Even though fathers-to-be don't go through the physical changes of carrying a child, some have insomnia, nausea, irritability or even labor pains, a condition called Couvade syndrome, or sympathetic pregnancy. And about 10 percent of fathers develop prenatal or postpartum depression, according to a study in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA).
Ironically, she said, physical and mental-health issues that come along with pregnancy and childbirth may be side effects of a positive social development—fathers helping their partners more with labor and child-care responsibilities.
"We often focus on the supermom trying to do it all, but I think there's also a superdad," Brown said. "There's a lot of stress and strain on your physical health if you don't take care of yourself."
Here are five tips to help dads-to-be stay healthy.
1. Talk to other fathers
Fathers who educate themselves in advance about what to expect during labor and afterward tend to be more prepared as partners in delivery and childcare and less stressed overall, Brown said. They can go with their partners to prenatal doctor's appointments, take classes and read books.
Another strategy is to talk to other fathers, said Bruce Linton, founder and director of the Berkeley, Calif.-based Fathers' Forum programs. Conversations with other men can help dads-to-be feel less isolated and more empowered, he said.
"A lot of men are socialized to be very strong and in control, so when they start to experience the emotions around being a father, it's very disorienting," Linton said. "Being in a group where other men talk about their feelings, whether happy or sad, tearful or joyful, seems to reassure them that those feelings are normal."
2. Get a check-up and make sure you're vaccinated
Expectant dads shouldn't just tag along to their partner's appointments but schedule their own, Brown said. It's important that they check their overall health including cholesterol and glucose levels.
"A new pregnancy is an opportunity for you to take care of yourself because your child is going to need you to be around," she said.
While at the doctor, fathers also can take an important and often-neglected step to keep their babies safe—ensuring they're up to date with their vaccinations. Vaccinating against whooping cough, also called pertussis, and flu are two of the big ones, said Lance Rodewald, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Immunization Services Division. A 2007 study found that 71 percent of babies who get whooping cough catch it from someone in their household.
"Very young babies can't be vaccinated until they are two months old, and even one vaccine does not give them full protection," he said.
Whooping cough is included in the Tdap vaccine, which also protects against tetanus and diphtheria.
Right now expectant fathers should get both separate seasonal flu and H1N1 (swine flu) shots, Rodewald said. But this year's seasonal flu vaccine, expected to be available in August or September, will include H1N1 protection.
3. Take time off
Only 15 percent of employers offer designated paid paternity leave, according to 2009 data from the Society of Human Resources Management.