Saturday, 21 June 2008

Becoming a Father : Things the man should help with / manage

Ensuring Food Hygiene
Having General Guidelines for Food.
It is worth setting down some guidelines for how you are going to deal with food. Discuss them and agree them with your partner and they will save you both thinking time when doing everyday things like filling the fridge and cooking. A lot of these guidelines will be much the same as the standard hygiene guidelines you would expect to see in a restaurant. They are generally good things to do with your food whether you have a pregnant partner or not. The difference is that while she is pregnant even a slight bug, which might not be noticed in normal life, can have an out of proportion effect upon the foetus.

Why you need to be carefulThe foetus does not develop defences against a lot of things until quite late on in its development. If you take that together with the fact that the placenta does not start filtering a lot of things out until after 12 weeks then it is easy to see that in the first twelve weeks the foetus is pretty much defenceless. After twelve weeks it is better than before twelve weeks, but it still is not going to be as robust as your partner; it is best to avoid anything even vaguely suspect.

Toxoplasmosis is a good example of the sort of problem you are trying to avoid. It has no symptoms in most people who catch it. It is caused by a parasite found mainly in cats and other small animals (see below, your partner should avoid animal excrement). It can be caught by eating improperly cooked meat and unwashed fruit or vegetables and unpasteurised goats cheese. The most common effects of toxoplasmosis on the foetus include brain damage and deformities of the head and eye.

Toxoplasmosis is also illustrative of the fact that care is needed throughout the pregnancy. The earlier the foetus is infected the worse the effects it will suffer. Conversely the later the mother is infected the more often the parasites are transmitted to the foetus. In effect, late or early, there is no good time to get this. Normally it is mild enough that you might not notice, but given the risk of a brain-damaged child for the entirety of its life it is not worth the risk.

Wash everything. Wash fruit and vegetables. Wash farm fresh eggs. Wash the counter top and all surfaces that touch meat and fish. Wash implements between uses, even while cooking the same meal. Wash anything and everything. Everyone knows you should wash fruit and veg before eating them, but normally people in a hurry are not going to bother with that sort of thing, now is the time to bother. You cannot say that because you are not carrying the foetus this does not apply to you. When in doubt Wash it. When not sure what else to do wash your hands.

You have to be setting an example, as your partner is going to be under enough pressure as it is, so help her out here. Wash food for her. If you are preparing food wash your hands after any time you touch uncooked fish or meat, as well as after any time you handle unwashed fruit, vegetables or eggs. When you cut a piece of meat, wash the knife before you accidentally cut something with it that may not be cooked. You are trying to avoid the possibility of cross contamination here. If you lay a piece of meat out on a plate before grilling, do not then put it back on the plate after grilling. The plate has been in contact with the uncooked meat and could be carrying parasites.

You do not want to find any way to pass this on to your partner, so be a bit too picky rather than not picky enough. It is easier to wash something quickly than to spend time deciding whether you need to wash it. Make a little too much washing the norm. If in doubt wash it out.

Take care with uncooked foods.
Ensure raw fish or meat cannot drip onto anything else in the fridge. Wrap fish or meat well so that moving it will not cause contamination. Many fridges have little icons on the side showing what could go where. This is the reason they bother, so that meat and fish are safely at the bottom and not dripping on anything. If you can afford it, it is worth having a chopping board just for meat and another for everything else. Chopping boards are not expensive, but pregnancy is, so if you have to save the money try marking one side of the board for meat and fish, and the other for everything else. Do not forget to wash the board before you turn it over. This is harder than having two boards because you have to be more careful where you place the board when not cutting raw meat, as well as washing it between items which is a nuisance.

Cook meat until there are no pink bits left and the juices run clear when something sharp is poked to the middle. Avoid eating rare or raw meats. Steak tartar and sushi are effectively off the menu until after the baby is born. Take extra care with grilled or barbecued meat as it may be burned on the outside, but still raw on the inside. Using a lower heat will help it cook through, but runs the risk of it not becoming hot enough to kill anything dangerous. When grilling it is often worth cutting the meat in half horizontally once it appears cooked and then cooking the newly exposed layers. This does mean the food is likely to be more cooked than you prefer, but at the same time it is very little extra work and is that bit safer. Also this will give you a better idea of how cooked the food you normally eat is, and so may make future cooking easier.

Activities You May Want To Take Over From Your Partner
There is a very good chance that your partner will suffer from morning sickness for at least some of the pregnancy. You can help to alleviate this unpleasantness no matter how severe or how mild it turns out to be. Find out what triggers her to feel bad, and help her to avoid the triggers this will at least help a bit, and may make a major difference.

Often one of the triggers will be seeing or having close contact with some or all foods: if this is the case you have a golden opportunity to kill two birds with one stone; you can help her to feel pampered and cared for at the same time as preventing the food from making her feel ill. Even when food is not a trigger it may be a good idea to take over cooking for a while to prevent accidents due to sudden bouts of unconnected nausea.

An additional benefit of taking over some or all of the cooking is that you can see that the food preparation guidelines discussed elsewhere are followed without making her paranoid and unduly stressed. You should be able to follow the guidelines in a straightforward manner. The same may not be true for her even if you and your partner are both calm sensible people. If you were taking mind altering hormones you might have problems too.

It is worth mentioning at this point that the manner in which you take these sorts of responsibilities matter about as much as actually taking them. Your partner may well be perfectly capable of doing it all without you, so this should be a small piece of loving pampering. On the other hand she may not be capable, in which case the last thing she wants is to be made aware that there is even the possibility of an issue. Tact is needed to make her feel good about the attention she is getting, not to feel pushed around or helpless.

Cleaning Up Dog and Cat Excrement
Animals carry toxoplasmosis which can cause, amongst other things, miscarriages. This can be contracted from pet feces no matter how hygienically the pets are housed and fed. Cleaning up after animals is an unpleasant task, made even more unpleasant for your partner if she is suffering from morning sickness. Unlike the cooking women rarely object to their partners insisting on shielding them from dangers by cleaning up the litter tray.

Problems from toxoplasmosis are most common when it is present during the first three months or so of pregnancy, with problems from later infection being less common. Problems caused can range from miscarriages through eye problems up to still birth. It may not be a pleasant job, but it would not be pleasant for her either, so you really ought to try and do it cheerfully as you think what a lucky child you are going to have.

To prevent you passing on any infections you should remember to wash and dry your hands well after handling pets (or other animals animals).

Gardening is one of those things that you may or may not need to take over.
There are good reasons to take over such as:
• Cat faeces in the garden or toxoplasmosis cysts in the dust and soil
• .Listeria in the soil or on the plants.
• Pesticides.

But at the same time it is a relaxing activity that may alleviate her stress. If this is the case then taking it over could actually be a mistake.

There are a few simple rules she should try to follow while gardening, though it is probably better to fail to follow a rule than to become stressed and not enjoy gardening while following the rules to the letter.
• always wear gloves while gardening and avoid touching face, mouth or eyes
• avoid stirring up or breathing in dust from the soil (If it is arid and dusty sprinkle some water to keep the dust down before you start. Plant misters are perfect for this as the fine spray does not make things miuddy.
• wash hands well after gardening (even after wearing gloves).
• Do not move heavy items such as large plant pots, heavy watering cans or soil bags.

In our garden at home, my partner can potter and prune, but she never has to carry heavy watering cans. For less than £100 it was possible to set up a watering system that delivers measured doses of water only when the plants require it. Setting up a probe to see if the soil needs it, the garden computer to control the tap and all the tubes to carry water took less than 3 hours following simple instructions. Best of all, in our area it may be used during a hosepipe ban as it is water efficient .

Strenuous Activities She Is Unused To Doing
A good rule of thumb for other activities is to look at whether it is something she would normally do. If it is there is a reasonable chance it will be okay. She is pregnant, not ill.

Another rule of thumb is if she feels she is having to push herself then it might be better to avoid the activity. She needs to stop when it begins to feel like it might be a strain, and before it becomes too much.

If she normally jogs 5 miles to the shops and 5 miles back with full shopping bags then it is unlikely to cause her major harm to continue providing she does not feel that she is having to push herself. There will be times, particularly between weeks 6 and 12 when she tires easily and has to be very careful. Just to be awkward exercise, in moderation, is actually good for both her and the baby (see the section below on exercise). Also it is worth noting that as the baby goes it takes up space and so her lung capacity goes down. As this happens things which are not a train become impossible simply because she becomes out of breath. Towards the end she will be stopping half way up a short flight of stirs. She will not be tired, but she will be out of breath.

Offer to carry things for her, but do not insist. Offer to do things that may tire her, but do not encourage her to do nothing. Remember she is pregnant not sick. She does not need to be smothered, but at the same time she does need extra care and consideration. It is another of those fine balancing acts that are a large part of what a man needs to do throughout the pregnancy. Listening to her responses and learning from them is the only way to do this, and it is well worth doing.

Her Exercise
As we will see below, exercise is a good thing during pregnancy in many ways. There are a few good ways you can help her with this and several reasons why you would want to help.
Things for you to do:
• Reassure her that exercise will not damage her or the baby, and help her to understand the effects it will have.
• Encourage her when she is exercising and also when she is just thinking about it.
• Help her to schedule time to exercise.
• Check that she does not overdo things or injure herself.
• Ensure she drinks enough water. Hydration is very important to the foetus and to her body

Why she should exercise
Exercise is always important, but it becomes even more important during pregnancy .Exercise provides benefits during the pregnancy, at the birth and even after the child is born. Exercise helps prepare the body for childbirth by strengthening muscles and building endurance, preparing her muscles for the hard work of labour and delivery. Exercise helps lower excess weight and balance insulin and testosterone levels, and so could lower the chance of a miscarriage.

Being active during the pregnancy can reduce the physical discomforts of backache, constipation, fatigue, and swelling. As well it’s physical effects exercise can have good affects on her mind, helping to counteract some of the ‘hormone swing’ side effects. It can improve her mood and self-image, helping her to feel that with all that is happening to her body she is still an attractive sexy woman. Finally it also makes getting back in shape once the baby's born much easier.

So what I am saying here is that exercise without strain can help her pregnancy, prepare her for a good labour, aid postnatal recovery, help her feel good about herself, counteract some of the negative side effects of pregnancy and even help her to get a good night’s sleep. Unless she is one of those people who really cannot cope with moving from in front of the telly she is unlikely to want to turn down the benefits of a more comfortable pregnancy.

Lastly remember that it is very easy for a man to allow himself to put on weight to match his partner. It is not nearly so easy for him to lose it without giving birth or breast feeding. If you exercise together you have a much better chance of avoiding Couvade’s Syndrome.

What needs to be avoided
Staying active during pregnancy doesn't necessarily mean going for the burn. A pregnant woman’s body releases a hormone called relaxin during pregnancy which loosens the joints and allows the ligaments to stretch. This is done both in preparation for delivery and to allow movement of the ribs and back to accommodate the growing child. The relaxin does make over stretching all too easy as well as risking injury from too heavy weights or too much strain. This means you need to watch her technique very carefully as something that is only sloppy normally has potential to cause injury while pregnant. If you are not sure of what to watch for try and arrange a session with someone who does know, maybe a friend or even a personal trainer. Tell them what you are planning and get them to show you what to watch for and which may be the problem areas. If you have a gym membership then go along to that and tell them your concerns; they will generally be quite grateful that you want to lower their insurance risk and will be eager to show you what to do.
She should avoid exercising while flat on her back once she is past the first 10 to 12 weeks. This means no bench pressing or crunches or any exercise that keeps her in that position. Equally she needs to be careful about any exercise that puts strain down her back such as above the head raises of any kind. Her back and her insides are going to be in funny position and doing anything along these lines is asking for an injury to her back, to her internal organs or even to the unborn child.

Care should be taken with activities that could put her at risk of slips and falls, such as cycling, roller-skating, horse riding, and skiing. People who take part in these sports competitively often continue well into their pregnancy, but they continue with care and make sure they understand the changes to their balance so as to minimise the risk. Taking skiing as an example, it is quite difficult to fall in such a way as to damage the baby, but it is very easy to fall so as to damage one’s self. As her balance will be off in several different ways it is advisable to persuade her to stick to runs she would normally consider fairly easy and to ski more slowly and carefully than she normally would. The same is true of any exercise with a risk of falling, slipping or twisting, do it gently, do not try anything difficult and maintain a level where she can relax and enjoy.

One of the major things you can do is to stop her doing too much. Keep her talking while she exercises, and if she starts getting short of breath persuade her to slow down or take a break. Also do not let her go on past the point where she starts tiring. Often you can avoid this happening too fast by changing muscle groups exercised and types of exercise performed. When she starts to tire rather than just to have tired limbs it is time to stop. She will probably not notice, so it is up to you to spot it for her. Agree this with her before hand and look out for it while she works out. She should not "go for the burn" or exercise to exhaustion. Exercise during pregnancy is not about competing, even with herself; it is about gently readying her for what is to come and preparing her body to recover faster.

Arranging your paternity leave and helping with/understanding her maternity leave.

Information about this is mainly under “Reference” below, but you need to talk them through with your/her employer before the birth or practicalities can overtake the law. Things to discuss with your employer include:
• Duration
How long you will be allowed off. Whether or not you will be able to change the time period once you see how everything is going.
• Notice
The baby will comes when it feels like coming, you will not be able to give notice in advance. N.B. This is true even if you have scheduled an elective caesarean.
• Pay

How much will you be paid? Some companies will go for full pay for a period followed by tapering pay followed by unpaid leave, some simply pay the statutory minimum. If you are to budget you need to understand this for both your own and your partner’s job.

Managing her Stress
As with the pre-conception period Stress is a major factor. Unfortunately stress can cause miscarriages and it is to some extent up to you to put yourself out to reduce your partner’s stress levels. The obvious corollary to this is that your stress levels will affect her, so you have to avoid it all becoming too much for you as well.

You will need to allot some time to yourself to relax and do nothing. Make sure you budget for a bit more time than you think you are going to need so that you can drop it and help out if she needs you.

Keep track of how many uninterrupted times you have managed

• Taking away jobs she does not like
• Providing surprise treats
• Checking her real response to what you are doing, understand how she thinks you can lower her stress levels
• Provide her with interesting things to do
• Managing how much you both see the baby as a person. NB this is tricky. You do not want to see it as a real person when it is unlikely to ever become one, but you need to see it as real before birth.
• Shield her from stressful people
• Make sure she feels informed about problems without feeling that she needs to do something. You want her to know that you are handling things well and that all will go well. Do not expect her to trust you on this, you need her to know it is all taken care of.
• Tell her how much you love her. Often.
{ Summary of things to look at/try here}.

Probability Profiles (Or How to Stop Worrying).

Reassurance (Or How to Stop Her Worrying) {Make the following match the bullet points}
• Know your stuff
• Do not give her extra worries
• Seek expert advice without involving your partner
• Find out whether there is a problem immediately
• Distract her from worries
• If she is worrying because she needs more attention then give her the attention in other ways to discourage worrying.

I am afraid there are few shortcuts on this one. Reassuring her is at least in part about actually knowing what you are talking about. You need to understand what could happen and how to spot it, so that when she has a worry you can address it. If you do not know whether something is a problem tell her that you doubt that it is but you will check. Then check as soon as you can. Look things up on the Internet in the early days of pregnancy. Once you have been to see a doctor or a mid-wife they will give you a number to call. Do not be shy about calling it. If anything is wrong they can give you expert advice. If you are concerned do not pass your worries on to your partner, quietly find out if there is anything to worry about before worrying her.