The Psychology of First-Time Fathers-to-Be

There are dozens of books and posts for pregnant moms about the feelings they are experiencing. Yet dads-to-be experience their own pregnancy-related emotions that are seldom discussed. Fortunately, we have the research of James Herzog to provide valuable insights into the emotions of dads to be.

According to Dr. Herzog, dads-to-be often fall into two groups: those who he calls more attuned and those who he describes as being less attuned. One of the biggest factors that determine which group a man falls into is the influence of his own father or father substitutes when he was growing up.

While pregnancy will often spur a man from the more-attuned group onto a path of personal growth, men in the less-attuned group tend to feel threatened and not particularly fortified by a partner’s pregnancy.

As the pregnancy progresses, men in the less-attuned group often experience a high degree of “father hunger” and end up not being the most supportive husbands. They sometimes become competitive with their wives or they become sexually promiscuous; some who have been heterosexual have sex with other men.

Herzog found that during the second and third trimesters of pregnancy, a number of dads-to-be turn to their own father in an attempt to reconnect with him. They feel that reconnecting with the “good dad” from their early childhood will help them be better dads to their own children.

Repeat: I am not a short-order cook. "It's a child's job to learn to eat what the parents eat," says Ellyn Satter, a registered dietitian and the author of Secrets of Feeding a Healthy Family. Instead of the all-or-nothing scenario, offer a variety of foods at mealtime: the main course, plus rice or pasta, a fruit or vegetable, and milk. This way, your child can eat just the pasta and the peas and get protein from the milk. "What a child eats over the course of a day or a week is more important than a balanced meal at one sitting," says Stephen Daniels, the chairman of the department of pediatrics at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, in Aurora.

If you are a dad-to-be and you find yourself feeling unsupportive about the pregnancy or disconnected from your pregnant wife, try to spend extra time with a friend or acquaintance whose fathering skills you admire. It’s okay to tell him you are on shaky ground. Ask him how he manages as a dad when he’s feeling uncertain or overwhelmed.

Here are some of the other things that Herzog discovered about dads-to-be:

—A dad-to-be is often a man whose personal identity is expanding. He might be rethinking who he is. At times, this can be exhilarating, at other times, frightening.

—Being a dad-to-be can help a man shed unwanted or outdated parts of his character. The pregnancy becomes an excuse and a stimulus to mature and become more responsible. Unfortunately, not all men use pregnancy in such a constructive way.

—With the excitement of being pregnant, a number of the couples found sex to be particularly intense and intimate, as though it now had a different meaning.

—The pregnancy helped several of the dads-to-be to feel good about their masculinity and sexual selves. The pregnancy helped allay fears that they didn’t have the right stuff to make a pregnancy happen.

—As the pregnancy progressed, the act of intercourse took on new meaning; some men felt as if they were symbolically nourishing or helping to nurture their wives during intercourse.

Get kids moving. The latest research shows that brain development in young children may be linked to their activity level. Place your baby on her tummy several times during the day, let your toddler walk instead of ride in her stroller, and create opportunities for your older child to get plenty of exercise.

—Some men reported feeling more depth to their orgasms when their partners were pregnant, with more physical and emotional awareness both before and after ejaculation.

—Dads can unconsciously identify with a pregnant spouse or wonder about what’s going on inside of her. By mid-pregnancy, some fathers experience dreams or fantasies about being penetrated as well as being the one who penetrates. Some start to wonder more about their own inner body parts. Some put on extra weight or feel a kind of gastric fullness or upset. Some men have toothaches during this time that land them in the dentist’s office. (When a man has a toothache of an undetermined origin, wise dentists know to inquire if the man’s wife is pregnant.)