Understanding Psychological Changes during Pregnancy

Psychological Changes in the Father

It is normal for expectant fathers to experience emotionals changes during pregnancy.
It is normal for expectant fathers to experience emotionals changes during pregnancy.
©2006 Publications International, Ltd.

As a father-to-be, you may also undergo psychological changes during a pregnancy. Although there is no physiologic basis for this, it is nevertheless very real and to some degree predictable. A father-to-be, particularly in the third trimester, may feel a need for a creative outlet. You may want to paint or decorate the nursery or make a cradle as a way of becoming involved in the forthcoming birth.

Men, as well as women, bring to a pregnancy their own emotional baggage, as well as the echoes of their childhood fantasies about the mechanics and significance of pregnancy, birth, and parenthood. How the father-to-be perceived his own parents can directly affect his feelings about becoming a parent himself. For some men, being able to father a child may also create a sense of heightened self-esteem regarding their masculinity. Conversely, if there were previous losses or a history of infertility, the father-to-be may see the creation of life as a fragile phenomenon.

Impending fatherhood also seems to bring with it all the memories and emotions of a man's childhood relationship with his father. In some ways, becoming a father means giving up the idea of being a son. It also means reconciling the experience that one had as a child with being a father. It seems that these feelings are stronger during the pregnancy than during the months following the birth of the child.

During most men's childhoods, there was little emphasis on learning fathering functions, except perhaps for the provider role. Television and cartoons from the 1950s and early 1960s portrayed fathers as helpless and inadequate in handling a young child. Women were seen as having the primary duty of raising their children.

For fathers-to-be, there is no internal reality -- no physical changes to feel. You must rely on your partner's reports about her feelings in experiencing the pregnancy. Perhaps not until fetal movement is obvious will you perceive the fetus as a growing child, and often this does not occur until the seventh month of gestation. Participating in prenatal visits may be a way to increase awareness of the reality of the pregnancy. If an ultrasound study is indicated, viewing the ultrasound images can be an invaluable experience because you will have visual confirmation of the existence of your baby.

Pregnancy can elicit strong feelings even in a man who has had children previously. It provides an opportunity to think about the kind of father he has already been to the children that he has, as well as the increasing responsibility he faces. If the father-to-be is proud of his prior fathering experience, and if the new child is wanted, he may feel extremely happy about the new pregnancy.

It may be difficult for a man to admit openly that he has concerns, fears, and perhaps ambivalent feelings about his partner's pregnancy, yet these feelings are nearly universal. Studies indicate that more than one out of ten men will have psychogenic (having an emotional or psychological origin) physical symptoms in relation to a pregnancy. These symptoms tend to appear by the beginning of the second trimester of the pregnancy. There may also be increased feelings of anxiety and depression.

The relationship between you and your partner may also undergo profound changes from your perspective. Previously, you may have had a sense of predictability in your partner's reactions, but her reactions may change significantly during the pregnancy. You may also have significant feelings about the changes in her body proportions, as well as her shifting sexuality. While you wrestle with feelings about the added responsibilities of fatherhood, you may have to give your wife extra care. This is particularly true in our culture, where the extended family is often not readily available to provide support.

Understanding the common psychological changes that occur during preganancy will help both expectant mothers and expectant fathers to understand themselves and their partners better. This understanding can not only ease the emotional transitions during pregnancy, but also deepen the relationship between mom and dad.

This information is solely for informational purposes. IT IS NOT INTENDED TO PROVIDE MEDICAL ADVICE. Neither the Editors of Consumer Guide (R), Publications International, Ltd., the author nor publisher take responsibility for any possible consequences from any treatment, procedure, exercise, dietary modification, action or application of medication which results from reading or following the information contained in this information. The publication of this information does not constitute the practice of medicine, and this information does not replace the advice of your physician or other health care provider. Before undertaking any course of treatment, the reader must seek the advice of their physician or other health care provider.

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Elizabeth Eden, M.D. is a practicing obstetrician with her own private practice in New York City. She serves as an attending physician at the Tisch Hospital of the New York University Medical Center, as well as a Clinical Assistant Professor at the New York University School of Medicine.