By Dr. James Collins, MD, MPH
When it comes to pregnancy, women get all the attention. After all, they carry most of the burden, right? Media, the medical community and well-intentioned family members constantly tell pregnant women to avoid certain foods, keep certain habits and maintain certain routines.
But the father should not be relegated to the sidelines. While most of the attention is focused on what the woman can do to better her chances for a healthier child, most of us give little focus to the father, although their role is equally as important to birth outcomes.
This Father’s Day, let’s get dad off the sidelines and into the game. It’s important to educate him and his community on just how important his role is to the birth outcome of his baby. Helping to eliminate stress in his relationship, household and in the overall life of the mom-to-be is key.
According to the March of Dimes, when physical or emotional stress builds up to uncomfortable levels, it can be harmful for pregnant women. In the short term, a high level of stress can cause fatigue, sleeplessness, anxiety, poor appetite or overeating, headaches and backaches.
When a high level of stress continues for a long period, it may contribute to potentially serious health problems, such as lowered resistance to infectious diseases, high blood pressure and heart disease. Studies also suggest that high levels of stress may pose special risks during pregnancy.
Babies who are born prematurely are often low birth weight. However, studies suggest that babies of women who suffer from high levels of stress and anxiety are more likely to be born low birth weight even when born at full term. Some stress-related hormones may constrict blood flow to the placenta, so the baby may not receive the nutrients and oxygen it needs for optimal growth.
Therefore, going over and above before, during and after pregnancy to reduce stress in a woman’s life pays big dividends in producing healthier babies.
Here are just a few ways dad can help reduce stress during pregnancy:
Don’t Argue – Many couples argue more during a pregnancy, but studies show stress hormones can affect a baby’s emotional wiring and lead to premature births and complications.
Help at Home – That’s right help with dishes, prepare or bring dinner and offer to provide foot rubs! Small things to help mom-to-be relax contributes to a healthier baby.
Show Interest – Although it might sound too simple, one of the ways for expectant fathers to minimize stress in their partner’s life is by showing an interest in the pregnancy. Ask questions about baby and mom and go along to doctor appointments and birthing classes.
Be there – There are studies that suggest having good support may actually reduce the risk of preterm labor and low birth weight, especially for poor, high risk women or women who are feeling stressed. Proving women emotional support is a key factor in reducing stress.
Get involved in the life of your child as soon as possible – do your part to ensure the health and well being of your baby, and get ready to enjoy a lifetime of Father’s Days with pride.
Dr. James Collins is an Attending physician, Neonatology. He is also a Professor of Pediatrics at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine where he contributes comparative research regarding infant mortality among Africans and African Americans.