How Dads Can Help Manage Pregnancy-Related Medical Issues

By Mathew Miller, Sharon Perkins

Problems that affect your partner’s health sometimes develop with frightening speed, and you’ll want a Dad’s guide. Other times problems develop insidiously and build to a crisis point. Neither type of problem is easy to deal with, especially if you feel like you need to stay strong to support your partner during a tough time.

Explanations of Hypertensive conditions in pregnancy for dads

Hypertensive disorders — hypertensive means high blood pressure — are not uncommon in pregnancy. According to the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG), hypertensive disorders include:

  • Chronic hypertension, which is present before pregnancy

  • Chronic hypertension with superimposed preeclampsia

  • Gestational hypertension, which begins after the 20th week of pregnancy

  • Preeclampsia-eclampsia, a more serious hypertensive disorder of pregnancy

Approximately 6 percent of women develop gestational hypertension, which is characterized by high blood pressure readings but no protein in the urine. Approximately 25 percent of women with gestational hypertension develop preeclampsia.

Your partner is more likely to develop preeclampsia if

  • This is her first pregnancy.

  • She’s older than 35.

  • She had high blood pressure before she got pregnant.

Hypertension in pregnancy is dangerous because it reduces blood flow to the baby and also to the mom’s major organs, including the liver, kidneys, and brain. In severe cases of hypertension, decreased blood flow to the baby can cause intrauterine growth retardation, known as IUGR, which means the baby isn’t growing the way he should.

In severe cases of preeclampsia, your partner may experience the following symptoms; new onset of anything in this list requires an immediate call to your medical practitioner:

  • Abdominal pain

  • Blurred vision

  • Decreased urine output

  • Light sensitivity

  • Severe headaches

Women with gestational hypertension or preeclampsia often end up on modified or complete bed rest or may at least have to stop working or work a reduced schedule.

Resting on the body’s left side increases blood flow through the placenta. In some cases, decreasing sodium intake can help lower blood pressure. However, medical practitioners no longer recommend routinely decreasing sodium intake during pregnancy, so your partner should do this only if her practitioner advises it.

The practitioner may prescribe blood pressure medications if her pressure rises too high, more frequent visits, and possibly more frequent ultrasounds to check on the baby’s well-being.

Although it’s rare, women with preeclampsia may need hospitalization to control the symptoms and decrease the chance of eclampsia, which is severe gestational hypertension/preeclampsia with seizures. Eclampsia can be life-threatening for your partner and the baby and may require immediate delivery, even if the baby is premature.

Part of your job is to watch for changes in your partner’s mental status, such as confusion, irritability, or disorientation, because these changes may precede a seizure.

Basics of gestational diabetes for dads

Gestational diabetes, high blood sugar that develops during pregnancy and disappears after delivery, affects 2 to 5 percent of pregnancies. Glucose testing for gestational diabetes is normally done in the second trimester. Women who are diagnosed may be treated with oral medications to lower blood glucose levels or may be managed by dietary modifications. A few will need insulin injections.

The problem with high blood sugar in pregnancy is that it causes the baby to also develop high blood-sugar levels. Gestational diabetes can affect the baby (and your partner) in several ways:

  • The baby may grow larger than normal, which can make for a difficult delivery and increase the chance of a Cesarean delivery.

  • Babies whose moms have gestational diabetes are more likely to be born early and can have a severe and potentially dangerous drop in blood-sugar levels after the delivery.

  • The baby may have to be monitored in the neonatal unit for a short time until her blood sugars stabilize, which is probably not the way you envisioned your time in the hospital.

If your partner is older than 35, is overweight, or has a family history of diabetes, she’s more likely to develop gestational diabetes. Studies indicate that gestational diabetes is often a sign that she may develop type 2 diabetes later in life.

The introductions of daily injections and monitoring can add a whole layer of annoyance to pregnancy, for both you and your partner. If she cooks, her cooking will probably become a whole lot healthier, which you may or may not appreciate.

If you’re the chef, you may be expected to devise a new repertoire of healthy yet appealing meals. The bonus is that you’ll both probably be healthier by the end of pregnancy if you follow her new diet.

Basics of placenta previa for dads

Placenta previa is a condition in which the placenta implants too low on the uterine wall. Usually the placenta, which transports nutrients to the baby, implants near the top of the uterus. If it implants too low, all or part of the placenta can cover the opening to the uterus, the cervix, and cause bleeding.

[Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born, MA]

Credit: Illustration by Kathryn Born, MA

Bleeding from placenta previa is painless, can happen without warning, and can be severe enough to require immediate delivery. A known placenta previa can necessitate bed rest and possibly a prolonged hospital stay to try to hold off delivery until the baby is less premature.

A marginal placenta previa, one that’s near but not covering the cervix, may allow for a vaginal delivery, but usually a Cesarean is required. And sex is out of the question because anything that causes contractions or any cervical movement can start heavy bleeding.

Your partner is more likely to have a previa if

  • She’s had a previous Cesarean delivery.

  • She’s older than 35.

  • She smokes.

  • She’s of Asian descent.

  • She’s having more than one baby.