Men ill equipped to handle post-delivery stress

Arrival of a new baby into the family is usually a source of joy for many couples. However, during the last trimester of pregnancy, some women begin noticing changes in their husband's behaviours.

Some become distant and withdrawn. On arrival of the baby, the men cheer up but the joy is temporary. They become moody and the smallest things make them cranky, which can have negative effects on the family.

Pregnancy or birth of a new baby usually brings many changes in the family that can be a source of stress for couples. Indeed, a recent study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Jama) Network-Open indicates that depression and anxiety during pregnancy or after delivery could affect both mothers and fathers.

Unfortunately, the study notes that there is less emphasis or none at all with regards to check-ups on the mental well-being of fathers before or after the baby is born.

As a result, researchers believe that the current model of postnatal care needs to be reassessed and that it should additionally focus on social determinants and relationships between expectant parents (not just women) to identify couples at risk.

“This information is necessary to inform healthcare priority-setting and facilitate a move towards a family-centred model of care that better serves mothers and fathers as they transition to parenthood,” states Dr Kara Smythe, the lead author of the study from the University College London Institute of Epidemiology and Health.

Dr Susan Njoroge, a Nairobi-based marriage and family therapist notes that since it is women who carry the pregnancy, more attention is usually given to their health and well-being as opposed to the fathers.

"Even in the traditional African society, we had the mother-in-law and aunties that played a key role in offering the required social support system for pregnant mothers. And this is still the case in today’s society.”

She notes that in the healthcare system, the Antenatal Care (ANC) clinics mainly target mothers. Yet, the knowledge offered during the sessions can go a long way in helping men anticipate and cope effectively with stresses linked to pregnancy and early parenthood.

Even though most hospitals have begun encouraging men to accompany their wives during the ANC sessions, Dr Njoroge notes that the turnout is still low as many of them were socialised to view pregnancy as a woman's issue.

"So, you see, as women are being prepared for the pregnancy journey and changes it will bring to their lives, men are left in the dark. There is no one to address their fears or anxieties over the pregnancy and looming parenthood. They therefore suffer in silence and slowly slip into depression. This is a matter that should be addressed," she says.

According to Dr Njoroge, pregnancy causes certain physical and emotional changes in women which may lead to mood swings, sickness and other complications that can take a toll on the couple.

"Many men may not be aware that these are normal symptoms associated with pregnancy. They will therefore assume that the wife is changing for the worse and begin getting stressed and unsupportive towards her. This makes the situation worse,” she notes.

Other causes of stress among men during pregnancy include fears over the health of the unborn child and expectant spouse, lack of finances to adequately take care of the family as well as concerns over their ability to embrace parenthood effectively.

"After delivery, the baby usually requires so much attention and care, especially from the mum who has to breastfeed and offer nurturing care to the newborn. This can lead to husbands feeling neglected by spouses who previously gave them undivided attention," says Dr Njoroge.

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