Pregnancy can be a time of emotional and physical upheaval for mothers. Although all of the attention can be focused on moms during the pregnancy and childbirth process, dads have a significant role to play.
Modern fathers are taking a more active role in prenatal “parenting” than in years past. This involvement has led to better health outcomes for both mother and child, and emotional growth for men who may have felt removed from the pregnancy journey in the past.
Today’s prospective fathers have grown up seeing images of more involved dads on their television screens and in the media. They may realize the importance of their involvement, but may not know why it is important.
The most significant factor driving a dad’s involvement during pregnancy must be the emotional support factor. Pregnancy is such a transformative time for mothers; their bodies are changing, they are readying themselves for the physical, mental, and emotional changes that come with becoming a mother, and pregnancy hormones are playing an active role in mood and emotional regulation. Fathers can step up to provide emotional support for their pregnancy partners, offering reassurance and fostering a sense of togetherness. This can help the mother move forward through each trimester, with less stress and anxiety about the unknown.
But it’s not enough just to be physically present — fathers must take an active role in the pregnancy. Active participation helps build a foundation that can carry the couple through after the birth of the baby. An active role can look like attending doctor’s visits and helping make decisions, readying the house for the baby’s arrival, and being a willing participant in planning for the future.
The bonding process also begins far before the baby arrives. Pregnancy is a unique time for fathers to begin bonding with their children. By being present for prenatal appointments, ultrasounds, and milestones like the first kick, the dad can start connecting with the baby before they make their debut.
Shared responsibilities and communication
One of the most stressful parts of pregnancy and impending parenthood may be all of the decisions and plans one has to make. If a mother feels as if she is all alone in these decisions — from whether to breastfeed to what baby items to buy — she can easily get overwhelmed or resentful towards the father.
Fathers who get involved during the pregnancy process and help the mother make these important decisions are showing that they understand parenthood is a team event by working hard to promote effective communication and shared decision-making. This works to strengthen the bond between the partners, which is a healthy foundation for the beginning of the baby’s life.
With this communication comes education and shared knowledge. Many mothers throw themselves into learning everything about baby development, pregnancy, and motherhood the moment the double line shows up on the pregnancy test, but fathers can also get involved in this knowledge-building. Not only will they learn along with the mother, but this shows the mother that they are engaged and interested in the entire pregnancy and parenthood process. Fathers can learn about infant care, breastfeeding support, and the changes happening to the mother throughout pregnancy. Communication and education can help fathers build confidence before the birth of their child so they feel prepared to take on parenthood.
Lastly, the involvement of fathers during pregnancy and following the birth of the child has been shown to have a positive impact on child development. The involvement during the pregnancy sets the stage for continued involvement after the baby is born. Researchers have shown that fathers involved during the pregnancy process are more likely to actively participate in child rearing, leading to more positive outcomes for child development, academic success, and social-emotional well-being.
Pregnancy is an exciting time for couples, but it can also be stressful dealing with all of the unknowns and uncharted territory — especially if this is a first pregnancy. By actively getting involved, fathers can build a foundation for improved wellness for both the mother and baby.
— Darren D. Moore, Ph.D., MAED, LMFT, is a Father, Husband, Clinical Professor, and Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He owns I AM MOORE, LLC, a counseling and consulting practice in Georgia providing individual, couple, family, and group therapy services in GA, AL, NY, NC, IL, and FL, as well as consulting across the United States. Dr. Moore currently serves as the Associate Director for Clinical Training and Supervision in the master’s program in Marriage and Family Therapy at the Family Institute, Northwestern University. Dr. Moore obtained his Ph.D. in Human Development: Marriage and Family Therapy from Virginia Tech, his MS. in Marriage and Family Therapy from Valdosta State University, his BA. in African American Studies from the University of Minnesota and holds a MAED in Higher and Postsecondary Education from Teachers College, Columbia University. Dr. Moore has been featured on various television stations as well as Newsweek and Men’s Health.