It isn’t only women who gain weight when pregnant. The average new dad puts on about four pounds.
That is the finding of a study by Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine on the changes young men experience when becoming fathers. The conclusions were reported in the American Journal of Men’s Health.
During the study, new fathers also had an increase in their body mass index (BMI), which measures body fat.
While BMI is an imperfect measure because it does not differentiate between fat and muscle weight, the study looked at overall changes from adolescence into fatherhood. Young men who became fathers during the study period had an increase in BMI whether they lived with the child or not, while those who did not become fathers had a corresponding decrease in BMI.
The culprit? Expectant and new parents—both mothers and fathers—experience changes in:
- Sleep habits
- Diet and eating patterns
- Exercise amounts and frequency
This is due to not just to increased demands on their time, but also changing priorities.
So how can fathers take better care of themselves when they have a baby who needs 24/7 care?
Mark H. Greenawald, M.D., vice chair of academic affairs and professional development for Carilion Clinic’s Department of Family and Community Medicine, recommends that fathers set wellness goals for themselves to mark the transition.
“Many men need ‘milestones’ to serve as a reminder of the importance of their being healthy not just for themselves, but also for their loved ones,” said Dr. Greenawald. “The transition to fatherhood provides one such milestone.”
Dr. Greenawald has the following recommendations for men to plan for this major and life-altering change:
- Visit your primary care provider for a complete health assessment before your child is born
- Discuss healthy lifestyles with the baby's mother with the goal of supporting each other in your efforts
- Reach out to family and friends for practical support
- Remember that your child is watching and learning habits from you
"Doing so is not always easy, but it's worth it," says Dr. Greenawald. "Teaching our children how to be healthy by modeling it ourselves is a priceless legacy for them and for us. Seems like a bargain to me!”