Thought it was just mums-to-be who get morning sickness, gain weight, and have mood swings? Dubbed “Couvade syndrome”, pregnancy symptom-sharing by dads-to-be is far more common than you may realise.
Early pregnancy especially is a tough time for mums-to-be, who are adjusting to surging hormones which make them feel, well, pretty awful – and this is reflected in their moods. Dads-to-be can also be affected, and feel up some days, down the next – and the cause is the same as most other sympathetic pregnancy symptoms: Anxiety.
How to cope
Give yourself a break. Becoming a parent is a big deal, and you might feel like the world is on your shoulders. It’s no wonder your emotions are all over the place. Exercise helps regulate your moods, as well as healthy eating, talking about your feelings, and reducing your alcohol intake. In time, things will settle down, and you’ll settle into your new role.
Did you know that dads-to-be gain an average of 7kg during their partner’s pregnancy? And it’s not all down to sympathetic midnight pickle-and-ice-cream binges, either. The stress hormone cortisol is secreted at higher volumes when you feel anxious, and what’s more anxiety-inducing than imminent fatherhood? Cortisol can mess with your blood sugar and insulin levels, making your body think it’s hungry when it’s not, and also causes you to gain weight in your midsection.
How to cope
Exercise and healthy eating are the obvious answers, but many dads are finding that mindfulness practise helps too. Consider: How are you feeling about your baby-to-be? What’s making you feel stressed? Talk things over with your partner, and instead of reaching for the chips, have a cuddle, watch a comedy show (laughter can help reduce cortisol levels by half), or schedule a massage (which promotes the production of dopamine and serotonin, your “feel good” hormones).
We like to call it “all-day, anytime sickness”, as morning sickness can strike mums-to-be at any time of the day or night – and it turns out that dads-to-be can also experience this. Unlike hormonal changes, which are the culprit for mums, dads’ morning sickness is the result of anxiety and stress-related changes in eating habits. Those pickles and ice cream? Yeah, they’re not going to make your gut very happy!
How to cope
Getting physically active is key – it increases your dopamine and serotonin levels, which help control your appetite and relieve stress, and make you more likely to make better food choices. Also, keep an eye on your alcohol intake, as overimbibing is not good for your digestion (or your brain) either.
Loss of mojo
Just like a mum-to-be, an expectant dad’s sex drive can be all over the place – and sometimes it can completely tank. Some dads-to-be are turned on by their pregnant partner’s blooming body, while others might find this visual reminder of future responsibilities to be overwhelming and passion-killing. Do you feel exhausted just thinking about having a baby? Or are you nervous about whether having sex with your partner could hurt the baby somehow? This is not unusual at all, although it can feel upsetting.
How to cope
First, for most couples, there is no risk involved with having sex throughout pregnancy. Unless the mum-to-be’s pregnancy is high-risk, then no, having sex can’t hurt the baby. If you’re still worried, have a chat to the midwife or GP and ask all of those embarrassing questions (write them down instead if you’re too nervous to ask out loud). Your sex drive will return in time, usually once you get used to the idea of a newborn – and for many dads-to-be, seeing their partner as a new mum can cause huge rushes of affection and attraction.
Can’t sleep? Got heartburn? Exhausted? Depressed? This isn’t unusual for dads-to-be, as the weight of your new responsibilities rests heavy on your shoulders and you’re not quite sure what to expect after the baby arrives. Interestingly, one study showed that dads-to-be who were either very close to or very distant from their own parents were less likely to feel anxiety about their partner’s pregnancy, while dads-to-be who fell somewhere in the middle were more likely to feel anxious.
How to cope
It can be a good idea to join an online support group for expectant dads – social media is great for this. You can safely talk about your feelings of anxiety and stress, and get ideas from other dads about how to cope. Therapy can make a difference too – reaching out to a counsellor and attending a few sessions to discuss what you’re feeling does help, although we know it can be hard to admit you’re struggling. But it will help you and your partner (and your baby-to-be) more in the long run if you can be open about your feelings and not try to shut them down.
BUMP & baby is New Zealand’s only magazine for pregnancy and early babyhood. Our team of mums and mums-to-be understand what it’s like to be pregnant in this connected age, and that’s why BUMP & Baby online is geared toward what pregnant women and new mums really want to know.
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