Tommy's PregnancyHub

Coping with the risk of a premature birth for dads and partners

It can be hard to hear that your partner is at risk of having a premature birth. It is important to look after yourself as well as your partner.

It can be very difficult for partners to hear that their baby may arrive early. Not only will you be concerned for your partner and your baby, you’ll also be trying to process your own feelings about what’s happening. 

You may find yourself feeling a little helpless. It’s understandable to want to do something to ‘fix the problem’, but unfortunately you don’t have full control over the situation. The best thing you can do is take care of your and your partner’s wellbeing. 

You may find yourself focusing on the daily practicalities of life such as looking after other children, shopping or work, to try and make things easier for your partner. This can be helpful, but it’s important to give yourself time to process what’s happening too, especially if you are feeling overwhelmed.

You may be concerned that telling your partner how you feel will make their anxiety worse. But perhaps they sense that you’re struggling and want you to honest about your feelings. It’s important to try and keep communicating with each other. This can help you understand how the other is feeling.

If you’re feeling very anxious, it may be helpful to have some professional counselling. If you live in England, your GP can refer you or you can refer yourself directly to an NHS psychological therapies service (IAPT). Self-referral is not available in every part of the UK, but your GP, midwife or health visitor will be able to tell you what’s available where you live.

Some people have private counselling, although this can be expensive. The British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP) has a directory of qualified counsellors in your area if this is something you’d like to look into.

You can also talk to a Tommy’s midwife free of charge from 9am–5pm, Monday to Friday on 0800 0147 800 or you can email them at [email protected]

Taking care of your relationship

Even the healthiest relationships can be under strain in stressful situations, so try not to let any worries about you as a couple overwhelm you. It’s really important that you stay open and honest with each other about how you feel. Try to understand things from each other’s point of view, give each other time to talk about how you feel and give each other some space when needed.  

It may also help to talk to someone outside of the situation. This could be a family member, friend or even a trained relationship counsellor. This could be together or on your own if you want.

You can:

  • get relationship advice and support from The Couple Connection 
  • get information about couple’s counselling at Relate – they also offer a live web chat service where you can talk to a relationship or family counsellor for up to 30 minutes for free
  • find a private counsellor in your area though the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP).

How can I support my partner?

You may see things differently to your partner. For example, one of you may be trying to be more practical or matter-of-fact about things, whereas the other may find it more difficult to manage their emotions or anxiety. Everyone responds to stress in different ways and this can sometimes cause tension. 

If your partner is feeling very anxious, it’s important to be sensitive to their needs and support them where you can. Be mindful that they are likely trying to cope with difficult pregnancy symptoms and changing hormones. They may also be feeling anxious or scared about the future. Some people even feel guilty or wonder if they could have done something to prevent it. Or feel like their body has failed them or that they have failed at motherhood before they have even started.

You could try the following.

  • go along to antenatal appointments or if you can’t, sit down together to talk about them
  • take an active role in any decisions you have to make about your partner’s healthcare
  • be careful not to dismiss their anxieties or fears – instead, try to listen, understand their point of view and reassure them that you’re there for them 
  • ask them what they needs from you
  • encourage them to take breaks and rest as much as they need
  • take walks together, giving you both time for fresh air, gentle exercise and time to talk
  • take on more of your share of household responsibilities, such as the shopping, cooking or cleaning.

It may also help to adopt a healthy lifestyle together. For example, it’s important for your partner to eat a healthy, balanced diet and stay well hydrated. You could support them by doing the same.

If you smoke, don’t do it in the house, in the car or anywhere around your partner. Secondhand (passive) smoke can affect can increase the risk of premature birth, as well as low birth weight and Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (SIDS). 

When and where to get support

Many parents-to-be feel ashamed or guilty about feeling low. But the reality is that mental health problems can affect anyone at any time. It doesn’t mean you are a bad parent.

Don’t hide your feelings or suffer in silence. You are not alone. Tell you partner, family or friends how you feel, as well as your GP. They will help you access the support you need. The main treatments for mental health problems are self-help, talking therapies and medication. What you are offered will depend partly on what your symptoms are, how severe they are, and what’s available locally.

You can also call our pregnancy line on 0800 014 7800 (Monday to Friday, 9am to 5pm), or email us at [email protected]

Other organisations that may be able to help include:

Anxiety UK, which is run by people with anxiety disorders, Anxiety UK offers information, support and therapies for people experiencing anxiety.

No Panic provides Online and telephone support for people suffering from panic attacks, phobias, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and anxiety disorders.

MIND is a mental health charity providing information, support, local groups and an online chatroom.

NHS. Stop smoking in pregnancy. https://www.nhs.uk/pregnancy/keeping-well/stop-smoking/ (Page last reviewed: 7 November 2019 Next review due 7 November 2022)