The plight of pregnant women suffering severe morning sickness or hyperemesis gravidarum has been brought to the fore with the struggles of Princess Kate, however, little is known about how these conditions affect expectant fathers.
New research from Edith Cowan University examined the experience of 300 expectant couples and found more support was needed for the partners of women experiencing nausea and vomiting during pregnancy.
The research was published in The Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology and aimed to gauge expectant fathers’ awareness of nausea and vomiting during pregnancy experienced by their partners and the affect it had on the dads themselves.
The study found 82% of fathers were aware that their partner experienced morning sickness. Of these, 20% reported no nausea or vomiting, mild 30%, moderate 37% and severe 13%.
The partners of all 11 women formally diagnosed with hyperemesis gravidarum, reported the nausea and vomiting was severe.
Researchers asked expectant fathers about their partners’ condition and their own mental health and found a significant increase in dads’ anxiety levels.
Lead researcher Julie Sartori from ECU’s School of Medical and Health Sciences said although there was some support available for pregnant women during pregnancy, the fathers were often left to fend for themselves.
“The study showed that in families where the mother experienced moderate or severe morning sickness, fathers reported much higher levels of anxiety,” she said.
That anxiety was linked to five major themes in the research:
- Disruption to work
Many fathers reported disruption to their work including being forced to take leave to care for their partner or being under pressure to take leave but not being able to do so
“Eventually I had to take time off and force her to see someone and she was admitted to hospital the next day.”
- Feelings of frustration and helplessness
Many fathers expressed strong feelings of frustration and helplessness largely due to the symptoms of morning sickness and circumstances that they felt were outside of their control.
“I felt kind of helpless watching her being so sick all the time. We have been trying for a baby for a couple of years with IVF and were so happy, but then she became sick.”
- Concern over depression in their partner
Many expectant fathers expressed concerns about emotional changes they had noticed in their partner.
“She became really clingy and depressed. She wasn’t the same. I’m hoping she (sic) go back to how she was before. But now she seems to cry all the time.”
“She was sick and crying and depressed at the time and still bad (sic).”
- Concern for the developing baby
Ongoing concern for the health of the baby is a natural part of pregnancy and childbirth. However, this was especially true for fathers who had partners that suffered ongoing nausea and vomiting.
“I was very worried because she was unwell so nearly three months and not eating and worried it could harm the baby.”
“She was diagnosed with hyperemesis by Dr —– and it was serious for a while… I was very worried for the baby and for her but did what I could to help.”
- Sense of being manipulated
Although some men were able to recognise that their partner was sick some also expressed negative thoughts associated with the increased demands placed on them at this time.
“She was sick, really sick, but she milked it for all it was worth. You know, get me this, feed me that. I didn’t mind as she was sick but after a while it was a bit demanding.”
Mrs Sartori said fathers could benefit from support, to adapt to the role of a carer for their partner. For many it may be their first role as a carer.
“There needs to be an active approach from medical practitioners and antenatal care providers, towards expectant fathers in cases where morning sickness is moderate or severe,” she said.
“Professionals would normally focus on the wellbeing of pregnant women, however engaging the father as well may help relieve reported anxiety and improve outcomes in the long term.”
“Pregnancy, particularly the first, are tumultuous times for many families and the more help we can offer fathers in this situation, the better for his new family.”
“Prenatal support for expectant fathers is vital. This can have a flow on effect for his family during and after pregnancy and allow for positive parental bonding..”
(Source: Edith Cowan University, The Journal of Psychosomatic Obstetrics and Gynecology)