shutterstock_77120734There are all types of dads: nervous dads, easygoing dads, helicopter dads and hip dads. But one thing they all have in common is, at some point, they were clueless about what was about to happen to make them a “dad.”

Understandably, all eyes are usually on mothers-to-be, but that can leave dads feeling a little in the dark. The seven tidbits below – both hard facts and gentle guidance – come from a medical community eager to enlighten future fathers, no matter where they are in the process of parenting.

Dads should know: Her changes may stick around.

Plenty of jokes are made about the physical and emotional changes women experience during pregnancy. But dads may not realize some of these changes could linger long after the child has gone off to college, says Daniel Berger, DO, an OB/GYN at Our Lady of Lourdes Medical Center.

“Sometimes women experience nausea because of a heightened sensitivity, like with fatty, greasy foods. My wife became sensitive to barbecue during her pregnancies. She still can’t eat it, and our kids are 11 and 13,” Berger says.

“Odor is one of the oldest memory senses. The changes to the nose and taste buds could trigger a sensation from the pregnancy. The reality is certain pregnancies have certain triggers. Dads-to-be need to be sensitive to the odors around and understand it might go away when the baby comes – or it might not.”

There could be permanent physical changes, as well. Many women have difficulty losing the weight gained during pregnancy, and even if they do return to pre-pregnancy weight, they find the distribution seems different. They also may experience dark splotches on their face, often referred to as the mask of pregnancy. The dark spots, caused by hormonal changes, are typically seen on the upper lip, nose and cheeks, but can be found anywhere the body is exposed to the sun. “It can also be seen as a dark line in the middle of the belly,” says Berger. “It can go away, but it can also be permanent.”

Dads should know: Less may be more when trying to conceive.

Many men are surprised to learn a third of infertility issues have to do with them, says Cooper University Health Care OB/GYN Jocelyn Mitchell-Williams, MD. Medical tests can detect if a man has a low sperm count or poor sperm motility. If so, one simple way to possibly correct the issue may seem counterproductive: decrease the frequency of sex.

“Men think if they have a low sperm count, the more sex the better. But if it’s low, space out the sexual episodes to build up sperm count,” says Mitchell-Williams, associate dean of diversity and community affairs, as well as an assistant professor of OB/GYN at Cooper Medical School of Rowan University.

Other treatments may help with conception, but limiting sex to every other night or every third night could work in the long run, Mitchell-Williams adds.

Dads should know: Sex during pregnancy is OK.

Sex during pregnancy is one thing that can truly terrify some men, but the fears are unfounded, says Mitchell-Williams.

“Men think they are harming the baby. They feel like they are hitting the baby during sex. That’s far from the truth,” she says. “The baby is well-insulated and protected. The only time not to have sex during pregnancy is if there are complications, like preterm labor or bleeding.”

Dads should know: There are no dumb questions at the doctor’s office.

While men aren’t usually known for their eagerness to open up to doctors, the stage fright can get worse when that doctor is an OB/GYN.

“I have some say, ‘Can I ask that?’” says Mitchell-Williams. “Expectant dads shouldn’t be afraid to ask questions. I think they are afraid of looking ill-informed, but I expect they will have questions.”

Mitchell-Williams encourages expectant dads to come to prenatal appointments. It’s a chance for her to pose questions that can uncover their concerns prior to delivery day.

“If you don’t ask, they may not feel comfortable asking. I can ask what they want their role to be. Do they want to cut the umbilical cord? If they come to the office during the pregnancy, these are things we can talk about then,” says Mitchell-Williams. “Being a first-time dad can be a scary process.”

Dads should know: Hold off on posting – for a little while.

Before going on every social media site to announce your upcoming arrival, future fathers should know the first trimester can be tricky.

“It’s not wise to announce all to the world, since there is a miscarriage rate. I tell new parents to wait until they are out of the first trimester before they start sharing,” says Berger. “Everything is likely to be happy and perfect, but realistically there are times when things don’t work out.”

By being discreet, men can be spared having to announce a miscarriage – which strikes up to one in four women in their lifetime, according to the March of Dimes.

Dads should know: Infertility stress does not end with pregnancy.

Couples feel many emotions when struggling to conceive – from inadequacy to shame. And that can be just the beginning, says clinical psychologist Judith Washington, PhD. For men, anxiety about conception can spill over well into the pregnancy.

“It’s a happy ending, but only to the first chapter,” says Washington, a consultant with Delaware Valley Institute of Fertility & Genetics.

During the “trying” phase, the waiting often leads to worrying, says Washington. A pregnancy can produce the same results – more waiting and worrying – for a father-to-be.

“Men can isolate themselves,” she explains. “They may refuse to talk about things and withdraw from intimacy, both physical and emotional. Sex may have become associated with the infertility and may have become a pressure, not a pleasure.”

If a man does not notice these changes in himself, those closest to him may point them out. Be proactive, says Washington. Try to combat the negative feelings through stress reducers like exercise or social outings. These are the first steps, she adds, in an interior-reset strategy.

“The need to modify expectations is important, as is modifying or reframing the way we think. Think about more positive rather than negative aspects of the situation. Instead of thinking, ‘Nothing ever works out for me,’ men can be helped by thinking, ‘I am doing whatever I can to help the situation. Some things are out of my control,’” she says. Reframing thoughts puts the person in the moment and distracts him from unfounded future worries.

“Do something that keeps your mind engaged and prevents it from wandering back to the problem,” says Washington.

Dads should know: You baby isn’t the only one needing immunizations.

Being up-to-date on immunizations is a good idea no matter what, but the stakes are higher when coming in contact with a pregnant woman or a baby, says Berger.

Even if you got a flu shot, people who are around infants – like fathers – may need a booster to counter pertussis, a respiratory illness known as whooping cough. Both shots take about two weeks to kick in.

“Vaccinations are key, as is hand washing,” says Berger. “They are not mandatory for fathers-to-be and there are no recommendations, but getting a complete evaluation and having a good environment are good things to consider. It’s supportive of her to take care of yourself.”

April 2014
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