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The father's role in pregnancy: Hey, you're in this together!

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IMAGE: Pregnant Woman »

“I hate him. Doctora! I even hate how he smells!” One of my young patients who was in her second month of pregnancy told me, in near tears, during her pre-natal check-up. The “culprit” was her husband, seated beside her, a young, bespectacled IT specialist, who looked bewildered and hurt.

I had to explain to them that during the first three months of pregnancy the female body has to deal with hormonal changes. With these ups and downs of the hormones one of the woman’s complaints will be nausea and vomiting, triggered by anything, or even nothing. This “morning sickness” could even be “afternoon” or “evening sickness.” Because of these changes the male partner would really have to be very patient, and listen to his partner’s cues.

“But, Doctora, she used to love this perfume on me before, she even said it made her feel sexy!” the husband piped up. I laughed and patiently told him this time just hold the perfume for a while, as it elicited a negative response. I asked him too if he smoked, because not only was the smell notorious for inducing vomiting, second-hand smoke has been indicted as harmful not only to the pregnant woman but also to the baby.

The first three months

For indeed, being pregnant is not only a woman’s job. The male partner is also in it – after all, the days of getting pregnant alone (after a sudden visitation from the wingéd archangel) are long gone, and he is inexorably, intricately involved: biologically, and psychologically. However, he has to know that each trimester (if we divide the nine months into three, there will be three months on each trimester) will bring about challenges that he needs to address.

For the first three months the partner should fortify himself with patience, and lots of it, especially if the pregnancy is the first one. The sweet lady whom he married might become a total stranger. She might suddenly break down in sobs for some seemingly flimsy reason like the thought of “becoming fat,” or being afraid of “not being a good enough mother.” She might ask him to get her French fries in the middle of the night (and not eating them when the food arrives), be irritable and moody, and in short, demanding. Again, these are the hormones ramping up her system. This is the not-so-good news.

The better news is: these cravings and moods usually disappear after the third month. Sleep patterns too, might change, especially with frequent trips to the bathroom to urinate, so be patient, and understanding.

Some males too, undergo the same woes that their pregnant partners feel: easy fatigability, sleepiness, morning sickness. We used to dismiss this by saying they were just sensitive to their wives’ complaints, but now there’s a term for it: the Couvade Syndrome, where the male partner exhibits pregnancy signs too.

Of course, I have seen many patients, even first timers, who simply breezed through their pregnancies as if it were the most ordinary thing in the world: lucky ladies, they! And lucky too, their partners!

Why the food cravings?

Moreover, the food cravings (medically called “pica”) certainly have physiological basis. The hormones (again!) of pregnancy somehow make the saliva taste bitter. To take away this unpleasant taste, pregnant women look for sour food, like green mangoes, or preserved plums (champoy). Sucking on ice chips or hard candy may help. Some of my patients had bizarre picas: one of them often went to the fridge, and using a tablespoon, scraped off and ate the ice from the freezer. Ice from the ice shaver (for halo-halo at home) did not taste quite the same, she said.  

And because being parents is a lifetime endeavor and not only a nine-month exercise, both would-be mother and father will have many fears, doubts, and anxieties. Pregnancy is the best time to talk about these together, perhaps with their health care provider, to discuss parenting styles, financial preparation, and just about anything. These moments will make the couple become closer, and the male partner will certainly feel more involved.  

Bring her to pre-natal check-ups

Joining the mother for her pre-natal check-ups would be a boon, as the father could bring out some questions of his own, making him feel part of the whole process. What a happy occasion it would certainly be, when both parents see the heartbeat of the baby for the first time in the ultrasound monitor.  And later, they could listen to the strong and regular fetal heartbeats through the Doppler in the clinic. I have seen husbands shed tears during these times; emotional moments for the parents, indeed!

Shopping for things the baby needs is a good way to get involved too. Partners are encouraged to join the mothers-to-be in choosing cribs, blankets, strollers, and other baby things, even if shopping is not really that enjoyable for them. All these could be part of the “bonding” moments of the couple, something to be reminisced when the baby has grown.

How about the preparation of the baby’s room? If funds are available and a room is set aside for the baby, it would be a great joy for dads to put on their carpenter’s hat (and overalls) and have fun creating the little one’s play den. Just remember that sawdust and paint fumes are no-nos for pregnant women.

Another milestone best shared with the male partner is the “quickening.” This is the time when the baby first kicks, and occurs at around the 5th month. From then on, as the baby grows bigger, the kicks become stronger, and sometimes even the movement of the extremities, both hands and feet, could be seen. The abdomen can assume the strangest of shapes – writhing, moving, with small hard and sharp protrusions (elbows or knees of the baby). From this time on, the parents can talk aloud and address the baby, or sing and read to it. Their voices, both father and mother, will become familiar to the little one, long before it comes out, and will later be recognized by the infant.

As the pregnancy continues, the baby’s weight increases. The woman’s back muscles will compensate by contracting against this weight to right the torso, and keep the body’s center of gravity to avoid falls. This will cause back pains, described by one of my patients as so severe she felt “as if (her) back was sundered in two.” The male partner can be of help by offering his arm while they take walks so she could keep her balance, or giving her back rubs and applying warm compresses on the low back area.

The final month

During the actual labor, many hospitals allow fathers to join their partners in labor. These are couples who had undergone classes, and who were taught what to expect, and what to do during the long, interminable hours. The father can become her breathing coach, then later as camera- and video-man. Again this is an ideal time for bonding, for working together, and for feeling that this is indeed a task best done as a team, with a partner. Some hospitals even give the fathers the opportunity to cut the baby’s umbilical cord. What an unforgettable experience and participation this is, indeed!

The male partner may not be the one carrying the baby, but upon his shoulders lie the responsibility of both the baby’s, and its mother’s, well-being. So don’t forget to give the fathers-to-be some applause and encouragement, even if many times, they become the reluctant, and shy heroes.

Article Credit: GMA News

Updated 6 Years ago

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