There are several things fathers can do during a pregnancy to help them prepare emotionally for their new roles and changing relationships:
Plan discussions with your spouse about your impressions of being a parent. Discuss not only your emotions, but also nitty-gritty details like who will get up at 3 a.m. when the baby is crying and who will change the first diaper of the morning.The purpose is not to set schedules, but to let each other know what you are thinking and to begin focusing on the changes in your day-to-day lives. If you have different assumptions and expectations, it is better to discover them now than when the baby is screaming.
Accompany your wife to as many prenatal checkups as possible. Listening to the baby's heartbeat during a prenatal exam is often the first evidence to a man that his child is alive.
Attend childbirth classes with your spouse to learn what to expect and what you can do during labor and delivery. For many men, the classes serve as a necessary confirmation that the pregnancy is real and only a temporary condition.
``Men move more slowly than women in their transition to parenthood,' said Dr. Philip A. Cowan, a professor of psychology at the University of California at Berkeley who has been studying 75 couples from their first pregnancy until their children entered the first grade.
He has found that fathers often lag behind mothers by several months in acknowledging and accepting the changes they face as parents.
Wives who expect their husbands to be at the same stage of acceptance and excitement are often disappointed by their words and behaviors. Encouraging the father to feel the baby kicking and to attend prenatal examinations and childbirth classes can help him catch up.
Share your feelings and fears with your spouse and, if possible, with other men.
Many men who were interviewed for studies of how prospective parents respond to a pregnancy said they felt that their positive feelings about the pregnancy were welcome, but that their fears and anxieties were not.
Men who do not share their fears can develop feelings of isolation, and this can draw spouses apart. Cowan said that during his wife's first pregnancy, he was very concerned about whether he could be a good father.
``But I didn't feel I could talk about that,' he said.
``I thought that being protective meant not sharing any of my anxieties. I now know that that's a real mistake.'