Dads' roles have changed significantly in the past couple of decades. They are much more involved in their partners' pregnancies and the childbirth and care of their children. Doctors Ari Brown and Michele Hakakha discuss this topic with LoveToKnow.
About Dr. Ari Brown and Dr. Michele Hakakha
LoveToKnow (LTK): Please tell us a little about yourselves.
Dr. Ari Brown (AB): I'm a pediatrician who has been in practice for 15 years. I started writing books about seven years ago because I realized that parents and parents-to-be wanted to learn more and participate in their child's health--and what was on the parenting bookshelf wasn't filling the bill. And, most important, I am a mom. I know what it is like to go through pregnancy, have a newborn, a toddler, and now, even a teenager (maybe Teenager 411 is next--or perhaps more appropriately, Teenager 911!!!) My website is DrAriBrown.com.
Dr. Michele Hakakha (MH): I am originally from Hawaii, raised on the island of Maui. I did a four-year residency training program at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and after graduating in 2002, started a private practice in Beverly Hills. I am board-certified in obstetrics and gynecology and have a special interest in high-risk pregnancies. For more info, see MicheleHakakhamd.com.
LTK: What inspired you to write your new book Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy?
AB: As a pediatrician, I usually don't get to meet new parents until after they have delivered their baby. But, there is so much important information I wish I could tell them before that big day to prepare them, particularly in decisions they will be asked to make immediately after delivery (Should I store the umbilical cord blood? Should my son be circumcised? Is it safe to give the Hepatitis B shot to my newborn? Should I ask for additional metabolic screening tests [blood work] other than the standard state-mandated screen? How can I make breastfeeding successful? Is there anything I might do, like Botox, or eat, like sushi, during pregnancy that affects the health of my baby?) And that's just to name a few!
But, a pediatrician shouldn't be writing the part about going through nine months of aches, pains, morning sickness, and strange hair growth, managing diabetes during pregnancy (and 51 other complications), or the part about 14 steps to having a C-section. That's why I needed to find an OB counterpart who was as passionate about educating families as I was. Enter Dr. Hakakha! She's the doctor you'd want to care for you during your pregnancy. She loves teaching her patients, making them feel confident and comfortable and part of the entire process, and she delivers all her own babies! Her warmth and compassion show through in this book.
MH: Thanks, Ari. The initiative to write the book came from being in practice for many years and seeing patient after patient really be dissatisfied with what was available. The collaboration between Dr. Brown and myself was a first...two doctors (one OB/GYN and one pediatrician) who were also mothers (we have four children between the two of us) coming together to help guide women through pregnancy. The result is a down-to-earth book that is paranoia-free, but full of current medical information.
LTK: How has a father's role in his partner's pregnancy and the birth of his child changed over the last few decades?
AB: Guys are more involved now than any previous generation. They join their partner at prenatal visits and ultrasounds. And, there's no more standing around the waiting room until the labor is over. Getting pregnant takes two people and being pregnant and delivering a baby is that way now too.
MH: Fathers have absolutely become more involved. We have come a long way from the days where men were confined to pace the waiting rooms in hospitals and that has also carried over to their roles in the whole process of having a baby. They read more, come to visits in the office, ask questions, and really try to educate themselves on what is happening to their partners, physically and emotionally.
LTK: How can fathers provide support during their partner's pregnancy?
AB: Sometimes it is just to be a good listener and responder (My feet ache! Get me some food!), sometimes it is to be a rock of support when things don't go as planned (one of the 52 complications of pregnancy), sometimes it is as personal trainer or motivational coach (staying fit with your pregnant partner or both of you eating a healthier diet). Pregnancy is stressful. It's less stressful and more enjoyable when you feel like you are going through it together.
- Be supportive--don't take the episodes of crying or increased sensitivity personally. Know that her hormones are at an all-time high and she can't always control her emotions.
- Exercise with her, even if this wasn't something you did prior to pregnancy.
- Make smart food choices with her--it's easier to avoid a bag of Cheetos if it isn't in the pantry!
- Even if you can't make it to her prenatal visits due to work or other issues, write down questions that you may have and send her with the list so that her practitioner can answer your questions too--a better-informed dad is a dad who is less nervous and more able to help care for his partner.
LTK: How can dads prepare for the big day?AB: Go to the doctor's appointments--especially the big ones--like the ultrasounds and the one where the doctor goes over all the nitty-gritty details about when labor starts, when to call, when to head to the hospital, and where to park. Pack a bag, just like your partner will do, so you are ready. Hire a pet sitter or get a babysitter lined up for an older child when you go into labor so your partner has one less thing to worry about. (It's those little micromanaging details your spouse will really appreciate!)
- Read what your partner is reading so that delivery day seems much less like something from a movie. Knowing in advance what will likely happen makes men and therefore their partners less nervous and more comfortable, whether delivery will happen at home, in a birthing center, or at a hospital.
- Bring questions to ask your partner's OB.
- Go with your partner to childbirth classes.
- Pack your own bag full of items you yourself will need for the hospital. You don't know how long you will be there.
- If you have never seen a delivery before, brace yourself and watch a video.
- Anticipate her needs during labor: offer fluids, a wet washcloth over her forehead, or a massage for her feet, legs, or lower back.
- Don't be a hero. If you aren't feeling good because the whole situation is too overwhelming or the sight of blood is getting to you, sit down, put your head between your knees, eat and drink something. There have been a few dads this year that ended up in the ICU during the deliveries of their children because they passed out and hit the floor pretty hard.
LTK: Do you have any other tips and advice you'd like to offer our readers on this topic?
AB: Read our books--so you are as ready as she is for delivery and the aftermath. Remember, delivery is just one day. Then there is the rest of your life as a parent.
MH: Take care of yourself too! See your doctor, get checked out, get any vaccines you may need (seasonal flu, H1N1, TdaP), and see an attorney or an estate planner to start setting up a living trust, will, and college savings plans.
Dr. Ari Brown and Dr. Michele Hakakha are coauthors of Expecting 411: Clear Answers & Smart Advice for Your Pregnancy (Windsor Peak Press, 2010), the only guide for parents-to-be that's written by two MDs who are also moms.