much valued by women in the form of emotional expressions of caring, empathy, and sympathy.

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Should the partner stop smoking when the wife is pregnant?

Smoking should be strictly avoided. Secondhand smoke also is harmful. Pregnant women who breathe in secondhand smoke have an increased risk of having a low-birth-weight baby. Infants and children who are around secondhand smoke have higher rates of asthma attacks, respiratory infections, ear infections, and sudden infant death syndrome (SIDS) than those who are not. For all of these reasons, smoking should not be allowed at home or in the car.

How can the partner help prepare for labour and delivery?

Partners need to be prepared to ensure labour and delivery go as smoothly as possible. Some centres encourage partners to attend the labour and birth. During that time, a partner can offer comfort and words of support, encouraging her during the pushing stage. Women place a high value on their partner’s presence and support in labour, leading to reduced anxiety, less perceived pain, greater satisfaction with the birth experience, lower rates of postnatal depression, and improved outcomes in the child.

What to expect during the postnatal period?

It is very common for new mothers to feel sad, upset, or anxious after childbirth. Many have mild feelings of sadness called postpartum blues or “baby blues”. When these feelings are more extreme or last longer than a week or two, it may be a sign of a more serious condition known as postpartum depression. It is extremely important to listen to her and support her during this time. The partner should assist in getting her professional help if the need arises. Studies have established the incidence of postnatal depression is reduced among women who had partner support throughout the pregnancy.

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How can the partner assist in newborn care at home?

It requires patience, resilience and skill to take care of an infant. For some, it can be very demanding. Helping with infant care would greatly support mothers in the postnatal period. It can also help mothers to breastfeed their babies effectively. A partner should help with changing nappies, playing with the baby, and helping when the baby cries. Partners should learn to look after the baby when the mother is out/at work. Early involvement of fathers with their children is associated with improved cognitive and socio-emotional development of children. With the provision of paternity leave available to many, they should make the best use of it by supporting the nursing mother.

If the couple received continuous professional support, the men are more likely to take an active role, feeling empowered rather than helpless, leading to increased satisfaction and greater involvement with early childcare. The partner should help in household work and share financial responsibilities.

How to deal with fear and anxiety?

Pregnancy can also cause a lot of anxiety and worries for some. Psychological and emotional support can help in coping well with some of the antenatal problems. Partner relationship problems, lack of support can result in increased levels of maternal stress hormones, which can adversely affect the foetus in utero.

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What are the challenges for a new father?

Partners may be particularly feeling shy to visit gynaecologists but they must be encouraged to be present for some aspects of antenatal care. Some of the men might find it difficult to take time off from work. Some men are likely to express fears of seeing their partner in pain, of not coping, fainting, panicking, failing to respond appropriately, and of being excluded from decision-making and being useless, especially if this was the first time. It is important to look at feasibility and acceptability instead of following what is practised in western countries with regard to partner involvement. We have to address sensibilities and cultural issues in the local context. Partners can express their concerns at the time of consultation with the obstetrician during the antenatal visit.

What is your message for expectant fathers?

Women are no longer confined to the home and work as hard as men in all fields. That is a positive sign of progress. The family system has also shifted from joint to nuclear type in most cases. For couples in a nuclear family, the transition to parenthood comes with its share of joy and responsibilities. It is absolutely necessary that couples show commitment to handle new challenges. An engaging and supportive partner can make the journey of pregnancy and childbirth smooth for a woman and contributes to better maternal and child outcomes.

(The writer is Consultant Obstetrics & Gynecology, Fortis Hospitals, Nagarbhavi.)

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