Most women, when they find out they’re pregnant, have at least some idea of the roller-coaster ride and various changes and symptoms (and cravings) to follow. But what about the expectant dad observing the swelling belly and swollen feet of his partner? Is he simply the nervous sideline-spectator he appears to be? Not at all.
In her new book The Male Brain: A Breakthrough Understanding of How Men and Boys Think, neuro-psychiatrist Dr. Louann Brizendine says there’s much more to men during pregnancy than meets the eye. Her research corroborates something many of us suspected all along: that the brain structures and hormones of men create a male reality that is oh so different from the female’s in every phase of life. And during the mom-centric nine months of pregnancy, it turns out that the transition from man to dad is fraught with very real physical, emotional and hormonal shifts as his mate’s term progresses.
Based on new insight into the intricacies and idiosyncrasies of the male brain, here are seven things to expect from him when you’re expecting.
He was thrilled when he first heard the happy news that you were pregnant, but now he’s a nervous wreck. Thankfully, it will probably get better, as most men’s feelings of anxiety and distress peak at 6-8 weeks in. Why? Because even just-a-little-bit pregnant women have been thinking “pregnant” before the line on the stick turned pink, but men are simply a month or two behind. “In baby-making mode, women are actively looking for signs and symptoms all the time,” says Dr. Brizendine. “They’re checking their breasts – are they bigger, are they always this sore? – thinking about what they’re eating and drinking ‘just in case’ and worrying every time they go to the bathroom. When the men finally find out, they’re already behind in processing this huge transition, initially feeling very excited but ultimately, when the reality sets in, anxious about being on a runaway train.” These feelings will start to abate as his new hormones set in. Wait: his hormones?
He’s on his own hormonal roller-coaster.
Yep, once that little embryo has latched on to mama, it’s not only her hormones that start surging. Science has known for a while that the mother’s estrogen and progesterone nearly triple while she’s pregnant, but, as it turns out, the father’s hormones get affected too. Certain pheromones sneak out of the mother’s sweat glands and cause his testosterone to decrease and his prolactin—the “Mr. Mom” hormone—to increase. All of this hormonal re-jiggering stimulates his paternal instincts. Basically, as boy brain turned to man brain during puberty, man brain is slowly converting to daddy brain during pregnancy.
His and hers maternity jeans.
You’ve heard of men gaining sympathy weight when their wives are pregnant, but there are dads-to-be who actually experience symptoms from a sympathetic pregnancy. It’s called couvade syndrome—from the French word “couvee,” meaning “to hatch”—and has been documented in dads-to-be worldwide. It usually starts at the end of the first trimester but can continue through the entire pregnancy. Along with the weight gain, some men have even been known to take on other unfortunate symptoms—like nausea and vomiting—as well. So share your crackers and ginger tea, ladies.
He’s nesting too – or at least building one.
If he was handy around the house before, expect him to get handier now. Like expectant women, expectant men are likely to go into a version of nesting mode. But the male form typically involves building, says Dr. Brizendine: “Where as women see the baby as a soft little creature to dress in soft little clothes, men’s focus is often on construction and equipment of all kinds—whether it’s a new family car, stroller or high chair.”
He’s actually listening.
He may not pay attention to everything you’re saying (even if it is about baby equipment!), but his hearing centers are changing to soon be able to hear the cries of babies he never would have heard before. Because newborns need round-the-clock care, Mother Nature changes parents’ brain circuitry to put them on high alert. New mothers still hear better than their partners do, but at least he has a tending instinct, too.
He’s falling in love.
Even though men aren’t physically connected to the unborn baby, they are being primed for that unbreakable biological bond and intense love. Just as his hearing becomes more acute, all his senses are heightening, as if he was falling in romantic love all over again. This new sensitivity begins before baby is born but intensifies dramatically with skin-to-skin contact and simply seeing the baby’s pudgy face. As Dr. Brizendine says, “Yes, the same brain that can be absorbed in Sunday football can become completely absorbed with baby.”
It’s no surprise that mother and child fall into similar rhythms, but The Male Brain reveals that the combination of hormones, new brain circuitry and physical touch enables dads to experience baby/daddy synchronicity as well. “To ensure that this happens, moms have to let go a little bit and give dads a chance,” says Dr. Brizendine. “It’s one thing to let dads help under a watchful eye. But the research reveals that dads behave differently (and in ways that are more beneficial to baby) when Mom’s away or not watching.”