Strong reactions to pregnancy

Pregnancy can be a time of stress, pressure, frustration and confusion for some men. You could be juggling preparations for baby’s arrival, money and work demands – and more.

You might feel unprepared for caring for a newborn and worry about ‘losing’ time for yourself and your partner. There’s also the prospect of sharing your partner’s attention and affection with a baby.

Pregnancy can also trigger stronger reactions for some men. These include anger, aggression, violence, depression and anxiety.

You could be experiencing strong emotions like this for the first time. Or things that normally don’t upset you now do – for example, pressure at work.

Feelings like anger are normal. What matters is how you handle them.

When anger becomes violence

For some men, strong reactions like anger can turn into aggression or violence.

Pregnancy can be a time when some men use violence for the first time in their relationship. Or if they’ve used violence before, they might continue this behaviour into the pregnancy.

Aggression is different from anger. It involves a ‘show of force’ behind words or actions, like yelling or shaking a fist at someone. This leaves the other person feeling scared and under attack.

Violence happens when people use their power to hurt, control or bully someone else. This can be done with words – for example, ‘I’m going to break your arm if you pick up the phone’. It can also be done with actions – for example, hitting, kicking, choking, shoving and punching.

Women in relationships where there is violence might feel that they’re ‘walking on eggshells’ because they’re afraid of triggering violent behaviour.

Ways to manage anger as a dad

Everybody feels angry sometimes. But part of being a great dad involves learning to manage your anger in a way that isn’t harmful to your family. In fact, one of your roles as a father is to protect your baby from harm.

You can express anger in healthy ways, like going for a run or hitting a punching bag. Thinking and talking about the causes of your anger in calmer moments is also a good step towards managing it.

But if you’ve been having trouble managing anger, or your anger is leading to aggression or violence, there’s no shame in getting help.

If you get help to change your behaviour, you might find good things coming back into your life. For example, being able to speak and express yourself without anger might help rebuild trust in your relationships with your family and other important people in your life.

Effects of violence in pregnancy

As well as any physical injury or trauma, aggression and violence can cause stress hormones to rise in the victim.

If aggression and violence happen to a woman during pregnancy, these stress hormones go through the placenta to the growing baby. They can hurt the baby’s development. Violence during pregnancy can also cause miscarriage, a higher chance of premature birth and newborn death.

These issues are so important that many Australian states have changed their laws so that unborn babies are protected by state child protection departments. This means an intervention order can be taken out against men who are violent, preventing them from having contact with their pregnant partners.

These men can’t go to the birth of their children and will have limited and supervised contact with their child because of their violence.

Violence after baby is born

Being a dad isn’t always easy. You have to learn how to care for your baby and respond to baby’s needs. But you might feel frustrated or lose confidence if you don’t know what to do. Add work pressure, relationship tension or lack of sleep into the mix, and frustration might turn into anger, and anger into aggression or violence.

If this happens, you could be at risk of losing control and hurting your partner or your baby.

Aggression and violence is not OK.

Newborns and babies have weak neck muscles with a large heavy head. Violently shaking a baby, or hitting, kicking or throwing, can result in death, disability or serious injury.

Things you can do

If you feel like you’re not coping, or you’re getting frustrated, upset or angry with your partner or other people, take these steps:

  1. Leave the situation so that you can keep yourself and everyone else safe. This isn’t running away – it’s taking responsibility and calming down.
  2. Before you go back, do your best to get rid of negative feelings and thoughts. Tell yourself, ‘Getting angry isn’t going to solve this problem’ or ‘I can work this out’ – anything that will help you calm down.
  3. Before you go back, feel calm in your body. Signs you’re calming down include your heart rate slowing down (from beating fast) and your muscles and jaw relaxing (from feeling tense or clenched).
  4. Call 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732) for free telephone counselling 24 hours, 7 days a week.
  5. Go to 1800RESPECT for free, real-time, online counselling 24 hours, 7 days a week.