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Partner having a baby? Dads can pile on the pounds too


Matt Spalding

Matt Spalding

Alec Bladwin and his yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas

Alec Bladwin and his yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas


We've all heard of it. And many eye-rolling pregnant women have even experienced it up close.

 It's called 'couvade syndrome', when men supposedly feel the effects of their partner's pregnancy - both before and after the baby is born.

Yes, that pregnancy. The pregnancy that changed the shape of your body - in some cases beyond recognition; the pregnancy that caused you to spend months leaning over the toilet bowl wondering why morning sickness can last all day; the pregnancy that gave you puffy ankles, broken veins and chronic heartburn.

The pregnancy that HE did not experience except as an observer. Or so we always thought.

But, increasingly, there seems to be evidence that there might be something more to this 'couvade syndrome' than just our precious men looking for attention.

A study carried out at St George's hospital in London showed some men [of expectant partners] suffered prominent psychological symptoms including antenatal depression and mood swings, early morning waking, anxiety, poor concentration, distraction and memory loss.

"Couvade symptoms", the study said, "can even extend into the period after the child is born". What? Are they making this up?

Most new mothers will admit that losing the weight put on during pregnancy can often be difficult. In some cases we continue to pile on the pounds as sleepless nights, lack of exercise and an increasing tendency to "clear baby's plate", all make a healthy diet regime difficult.

The lucky fathers - not having been pregnant in the first place - just don't have to face the same problems. Or do they?

Last week new research (The American Men's Journal of Health) identified a new trend which they have dubbed the 'fatherhood effect'. They have found that "on average, new fathers gain between 3.5 pounds and 4.5 pounds in the immediate aftermath of having children".

This is 'proper science', by qualified experts, over a 20-year period. The so-called 'Dad-bod' is now a scientific fact. The findings came from an analysis of weight changes among 10,000 men at four different points in their lives: early adolescence, late adolescence, mid-20s and early 30s.

Each man was categorised either as a non-father, resident father or non-resident father. But of course, you may say, men are going to pile on an extra few pounds as they get older regardless of whether they become fathers or not, surely?

Not necessarily. The research showed "non-fathers actually lost an average of 1.4 pounds during the equivalent time."

As - unlike in the case of the mother - there isn't an actual physical reason for body changes post-baby, the researchers have put the weight gain down to "a shift in priorities; the carefree man has had a life-changing experience".

"You have new responsibilities when you have your kids and may not have time to take care of yourself the way you once did in terms of exercise," explained lead researcher Dr Craig Garfield."

Or indeed in terms of nutrition. "There tends to be a sudden increase in irresistible treats lying around, like ice cream and biscuits," he adds. "We all know dads who clean their kids' plates after every meal," says Garfield, who admitted his own weakness was scraping the leftover cheese from his children's pizzas.


Alec Bladwin and his yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas

Alec Bladwin and his yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas

Alec Bladwin and his yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas


However, it's a little more serious than gently poking fun at the dads who get rather portly post-child. The researchers are seeking to demonstrate that the links between weight gain and poor health are no cause for amusement.

"Fatherhood can affect the health of young men, above and beyond the already known effect of marriage," said Garfield. "If left unchecked for too long it [weight gain] could damage men's health".

"The more weight the fathers gain and the higher their BMI, the greater risk they have for developing heart disease as well as diabetes and cancer."

Is it really such a serious problem? Or just a case of an extra few pounds? What do the men think?

Well, obviously I had a prime example right here at home with me, in the (increased) shape of my Other Half, the father of my two children, who - it has to be admitted - has most certainly put on the odd pound or three since our first child.

However, in the interests of family harmony, I decided not to open up what may prove to be a Pandora's box of accusations along the lines of: "Well, you started ordering take-out food", "I wouldn't have to if you learned to cook", "Maybe if you walked to work instead of driving?" and "If you got home earlier I'd have time to go to the gym…".

So instead I nabbed local restaurateur (director of Kanoodle Ltd) and father-of-one, Matthew Spalding, who has recently admitted to health problems due to diet and lack of exercise.

He told me: "I remember after Linn, my daughter, was born, myself and my partner stayed in much more - for obvious reasons.

"We didn't want to leave her with a babysitter. But [as I love to cook] we had people over all the time instead, lots of dinner parties and we certainly ate and drank more as we didn't go out."

Did you notice any weight gain?

"Absolutely! I remember being 14 stone at one point, when I would normally be 12 or there abouts," he tells me. "I remember thinking 'ahh, I have no neck'."

"I was 36 when we had Linn," he says, "an age when gentlemen supposedly get a little more rotund around the midriff. I had always eaten very healthily though.


He admits however: "I was very stressed after Linn's birth. I remember thinking that I had the responsibility of caring - and paying - for a child now." What did he do to relieve the stress? Exercise?

"I never used to particularly enjoy exercise", Matt says. "But I used to cycle everywhere, sometimes up to 20 or 30 miles a day. So I was very fit.

"Of course now once you have a child, you have to have a car, so that lifestyle went out the window. Certainly once I had a car, I drove everywhere."

Matt has recently begun to experience dizzy spells and when he (eventually) went to his GP for a check-up, he was told that his blood pressure was in the danger zone and he would have to pay attention to everything he ate as well as his methods of relieving stress, and to increase exercise.

So, as a foodie expert, what would he recommend? "I'd cut out bread", he says. Matt also believes that sugar is the devil of nutrition. "Cut it out, and cut back on alcohol," although he adds plaintively, "if I couldn't have a good glass of wine with dinner I'd get terribly depressed."

Alec Baldwin (pictured left), who has openly discussed his issues with his weight, also cut sugar from his diet. Since marrying yoga instructor Hilaria Thomas and having two children, the 57-year-old appears leaner.

Like Matt, it was a health warning that drove Baldwin to abandon a high sugar diet, having been given a pre-diabetes diagnosis.

Matt has since decided to focus on what he can eat rather than what he can't.

"I adore the Eastern philosophy of food," he says. "You rarely see an overweight Asian person, their food is so healthy."

Though Matt's daughter is now 14, he is still coping with the habits he developed after her birth.

"Today, I still hate walking on my own," he tells me. "But I have to do it, so I wait until I see someone I know heading down Dollymount Strand for a walk and I join them."

Managing stress is another important part of Matt's new health regime, as we know that it can affect physical as well as mental health.

"When your baby is born," he says, "you tend to change your entire focus to them and you stop worrying about your own health and fitness."

But as his own recent health wake-up call has shown, fathers need to take the time to care for their own health and fitness, as well as that of their family's.

Matt Spalding is founder and director of the Kanoodle chain of healthy Asian food restaurants.